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B Squared Blog

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Keeping schools updated on the latest news and ideas. Read about our approach to assessment, what we are doing and why...


Jon Twycross
Jon Twycross
Jon oversees the development of all new products, focusing on designing new solutions to enhance our software and integrating new features and improvements. He analyses our system requirements and manages product development, ensuring projects remain within budget and are rolled out according to an agreed timeframe.

Jon bears a striking resemblance to Richard from the popular Guess Who game, a factoid Dale makes sure to regularly remind him about!

FREE online Connecting Steps training - Don’t miss out!

The second of our new monthly FREE Connecting Steps training webinars took place yesterday.

It’s not too late to access your FREE training. Don’t worry if you missed the webinar, you can watch the recording here:

 

Listening to our customers

We know the pressures schools are under and we want to support schools as best we can. Schools are under increasing pressure to show progress for pupils with SEND and although they use Connecting Steps, we have found they don’t know all the different ways they can show progress. Our training webinars allow us to show how easy and simple it is to show progress in different ways and how you can use this to increase engagement with parents.

Learning from experience

This month we focused more on the basics of Connecting Steps, navigating around and the different screens within Connecting Steps. We also covered how to start off, making sure pupils are baselined correctly and using the different levels of experiences and how you can use these to show progress. We have found that schools who have used Connecting Steps for years are unaware of some of the features we have introduced in the last few years and the difference this can make. Teachers who have used us for years often benefit hugely as we may show them a screen they haven’t seen or we explain one of the screens they didn’t understand. Come and join the next webinar to make sure you are getting the most out of Connecting Steps.

Prefer to take part in a LIVE session?

Register now for our next Connecting Steps training webinar taking place at 4pm Tuesday 11 September (we are not running a session in August).

Next webinar - Transitioning to B Squared's new assessment frameworks, 7pm Tuesday 10 July

B Squared has 3 new frameworks that have been developed in response to the Rochford Review: Final Report recommendations and the release of the new pre-key stage standards. This FREE online webinar is designed to inform our existing customers about how our assessment frameworks are changing, how to transition and the effects this will have on your data. This webinar will cover:

  • Introduction to our new assessment frameworks: Engagement Steps; Progressions Steps; Primary Steps
  • How the new levelling structure looks
  • An overview of getting started with Engagement Steps
  • An overview of the differences between the old P Levels and National Curriculum and the new Progression Steps
  • An overview of Primary Steps
  • How to transition from P Levels and National Curriculum to Progression Steps or Primary Steps

Register now by clicking here


FREE online Connecting Steps training – What’s the catch?

It’s true, it’s FREE and in all honesty, there is no catch! Apart from maybe the challenge of finding a quiet place at school to join in one of our online sessions. Find out for yourself - just ask any of the teachers who attended our first FREE Connecting Steps online training webinar which took place LIVE online earlier this week (Tuesday 5 June at 4pm).

Experimenting with webinars

I was bowled over by the great feedback we received from teachers who took part in our very first webinar ‘Introduction to Engagement Steps’, held just a few just weeks ago. The aim of this first session was to introduce our newest assessment frameworks, developed in response to the Rochford Review. This webinar, scheduled outside of school hours on a topic of interest for our teacher customers, proved a big hit! So what next?

Listening to our customers

I spend most of my working week visiting schools, to introduce them to B Squared or train staff on how to use our Connecting Steps assessment software. I have listened to feedback from a number of our customer schools who have identified a training need for their new staff, but due to tight budgets it is not financially viable to pay for someone from B Squared to come and deliver training in-person for a small number of staff. In response to this need, we have decided to offer a FREE Connecting Steps training webinar on a monthly basis (4pm on the first Tuesday of the month). Open to all our Connecting Steps V4 hosted customers, this session is ideal as a refresher for existing users or a starting point for new staff, who can then talk to colleagues at their school about how the software is used within their setting. These webinars have been designed to complement, not replace, whole school face-to-face training which enables us to customise the delivery to meet each school's individual needs.

Learning from experience

This week’s first training webinar has shown me that a basic overview of the software and all its functionality is a bit too much of a squeeze to fit into 30 minutes! So, we plan to extend the next session to 45 minutes (plus 15 minutes questions). We are also considering breaking out some specific areas, such as ‘student baselining’ or ‘CSAM: Connecting Steps Analysis Module’ for more in-depth training (dates/times TBC). If there’s a particular element you would like to see covered in more detail, please do let me know via the comments section below.

