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A SCITT model for assessment: alignment and development

Written by: Henry Sauntson and Andrew Currie
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12 min read
Henry Sauntson FCCT, Director and Andrew Currie, Primary Director at Teach East SCITT, UK

At the heart of initial teacher education (ITE) lies a diverse range of students from a range of backgrounds, experiences and disciplines, all working towards the same set of professional standards in their own individual domains – the Key Stage 2 primary trainee working towards the same qualification criteria as the secondary biology specialist. This indicates immediately that the first thing that all school-centred initial teacher training (SCITT) providers must do is to interpret the criteria according to the required contexts and design a curriculum that enables and supports progress towards the standard goal in a range of discipline-specific ways.

The challenge of the assessment model is that it must support and validate the implementation of the curriculum and allow reliable inferences to be drawn regarding trainee development; inference is contextual and therefore there must be scope in the assessment model itself to adapt for individual need. The ITE ‘core’ curriculum is largely theoretical, with a high degree of abstraction and generalisation, and yet trainees are pursuing qualified teacher status (QTS) in a specific discipline; the assessment designed to support the curriculum implementation must acknowledge the need for disciplinary contextualisation, but with the curriculum also paying meet adoration to the respective subject-development needs of the different trainees. Insofar as this goes, all curriculum for ITE (and therefore all assessment) must give strong footing to subject knowledge development and the respective disciplinary pedagogies, as well as to the general aspects of the profession that must be learned. Teaching is all about adaptation, after all!

Much assessment in ITE is by nature formative in use; trainees receive regular feedback on observations, regular dialogue with mentors and regular topping-up of their toolbox. All of these then become core aspects of the assessment model as well – but how valid are the judgments of the range of mentors who may assess in different ways? This then brings in the need for robust and well-founded monitoring and standardisation, as your assessment of trainees will be inconsistent if the assessors themselves are not calibrated and aligned; essential to the success of the curriculum and its accompanying assessment is the communication of the rationale and approach to all those who are party to its implementation. Involvement in the implementation of a well communicated model helps all stakeholders to be fully engaged in its realisation; as with all curricula, it may be designed by ‘leaders’ but it is essentially enacted by all, and clarity of purpose is essential.

Assessment is the foundation for the next stage of building; trainees work towards a set of standards, which then become the benchmark for the rest of their career, so there is need to take into account the rate of progression and growth, which is exponential in the early stages and then levels off. How can ITE prepare both trainees and their partner schools for this?

Rationale and intent: Evidence base

When my colleague Andrew started designing the new assessment framework, his considerations were naturally reflected in the statutory criteria:

According to the ITT Core Content Framework (DfE, 2019a), providers should:

  • design curricula appropriate for the subject, phase and age range that the trainees will be teaching’
  • ensure that trainees have adequately covered the foundational knowledge and skills that are a prerequisite for the content defined in the Framework
  • integrate additional analysis and critique of theory, research and expert practice as they deem appropriate
  • ensure that trainees receive clear and consistent mentoring and support from mentors and other expert colleagues.

As a provider, we believe strongly in the power of evidence and how it can inform teaching practice, and we consider a need for an understanding of the science behind learning an essential aspect of any teacher’s development. ‘One important task for teacher educators is helping teachers to understand how students learn and to use this knowledge in their teaching.’ (Fletcher-Wood et al., 2019, p. 3) We need to ensure that ‘by the time they complete their preservice preparation… future teachers both understand the basics of learning science, and are able to apply that knowledge in their teaching’ (Deans for Impact, 2020, p. 5).

As we run both primary and secondary cohorts, we also have to consider – as stated above – the contextual application of the assessment criteria that we determined appropriate to enable our robust and rigorous judgements to be made, as well as the development of deep subject knowledge. Much of our new methodology was driven by the need to incorporate opportunities for both formative and summative use of the information that we elicit and the inferences drawn therefrom.

Statutory criteria for assessment

At the heart of our curriculum – both school-based and core training – lies the ITT Core Content Framework, but this serves as the foundation for interpretation and delivery; how we assess this must also provide secure indication of trainee ability, as they move through into the next phase of the early career stages. It is interesting to note that the Early Career Framework (DfE, 2019b) statements bear remarkable similarity to the ITT Core Content statements, but with the removal of phrases such as ‘discussing and analysing with expert colleagues’ (p. 12) and ‘clear, consistent and effective mentoring’ (p. 9) – to us this shows that the role of the mentor and the placement school is a vital part of the trainee’s success and our assessment of them. Alongside our core curriculum offer sit our statements of intent. In order to meet these and achieve our desired efficacy, we have to ensure that we assess appropriately; many of our trainees will go on to find full-time employment in their placement school, and first impressions count: initial teacher performance is a good predictor of future performance and, furthermore, ‘it is found easier to identify teachers who will go on to be excellent in the future’ (Atteberry et al., 2015, p. 16). We have to ensure that we follow robust procedures that allow us to make the identification of these bastions early. Although Berliner (2004) reminds us that expertise as a teacher takes a minimum of five to seven years to achieve – with the added caveat of hard work! – we are keen to ensure that we develop our model to fit into a longer-cycle model. Ingersoll and Strong (2011) found that the induction phase for trainees (their NQT year) was actually the second phase in a cycle that culminates in improved student learning; the pre-service preparation – the ITT year – is vital too.

