Parrenthorn High School in Manchester began using the Great Teaching Toolkit in summer 2022, focusing specifically on our Assessment Lead Programme, to try and drive whole-staff development in assessment theory and practice. We spoke to Alex Havers, Assistant Head Teacher and the school’s Coordinator, and Maria Stevens, Head of MFL, about how they are implementing the programme, and how they, their colleagues and their students are benefitting.
Given that your focus has been on the Assessment Lead Programme, can you tell us how this has looked in practice?
AH: We were conscious that assessment was an area we really wanted to focus on across the whole school, so the way we have run ALP here is by having eight staff from across the school on the programme. They have followed the course plan and meetings as set out in the course, and these cross-departmental meetings have been really interesting. We’ve looked and talked in depth about the commonalities and differences across subject areas, in terms of the different types of assessment being used, and how we align this with our curriculum.
MS: I would agree. The theory side of the early modules in the Assessment Lead Programme were really helpful for me—to hone in on the purpose and validity of our assessments. It helped us to really think about the formative assessments we were doing and we’ve seen quite immediate benefits in this focus on what we can get from regular, high-quality and low-stakes quizzing. In particular in languages, we have found that thinking carefully about using multiple-choice questions well has been really powerful, and the tools you can access through ALP have been invaluable in planning, designing and reflecting on the power in the questions we ask for very specific purposes.
AH: We have also found the balance of online learning at your own pace, but with the checkpoints in to be very helpful. One key thing we have ensured though—and which I would recommend to anyone investing in CPD like this—is that all of our staff have at least an hour timetabled every week that is dedicated to the online and/or meetings around the programme. This has been crucial in ensuring it is prioritised and valued across our staff.
How has this translated into the practice of staff who aren’t working through ALP with you?
AH: We have a dedicated slot every Wednesday morning for whole-staff meetings and CPD, and we have use this slot to distil key concepts from ALP that we feel all staff need to know. We have realised that not all staff need to go into the same depth of detail that ALP provides, but in terms of creating a common language across the school and sharing the most practical takeaways that can help every teacher’s practice, this has been a great platform to share key bits of our learning. A good example of this was the lesson around how every assessment should have the capacity to surprise you, rather than just confirming what you already know—this was a bit of a lightbulb moment!
And finally, what would you say to others who are considering the Assessment Lead Programme and the wider Great Teaching Toolkit?
MS: It’s very accessible—translating often quite complex language and research into meaningful learning, in bitesize chunks that can fit into a teacher’s school timetable. Ultimately, though, the Assessment Lead Programme practices what it preaches in terms of sustained CPD that has the ingredients of good learning, which I think is a real strength.
AH: We haven’t looked too much into the other aspects of the Great Teaching Toolkit yet, as we wanted to ensure assessment was a whole-school focus this year, but we plan to explore that more widely next. In terms of ALP itself, it’s one of the best CPD courses I’ve done in a long, long time, and would recommend it to anyone who is considering assessment as a priority!