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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...


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


Did you miss our ‘Are You Ready for the Removal of P Levels?’ Webinar?

Last night we ran our ‘Are you ready for the removal of P Levels?’ Webinar. The webinar covered the changes to the end of key stage statutory assessment, the impact this will have, how schools will need to change and how to have meaningful communication with parents.If you missed the webinar you can watch it below (you can make it full screen to make it easier to view). You will also find the handouts mentioned in the webinar in the links below the video.

 

 

How do Schools Feel About the Changes?

The webinar was also a chance for us to hear from teachers and find out how they felt about the removal of P Levels and the introduction of the new pre-key stage standards. The answers included ‘A little daunted’ and ‘Anxious!’, from those who were still at the beginning of the journey, not sure what way to go or what to do. Others in a similar place gave a less positive response. It is obvious there has not been enough support or guidance from the DfE on the changes and the impact the changes will have.

There are many professionals who are still hoping for more guidance from the government. ‘I feel confused! I would like advice about what to use for the day-to-day assessment for pupils with SEND’. The autonomy the government is looking for has not been introduced in a productive way. There is very little guidance, very little support and no money. Asking schools to take on more responsibility for areas which they are then judged on without providing support and funding is likely to have a negative impact, not the positive impact the government is hoping for.

One teacher commented ‘Daunting going into the unknown and how it will look and how the school will progress and what they will expect from teachers and workload’ and my favourite quote from the webinar follow up was ‘It feels a little bit like going back in time and giving rise to everyone recreating their own wheels!’. This for me sums up the situation schools are in. Not only is the government asking everyone to recreate their own wheel, but asking them to do it on top of everything else they are doing. A special school can pool all their resources and work on this collectively, but without additional funding something else will lose out. What happens to a SENDCo in a mainstream setting? How is a mainstream SENDCo with very limited time and close to no budget supposed to develop ways to show progress for pupils with SEND? It will then be used across the school and used to evidence progress for pupils with SEND to Ofsted and other stakeholders. A big responsibility with minimal support/guidance/funding.

Some teachers are more positive, they recognise the positive aspect of the freedom, but they acknowledge the associated costs - ‘Worried and excited. More flexibility for school is good, the ability to have meaningful conversation between schools is not so good’

Overall teachers are looking for more guidance and support from the DfE and other organisations. After watching the webinar a number of respondents felt that they had a better understanding of the changes and were less concerned than they were at the start. Their biggest concern is how they will show progress within the key stage. 36% of respondents said they would be moving away from P Levels, 64% said they were not sure. It was interesting that no one said they would definitely stick with P Levels. Schools currently use the P Levels to report annual progress and are now looking to replace the P Levels with something new for their ongoing assessment from September.

 

How Can we Provide More Support to Schools?

As part of the follow up we asked schools what webinars schools would like us to run. Webinars are a great way to share information with a large audience. Attendees are able to gain knowledge in manageable chunks which they can then share later with other staff. We run our webinars at 7pm in the evening, this makes a lot of sense to us as we know how hectic the school day is and it is not often you can sit down for an hour uninterrupted. ‘LOVE that it was at 7pm, so that I could be home and settled before logging in. Work is too hectic to really access these kind of things (and you wouldn’t be able to get cover!) but webinars are so much more useful/efficient than courses’.

 

‘It's brilliant that B Squared keeps up with the all the changes and meets the DfE's latest requirement. It is enormous help for us as we are a very small special school. Thank you!’ We will always keep up to date with changes from the DfE and support schools in adapting to changes. Announcements for pupils with SEND are often made with minimal fanfare as they only effect a small percentage of students, but for these students, the teachers and the schools these changes can have a significant impact. 

We’ve been asked to run webinars on:

  • A practical guide on how to use Evisense, how it would be deployed in a school
  • Meaningful Communication
  • Connecting Steps Analysis Module (CSAM), our whole school analysis software
  • Transitioning to the new frameworks - This webinar is on Tuesday 10th of July at 7pm. Click here to register for the webinar.

If you have any ideas for webinars, or areas you need support on, please drop us an email to hello@bsquared.co.uk and we will see what we can do. We are also looking to provide webinars on wider topics so we can support schools better.

Other Feedback

Keeping in touch with our customers is really important. We are constantly updating what we do, improving our software, adding new areas in and releasing new products. Webinars are great for schools to keep in touch with what we have been up to. You may have been using us for a long time, but do you know all the things Connecting Steps can do, one teacher commented ‘We run B Squared currently but I learnt things tonight about our current package that I didn't know. Something to try out tomorrow. Thank-you’.

