The ‘integrity, rigour and accuracy’ of TAGs

Helen Angell FCCT, Director of School Improvement, Cabot Learning Federation (Bristol and the South West) reflects on the TAG process

Integrity, rigour and accuracy have been our watchwords throughout the TAG process in the Cabot Learning Federation.

We have used a multi-layered approach, paying attention to our learning from CAGs and exploiting our collaborative ethos as a trust. We have brought leaders and teachers together at all levels to co-construct process and meaning, to support and challenge each other and, most importantly in this instance, to hold each other to account. We pride ourselves on what we describe as our quality conversations, the backbone of our activities and strategies at every level.

We designed clear principles for this process in January. Key to these were the wellbeing of young people and the clarity of communication for all colleagues.

At all times, our intention has been to be faithful to the integrity of the system and to be fair to young people, ensuring their access to the next steps. Our timeline of TAG activity began in January, plotting the remaining weeks for all stakeholders with strategy and rationale and a number of activities designed as linchpins for the process as a whole. In addition, roles and responsibilities were clearly articulated, linked to particular moments and resources. This ensured a high degree of professionalism through conscious, deep and meaningful collaboration using trust-wide expertise, direction setting and monitoring.

Our trust-wide subject communities co-constructed sensible assessment opportunities, which were sequential and in response to what had been taught. These covered the breadth of the specifications with particular attention to assessment objectives, we wanted to ensure that an award really was an award and that students could feel pride in their achievements whilst remembering that examinations had been cancelled.

These assessment opportunities were used to compile a sense of trust-wide evidence baskets too, allowing our in-depth approach to standardisation and moderation. Episodes were identified for teachers to work together, first to understand the standards of mark schemes and grade descriptors and then to apply this understanding to the work of their students.

These sessions were professional spaces, carefully supported by senior leaders and with scripts to use at every level here and then in academy teams. This means that in our trust, no judgments have been made in isolation, teachers have talked through their rationale for decisions with their peers across the trust in academy subject teams, and have been supported by senior leaders to provide objectivity and to hold a mirror up to decisions. All colleagues have felt the weight of responsibility for this work.

The scripts for conversation were deliberately phrased to ensure objectivity and avoid bias, and this was then matched by pastoral staff in academies considering the suite of grades for each individual student. Finally, scripted Principal sign off meetings with subject leaders acted as the last check, emphasising the enormity of the task and providing a final layer of objectivity.

For us, TAGs have been an opportunity for large scale professional development. In our trust, we have begun to gather feedback and learning to help us think about how we plan provision. As teachers and leaders, we have a better understanding of how formative and summative assessment work, the ethos of specifications and awards and a clearer sense of national standards.

What is important is to stop and consider our professional learning and how the experiences of this year and last have highlighted the interconnectedness of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment within the framework of awarding and within our broader discussions of the purpose of education.  It will be a great pity if sector learning is considered unworthy and we seek to pretend that TAGs have not happened, surely we are ready for a broader conversation about how best to find out what young people and children can do? 

For now, we should focus on celebrating the results of all young people in August, as we would in any year. They have worked extremely hard in challenging times and the sector knows its responsibility to them and to the integrity of awards. The results slips opened have personal meaning and impact for our young people, helping them to move to their next steps, allowing them to see new horizons and a future of possibility. Our job now as parents, teachers, leaders and the country as a whole is to help young people and their families interpret the results slips sensibly.