Building and supporting expertise in educational assessment: The Gorse Academies Trust approach

The arrangements finally used for the awarding of qualification grades in 2020 was reliant on assessments generated by centres across the United Kingdom. The procedures for awarding grades and the rank-ordering of pupils were guided by the regulatory bodies but required centres to draw on their own internal assessment procedures. Some schools were better prepared than others, but all responded to what was a demanding deadline. The Gorse Academies Trust has a very clear view on the role of assessment and has invested in supporting its staff to develop their knowledge and expertise by taking CIEA qualifications. John Nield gives an insight into the Trust, its commitment to developing assessment expertise and the opportunity for teachers to play a bigger role in high stakes assessment in the future.

The Gorse Academies Trust

The Gorse Academies Trust is made up of eleven academies in and around Leeds in the West Yorkshire region and includes primary, secondary, post-sixteen and special provision settings. The Trust also includes a Teaching School Alliance based at The Morley Academy which constitutes the GORSE Teaching School Alliance. This work is exceptionally important to the Trust and offers a wide range of support including initial teacher education, continuous professional development covering leadership and classroom skills. If all goes well, this may become the Teaching School Hub for the region by January 2021.

The Trust has purposefully built slowly in order to manage the expansion and development in a manner which minimises risk and ensures the continuing excellence of academies within the group and is proud of its generosity in sharing ideas and approaches to the development of teaching and leadership with partners regionally and nationally. Indeed, the Trust website states:

We are also humble, and take great enjoyment in learning from others including the very best practitioners nationally and internationally but also those struggling most in their work. This is because we believe that all schools contain areas of brilliance and it is for us as professionals to seek them out, understand their success and ensure that their magic is disseminated.

Initial teacher education

The School Centred Initial Teacher Training (GORSE SCITT) which opened in September 2015 is critical to the development of the Trust and was judged by Ofsted to be Outstanding in all areas in November 2017. The Trust is clear that the great system leaders of the next decade will be great because of the quality of their teacher training which includes the training of brilliant new entrants to the profession. This will see teaching returning to a position whereby the most important single quality that we will hope to find in all teachers is a passion and love for their subject and a determination to share that love with young people, regardless of background.

The Farnley Academy has a particular focus on school to school support and research and development and over the course of the next two years expects to be producing research papers which have an influence on national educational policy development.

Assessment and Chartered Educational Assessors

The Gorse Academies Trust has a very clear view on the role and importance of assessment in the teaching and learning process. Sir John Townsley, the Chief Executive Officer of the Trust states:

'Our work as a team on the development of a new form of assessment for all pupils which recognises and celebrates key moments in learning as they occur represents an enormously important opportunity for the educational community and those involved in its leadership. Our structure, which allows each pupil to progress at their own pace against a criterion led assessment system, should ensure that we are never again in the position where we fail pupils so badly as we have in the examination series of 2020 because of lack of evidence of what each pupil can do in each subject. At the centre of our approach is a determination to ensure that all teachers become true experts in assessment within their own subject, guaranteeing the integrity of the assessment system. It is our belief that every young person has a right to an impartial recognition of what their achievement is in each subject across the curriculum without the interference of norm referencing and that such an approach will support the integrity of robust end of key phase examinations.

And the Trust has demonstrated its commitment to ensuring that all teachers become true experts in assessment within their own subject areas by supporting 9 of their teachers from different phases of education to become Chartered Educational Assessors (CEAs).

Emma Worrincy (Head of English) gives the teachers’ point of view.

Curriculums should be designed and organised to ensure that students are constantly learning and consolidating knowledge in coherent structures so that it is retained year on year. Assessments can then be truly iterative in nature.

Our new assessment system would ensure that content, knowledge and skills are revisited frequently throughout the assessment cycle. Young people would be expected to demonstrate a number of competencies in different contexts. For example, students’ ability to accurately control their use of spelling, grammar and punctuation would be assessed through a number of different assessment opportunities and at different points in the assessment cycle. As such, assessors would be able to glean an accurate picture of a young person’s ability. A picture that would then be built over time.

Through the study of English, students’ ability to understand the writer’s craft is crucial: what has a writer done deliberately and what effect does it have on the reader’s audience? This ability should be assessed iteratively using a variety of different text types: texts that students have been pre exposed to and taught as part of the curriculum and texts that are unseen and, therefore, demand students to use their skills more independently and, perhaps, judiciously. Our assessment system would ensure that young people are given the opportunity to do both, in a variety of contexts. Using a criterion-based referencing system would mean that assessors could evaluate students’ work regularly to ascertain a clear picture of attainment.

With regards to becoming a CEA, Emma states:

'Becoming a Chartered Educational Assessor and working alongside the CIEA helped to clarify and hone my practice around assessment. Personally, I was able to explore the theory that underpins effective assessment. Having the qualifications and the support of CIEA provides a credibility and rigour in schools; assessment is well planned, carefully considered and colleagues are well versed in the language of assessment.'

David Craine, Assistant Principal (Quality of Education) at The Stephen Longfellow Academy, takes a broader view of educational assessment and how the criterion referenced approach adopted by the Trust supports teacher-based assessments.

'The current examination system was birthed in the Nineteenth Century as a means of improving meritocracy in the Civil Service. Over the last 200 years the systems used in universities and then in schools has evolved and adapted to changes in society. Fundamentally, the system we use today looks like the one used in 1820. The purpose of assessment is two-fold: firstly, it can provide benchmarks allowing one to classify the understanding and skillset demonstrated by a student in a specific subject area, be that traditionally academic (i.e. mathematics) or vocational (i.e. in BTEC courses). Secondly, it is an attractive means of guaranteeing accountability of educational providers. For providers this feedback from exams can be useful and helpful towards improving teaching, but it can also feel remote from what is seen in interactions with students in the classroom.

In the GORSE Academies Trust we have successfully developed criterion-referenced assessments alongside examination results, including external examinations and internal iterative tests and mock exams. This blended approach allows us to provide regular feedback on learning to our students and to support their progress. The communication of this feedback to students is essential for them to understand with transparency how they can improvise knowledge and skills and develop resilience in sitting lengthy terminal examinations.'

This communication is accomplished by discussions with teachers and has been enhanced in a number of our academies by the use of our in-house assessment platform called TRACKLE. On TRACKLE we host a timeline for each student which as you scroll down it, reveals the progress in direct assessment as recorded by GCSE grades alongside samples of work that teachers have uploaded. The data thus links directly to the work and progress can be seen as an intimate connection between the grade and the work, which will have met certain specific criteria. This blending and recording of class work and data has allowed us to allow students to powerfully explore their own work and to explain how they have improved and what they can do to continue to go further. This is an example of how assessment, when used intelligently, can promote powerful outcomes in our students.'

In reference to the CIEA David states:

My qualification from the CIEA has equipped me so that I can ensure that we can embrace the future, plan for it and help students shape their place in it. For them to do that, our learning must be relevant to the 21st Century, not the 19th.

A different future

The experience of awarding qualifications in 2020 based on centre assessed grades offers a new way to assess our students in the future as Sir John states:

‘In this new dispensation it is for those who work directly with children and young people to bring confidence and respectability back to the examinations and assessment system; ensuring that all teachers are themselves expert in assessment practices is at the heart of that commitment.’

John Nield

John is a former Chief and Principal examiner for AQA and Head of English. He now works as an educational consultant. John notes: ‘I am proud to have worked with Sir John Townsley in multiple schools for almost 25 years. I am a Fellow of the CIEA and see its involvement in any amelioration in the assessment process as key’.

For more information on the Gorse Academies Trust, visit