Sound good? 

It’s not too late to access your FREE training. Don’t worry if you missed this first training webinar, you can watch the recording here: 

 

Prefer to take part in a LIVE session?

Register now for our next Connecting Steps training webinar taking place on Tuesday 3 July at 4pm.

Our next webinar: Are you ready for the removal of P-Levels? - 7pm Tuesday 12th June

This FREE online webinar has been designed to inform teachers on the implications of the Rochford Review and how our assessment frameworks are changing in response to the removal of P Levels.

To register for any of our webinars, simply visit our Webinars page www.bsquared.co.uk/more/webinars


Yes, yet another blog about GDPR

It seems that the whole country has gone GDPR crazy. It was the dominating topic at BETT at the beginning of the year with new companies popping up to help schools comply with what is a complex and sometimes “open to interpretation” document. Let’s face it though, it is not the first-time schools have had to muddle their way through a document that can be read in different ways. There is a whole host of information out there on the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), with guidance on what companies should and should not be doing, mainly focusing on single aspects of this new regulation, but rarely covering the entire document and its implications. Some of this information has been contradictory or just plain wrong! If you haven’t already found it, the ICO website has some excellent guidance on what schools and companies should be doing to prepare for the GDPR.

What was B Squared’s approach to GDPR?

When I first made a start on our GDPR compliance work internally, it was really tempting to look at all the information that was out there. I realised pretty quickly that the infancy of the document (we looked at it early on) was creating confusion. In my experience, sometimes it is better to go to the source document itself and give it a good read through before seeking additional support. That is exactly what I did, I downloaded the document and spent some considerable time converting it into a usable word document with properly formatted headings, to ease navigation, as each section sent me careering backwards and forwards through the document. Whilst it is certainly not Tolstoy, it is actually a very interesting read. It seeks to deal with some of the most common issues that exist in the 21st century that ever-increasing storage capabilities and technologies brings. We can all sit and roll our eyes when we hear the dreaded GDPR acronym, but it comes from a good place and successful implementation will make our data far safer.

So how has the GDPR affected us you may ask? 

Well, as I read through it, overall, I found myself nodding along, thinking “excellent, good idea, that’s what we do”, and only occasionally making notes about things that we need to change, which are mainly around the fact that as a small company, we do not have the level of auditing and documentation that larger companies rely on because of the inherent complexities that arise when the number of staff increases. But the GDPR is fair in its expectations, the requirements relate to the size of the business rather than pressing for a “one size fits all” approach when it comes to these auditing processes.

So how do we fare in light of the GDPR in relation to the processing services we offer? 

The answer is, quite well. As an already security conscious company, I found that our own paranoia around security has fared well against these new requirements. What also helps tremendously is that our Managing Director Dale Pickles, who is also a techie at heart, understands very well the risks, which makes my job a lot easier as I don’t have to do the hard sell to him on the benefits of any particular strategy. In fact, Dale is always looking for safer and more secure ways of working with the products we sell. As a team, we work well in identifying risks early on and mitigating them before they become an issue, because our backgrounds, professional training and qualifications are all around provisioning networks and domains with the “path of least access” as a core principal.

What should schools be doing around the GDPR?

At this point, schools should be nearly done embedding the GDPR into all their practices, preparing for the May 25th deadline. Probably the most important document you need is your data flow map. The action of writing this document forces you to research, define and check every piece of data that goes in and out of your school and from this you can then assign the risk to the data involved. It is during this process that we should have popped up on your radar. Because we do some of the work for you and we hold and process your data, you need to check that we do things as well as you expect them to be done in your own school. The same can be said for every external system that you use.

What questions should you be asking of us?

We have put together a section on our support site which lists some commonly asked questions around our service to help schools ascertain our compliance. Being that there is no formal qualification or certification of GDPR compliance (yet), it is up to you to decide. Therefore transparency is important to us, and we are happy to give as much detail as is required as long as it doesn’t make our own security vulnerable (a key aspect of online security is obscuring your system as far as possible to deter attackers from launching system specific attacks). You can find information surrounding our GDPR compliance here https://support.connectingsteps.com/category/361-gdpr-information

What have we changed to be GDPR compliant?