We are always listening and the feedback goes into our products. A few of the comments in the feedback were linked to showing the really small steps of progress Connecting Steps can show. Connecting Steps uses levels of engagement to show progress as students achieve skills. There are 7 steps of engagement before a student achieves a skill. You don’t have to use all of them, you can choose which ones you want to use and remove the others. This allows teachers to see the level of engagement for pupils on the different skills and Connecting Steps can show the progress through the different levels of engagement. In the webinar I shared the pie chart which shows the level of engagement with all the skills within a level. This can also be graphed over time with CSAM, you can show that although a pupil hasn’t achieved a skill independently they are now engaging with the skill or they are doing it with less support than they were before. For a child with complex needs this can be a really big improvement even though it is not recognised in the government's way of looking at progress.

If you would like to know more about how we are changing with the removal of P Levels, how our assessment software works and how it can be used in your school, you can arrange a FREE online meeting by going to www.connectingsteps.com/meetings 

Why not get in contact by giving us a call on 01252 870133 or sending an email to hello@bsquared.co.uk


Life Without Levels - Four Years On

The levels are dead…

In 2014, we were told that the National Curriculum level descriptors were bad. Possibly because teacher assessment was not as ‘accurate’ as testing. Possibly because the old level descriptor content didn’t match Gove’s new National Curriculum attainment targets. Possibly because a best-fit approach to assessment left ‘gaps’ in children’s learning. Possibly because parents and children didn’t understand them.

Four years on and The STA have finally published the ‘permanent and extended ’ pre-key stage standards; and at first glance they look very different to the last edition. What is particularly interesting is that they also look very different to the recommended standards that were published in the appendices of The Rochford Review: final report.

And yet, they still somehow look quite familiar: *cough* levels *cough*.

Review and revolution

Following the long-delayed final report of The Rochford Review and the subsequent open consultations, The STA sought advice and guidance from classroom staff and educational practitioners regarding the content of these suggested pre-key stage standards.

The pre-key standards are almost unrecognisable from the Rochford-recommended standards. I’m glad to see that the ‘experts’ hard work was worth the wait. And, whilst I have no real idea how much attention was paid to the responses garnered, the extent of the changes seem to indicate that a lot more thought and effort went in to the production of these new assessment standards. It makes me question why the STA didn’t go straight to the experienced grass-roots professionals in the first place.

But I still have a problem with the name! The pupils who will be assessed against these standards are not ‘pre-key stage’ learners.

Clear as mud

The STA state that the standards are provided for the statutory assessment of pupils who are in Year 2/6 and are engaged in subject-specific learning but who have not completed the programme of study, and are therefore working below the level of SATs.

They make it incredibly clear that: “The standards are not a formative assessment tool” and then immediately contradict this simple instruction by suggesting that:

 

The pre-key stage standards may also be useful for teachers to refer to for pupils of all ages, including those attending secondary school 

Pre-Key Stage Standards (2018–19), p.2

 

So once again, we have been given mixed messages!

The useful bits

The STA spell out what it meant by their qualifiers and examples. This aspect of the guidance is actually quite useful. According to the document ‘most’ indicates that the statement is generally met with only occasional errors; ‘many’ indicates that the statement is met frequently but not yet consistently; and ‘some’ indicates that the skill/knowledge is starting to be acquired and is demonstrated correctly on occasion, but is not yet consistent or frequent.

The STA also state that reasonable adjustments should be made for pupils with disabilities and that the pupil’s individual method of communication or study can constitute as an acceptable substitution. Additionally, and in line with the recent adaptions to the English writing aspect of the teacher assessment framework, The STA points out that statements can be disapplied on the basis of a pupil’s physical disability.

However, this seems to be contradicted later in the notes on English writing, whereby The STA state that:

 

This approach applies to English writing only. 

Pre-Key Stage Standards (2018–19), p.6

 What’s changed?

Most noticeably, there is an extra standard in both the Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 frameworks. I believe that The STA have raised the skill-level required by pupils to achieve some of the lowest standards. This means that the pupils who may have just achieved an aspect of the proposed ‘entry to the expected standard’ descriptor (recommended in the Rochford Review) will now be assessed against P levels 1–4 currently, and whichever non-subject-specific criteria is decided upon after the Engagement Scale pilot. However, the ‘entry to the expected standard’ descriptor was huge—by our reckoning, it covered aspects of P levels 4–7. By raising the entry requirements in some areas, and introducing this extra standard, I believe The STA have balanced the new pre-key stage standards to create more evenly spaced attainment brackets.

For a more in-depth analysis of the changes click here.

Reading—a greater focus on understanding

The teacher assessment descriptors for pupils working at the level of the test have been removed in Key Stage two and there is a greater level of emphasis put on language comprehension.

Writing—creativity makes a comeback

There is a greater level of emphasis placed on the content and style of the pupil’s writing, not just the handwriting, spelling, punctuation, and grammar. This, alongside the fact that certain statements can be discounted for pupils with disabilities, means that there is less of a focus on the physical aspects of writing which previously seemed to discriminate against pupils with physical impairments or co-ordination issues.

Mathematics—less is more

The teacher assessment descriptors for pupils working at the level of the test have been removed in Key Stage two, much of the content has been removed from the higher levels and there is a greater emphasis is placed on arithmetic recall and mathematically reasoning.

Science—what science?

Despite the increased national focus on ‘STEM’ subjects, both the assessment frameworks for KS1 and KS2 science are almost entirely the identical to the previous iteration of the teacher assessment frameworks. They still only have a ‘working at the expected standard’ descriptor for each key stage and this means that the statutory assessment of science for pupils with working below these standards is not required.

Technically, a few sentences have been rearranged and The STA have helpfully identified in which school the content should be taught; but other than that, no big changes. 

 


…long live the levels!

Despite having it rammed down our throats that levels were bad and stifling children’s progress, it looks an awful lot like we’ve got them back.

The removal of the Key Stage 2 teacher assessment frameworks for English reading and mathematics, and the impending move away from end-of-KS1 assessments towards a reception baseline assessment may have alleviated the government’s distrust in teacher assessment, and allowed examinations to play a more solitary role in the assessment of mainstream pupils. However, they are still aware that this format will not work for around 20% of the school-age population, many of whom have SEND. I’m sure they’re not happy about that!

In the creation of the new pre-key stage standards, they have successfully updated the language of these new (not level) descriptors to match that of Gove’s National Curriculum. If you ask me, it seems like a lot of chaos, stress, and extra effort for very little reward, but at least Pob gets to put his name down in the history books.

The best-fit approach of recording pupil performance as and where it is demonstrated has all but gone. With such broad areas as English reading, this is a loss to all those pupils with spikey attainment profiles. I always remember two pupils I once taught. One child had severe dyslexic tendencies, she could barely distinguish the letters on the page, let alone recognise many words. However, when read to, she was able to use inference and deduction to explain how characters were feeling and predict upcoming events. The other student was statemented with autism. He could read words of inordinate complexity but very rarely comprehended their meaning. Because of the amalgamated nature English reading assessments, they were both recorded as operating at the same level but their capabilities couldn’t have been more different.

If we thought that parents didn’t understand levels, we’ve got another thing coming. How is Standard 3 any clearer than P8? It was reported that pupils felt bad because they had only progressed from a 2c in Year 2 to a level 4 in Year 6. Think how bad they’re going to feel when they are reported as working toward the standard in both key stages (or not achieving the standard as is the case in science).

However, I do think that these new frameworks are more balanced than the Rochford-recommended descriptors and the 2017–18 frameworks. With the English reading framework, I am happy that The STA have increased the focus on comprehension; and in writing, I am very pleased that there has been a move away from just the physical skills required to transcribe. Both of these elements open the framework up to children with a broader range of special educational needs and disabilities. However, with the government still fixated on the idea of a secure-fit approach (albeit slightly softened in English writing), many pupils will still be reported as working at a lower ability level than accurately reflects their individual assessment profile.

But the real questions are:

  1. Will this new framework allow schools to show accurate and meaningful progress over a key stage for those students operating within the pre-key stage standards?
  2. With the impending move away from end-of-KS1 assessments towards a reception baseline assessment, will pupils with SEND sit a test at the age of 4 too? And what will their results look like?

Current documents:

Pre-Key Stage 1 Standards (2018–19)

Pre-Key Stage 2 Standards (2018–19)

PreTeacher Assessment Framework for Key Stage 1 (2018–19)

PreTeacher Assessment Framework for Key Stage 2 (2018–19)

 

Previous documents:

The Rochford Review: Final Report (2016)

PreInterim Pre-Key Stage 1 Standards (2017–18)

PreInterim Pre-Key Stage 2 Standards (2017–18)

PreTeacher Assessment Framework for Key Stage 1 (2018–19)

PreTeacher Assessment Framework for Key Stage 2 (2018–19) 


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.


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