We have distributed a contract addendum to all our customers for them to sign and return to ensure GDPR compliance for us and our schools. This brings the contract into line with the requirements under Article 28 specifically. From now on, we shall also include the relevant Article 6 clause within our email communications to help people understand how each communication is lawful and to generally be transparent in our approach.

Any questions?

I trust your school is well on the way to GDPR compliance. But if you have further questions for B Squared that are not answered there, please do email me at jon@bsquared.co.uk and I would be happy to respond.


Our first webinar - Intro to Engagement Steps

Two short weeks ago, we were sat in a meeting discussing how best to show teachers what our new Engagement Steps assessment framework is all about. We have been working hard to improve our communications over the past few months,  in order to share details on all the exciting new things we are doing in a way that best suits our teacher customers. Whilst we can make all the changes in the world, unfortunately we can't change the lack of 'free' time that teachers have during their working day (boo!) and the restrictions in place on school networks (quite rightly so), both of which hamper many of the ways in which we can communicate. 

Being married to a teacher, the usual evening drill is finish work, pick the kids up from nursery, get home, deal with the incessant "I'm hungry" cries (despite them having already eaten a very hearty and nutritionally balanced meal), put the kids to bed, cook dinner, wash up and then... watch as my wife opens her laptop to plan lessons and finish up all the things that didn't get done in the day, around 8:00pm in the evening! During the aforementioned meeting, I suggested that it would probably be a good idea to hold a short webinar about Engagement Steps around that time to allow teachers to join in online. And so at that moment, I volunteered myself for the task!

The response we had to the webinar was impressive. Far more people opted to join us than we had anticipated and the turn out was excellent. It gave us the chance to try out this new format on a topic that is very important to us and our customers (the post-Rochford Review era). Whilst the webinar went well, I learnt a lot from it and have some great ideas on how we can 'do better next time'. We will also be working on the technical issues that affected us during the session.

You can view a recording below in case you missed it. Some great questions were asked and we think the answers would also be of interest for many of our teacher customers, so I've also included the questions and our answers below.

Thank you once again to all the teachers that participated, hopefully you will join us again in future as we cover more topics.

 

 

 

Will I be able to get a recording of this meeting to share with staff back at school?

Yes, this meeting is being recorded and will be made available afterwards for you to use and share as you need

Are the P1-P4 current targets going to disappear or is Engagement Steps going to work alongside them?

Our current P1 to P4 offering is still going to exist, however it is our expectation that schools will choose to use this (Engagement Steps) approach over P Scales. Engagement Steps should provide a far better approach to assessment and make it easier to show progress. Under the subject-specific areas, the P Scales have always struggled to support students working at these levels, something which has been reported to us over the years and has been taken into consideration in the development of Engagement Steps.

When will Progression Steps be available?

The Progression Steps Cognition & Learning section covering all the subject areas is available to purchase NOW! The sections Communication & Interaction, Social, Emotional & Mental Health and Sensory & Physical for Progression Steps are being worked on as we speak and we expect these to take 2 years to develop in full. We shall make these available to release when they become ready and there will be a 'review period' taking place where schools can opt for early access to review the content and suggest changes. 

Is there an additional cost for Engagement Steps if our school is already using B Squared's Connecting Steps software? 

Engagement Steps is a completely new assessment framework and approach so there is no upgrade pricing available for this. Schools will need to buy into the framework in order to access it.

Are you having any involvement with the New Welsh curriculum following Donaldson's recommendations?

Yes, we will be doing a breakdown for the Welsh Curriculum. We had already started this project, however as there are changes being made at the moment, this is on hold until they are finalised.

What is the difference between B Squared’s current National Curriculum and P Scale assessment frameworks and the new Progression Steps framework? 

Progression Steps has been designed to be used as an observation-based, formative assessment framework for pupils who are engaged in subject-specific learning. This framework helps teachers to identify and record the ongoing achievements of pupils who are working moderately or severely beneath age-related expectations, in some or all areas of their development. It can be used with pupils who are either studying elements from the formal curriculum or those who are still engaged with a semi-formal approach to learning. The Progression Steps assessment framework helps schools and teachers to monitor their provision for Cognition & Learning by enabling staff to record the academic knowledge and abilities achieved by their pupils. 

The structure of Progression Steps covers the ability range of pupils who would have previously been assessed as operating between P4 and the end of Key Stage 3 expectations. Skills that are deemed similarly challenging have been grouped together in steps. The organisation of these skill steps reflects the performance descriptor structure used by the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) in the following documents: ‘Teacher Assessment Frameworks at the End of Key Stage 1’ (STA, 2017), ‘Interim Pre-Key Stage 1: Pupils Working Below the Test Standard’ (STA, 2017), ‘Teacher Assessment Frameworks at the End of Key Stage 2’ (STA, 2017), ‘Interim Pre-Key Stage 2: Pupils Working Below the Test Standard’ (STA, 2017), and ‘The Rochford Review: Final Report’ (STA, 2016). The Progression Steps framework breaks down the 2014 National Curriculum into smaller, more manageable, assessment points against which pupils (that make atypical rates of progress in some or all aspects of their academic development) can be evaluated. Progression Steps will be sold in three packs. These are: 

  •  Core—this pack breaks down and covers the English, Maths and Science programmes of study for Key Stage 1, Key Stage 2, and Key Stage 3. As there are no specified programmes of study for pupils working beneath the level of the National Curriculum, we have identified prerequisite skills for entry to the programmes of study.
  • Core+—this pack covers Personal, Social, Health & Economic Education; Citizenship; Sex & Relationships Education; Computing; and Physical Education.
  • Foundation—this pack covers Art & Design; Design & Technology; Geography; History; Languages; Music; and Religious Education. 

Many of the assessment points in these Progression Steps packs link with assessment points in our 2014 P Scales and 2014 National Curriculum frameworks, and so a great deal of your pupils' achievement data will carry across. However, we have spent a long time analysing and refining the content of Progression Steps and we believe that we have reduced the workload for teachers whilst ensuring that pupil progress milestones are still recognised.

How does B Squared’s Engagement Steps assessment framework compare with the Rochford Review’s recommended approach to assessing pupils not engaged in subject-specific learning? 

The Rochford Review recommends a statutory duty to assess pupils not engaged in subject-specific learning against the following seven aspects of Cognition & Learning: Responsiveness, Curiosity, Discovery, Anticipation, Persistence, Initiation, and Investigation. The Review’s recommendations build upon a research project commissioned by the DfE, The Complex Learning Difficulties and Disabilities (CLDD) research project (Carpenter 2011). The Engagement Profile and Scale detailed in this project encourage members of school staff to provide an activity for a pupil and then define the pupil’s engagement with the activity by describing how each of the seven aspects were demonstrated with a paragraph of text and providing a score between 0 and 4 for each these. These seven scores are then added together to provide a score out of 28. Following this assessment, the member of staff must then reflect on their interaction and identify potential changes that they could make to the activity in order to increase the pupil’s engagement. 

In the Government’s response to the “Primary school pupil assessment: Rochford Review recommendations” consultation, they agreed with the Rochford Review’s position that the statutory assessment of these pupils should focus on Cognition & Learning but should not undermine provision in any of the other three broad areas of need. But when it came to assessing the seven aspects of engagement, the Government stated that: 

“a number of individual respondents and representative organisations have expressed concerns about the introduction of a statutory requirement to assess pupils against the 7 areas of engagement, given that it was not originally designed as a statutory assessment tool, and it is relatively untested in its proposed form. Concerns have also been raised by some respondents about whether the model assesses the appropriate aspects of cognition and learning.” 

(DfE, 2017, p14) 

With B Squared’s Engagement Steps assessment framework, we have taken the subjectivity out of the process. We have defined criterion-based assessment frameworks for each of the seven aspects of engagement alongside frameworks for expressive and receptive communication, social and emotional affection and sensory and physical operation. We have also extended the ability range of this framework to include pupils who would previously have been assessed at P6. We took this decision to allow Engagement Steps (non-subject-specific) and Progression Steps (subject-specific) to overlap which helps pupils with spikey profiles to transition slowly into a subject-specific curriculum at a time that is appropriate to them. Given the ambiguous nature of the Government’s position on The Engagement Profile and Scale, we have promised to adapt the Cognition & Learning aspect of Engagement Steps for free if the Government decides to go a different way following their pilot scheme.


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