Assessment of trainees actually starts at pre-acceptance phase, as trainees have to meet standard entry criteria determined by the provider, with whom accountability lies. It builds from here through interview and demonstration of competence; at every point, a prospective trainee is being assessed against standards, and providers must adjust their expectations of performance to factor in the novice status and raw potential of their applicants.

In the Data Insights report ‘How to assess the potential to teach’ (Churches and Lawrance, 2020), it was found that ‘recruiters should place more emphasis on the observation of a candidate’s actual skills’ (p. 18), perhaps through simulated classroom activities, rather than on their emotional investment in the role of the teacher, but not to neglect ‘empathy and cultural awareness’ (p. 23), which may be an indicator of future resilience and retention. Ultimately we want to bring into the system those who, once invested in, will stay and grow. As the main assessment of the ability of the teacher lies in their classroom practice, it makes sense to ensure that this is a key focus of any interview process, however it is enabled.

Implementation and context

We designed a model that showed progression. Assessment of trainees begins before they start their training, as they have to show competence in literacy and numeracy, as well as the potential to train and thrive; all recruitment processes are part of ongoing assessment practices. Pre-service induction material forms part of the curriculum, as it lays the groundwork for the trainees and their tutors; in order to appropriately teach, we must always ascertain prior knowledge. We use trainee self-assessment in the form of subject knowledge audits where our cohort rate themselves against the core aspects of their respective curricula, and this, in turn, informs our subject-focused sessions that form part of core training.

Instead of a reliance on the somewhat arbitrary and finite nature of the Teachers’ Standards, we designed a review point model, aligned to progress towards the Standards and core competencies. The ITT Core Content statements were painstakingly mapped against our five pillars of teacher development – pedagogy, assessment, curriculum, behaviour management and professional behaviours – to create checkpoints aligned to progression in each area: is the trainee on or off track at this stage, and what support do we need to put in place to ensure that they move forward? This mapping also became the basis of our core training curriculum, which, alongside in-school experience and mentor feedback, is the bedrock of our trainee development. The latter aspect also has implications for our training of mentors, as classroom observation and subsequent feedback form an essential part of the assessment map of a trainee, and must be standardised, verified and reliable.

Our model is layered, with each layer informing and supporting the next. At the base lies the school practice of the trainee, augmented by the feedback and dialogue (the essence of hope and of critical thinking, to reference Freire (1970)) with mentors and then the strength of the core training, itself underpinned by research evidence, iterative curriculum design and expert delivery. It is from this stage that the mentors make their on/off-track judgments and from which further support can then be enabled. As they practise and receive instruction, trainees also gather a portfolio of evidence, essentially their ‘autobiography’ as a developing teacher. This portfolio then acts as a source of individual research evidence, which informs smaller, focused reflective tasks, used formatively to assess trainee understanding of core aspects of their craft and aligned to our projected progress and their development. Finally, these reflections and the feedback therefrom enable trainees to produce termly academic assignments in the form of inquiry questions – how does (intervention) impact on (outcomes) for (group of students)? – that are tightly focused on a specific aspect of their pedagogy and the implications that it has for them. Reflection is always vital to enable trainees to sensibly absorb feedback and make positive changes. The assignments increase our assessment reliability by narrowing the focus and increasing the length of process: more time is given to produce more focused results that have been honed and crafted more explicitly through classroom experience, and which are therefore a better and richer indication of trainee understanding. What we strive to ensure is that the trade-off between time taken to complete the assignments and the worth of the information that we elicit from them is appropriate; we do not want our trainees to compromise the quality of time that they dedicate to classroom practice and the improvement opportunities that it brings.

Monitoring and evaluation

As with all new ideas and responses to changes in criteria, there is a need for robust and responsive evaluation. With so many stakeholders in the formative assessment and feedback process, we need to be sure that what we base our inferences on is both valid and reliable; both are often proved in the eating of the pudding.

Feedback – be it formal or anecdotal – is provided to trainees every day by their in-school mentors, so much responsibility lies on us as a provider to ensure that the mentors themselves are both equipped and supported in carrying out their duties. As a provider, we create and distribute exemplar material and standardisation support to ensure calibration and clarity, whilst all the while ensuring that trainees are kept fully abreast of their progress – there must be no surprises. At all points the assessment model is moderated, monitored and reviewed, with changes being made where feedback from our stakeholders deems it appropriate to do so; flexibility and responsiveness are essential to the successful implementation of this new approach. There is a vital need for a teacher working as a school-based mentor for a trainee to become conversant with the framework in which their mentee is trained, to ensure longevity and consistency of the underpinning principles on which the support is built. For example, how many mentors who have been teaching a number of years fully realise the number of Core Content Framework statements that can be viewed through a ‘learning science’ lens, with a grounding in cognitive science? If we are teaching this in ITE, it must be fully and clearly communicated to all that support ITE and early career – the aftercare is as important as the ‘birth’ of the teacher, and successful further assessment for the purposes of support is built on a forward-looking model that acknowledges the longer-term development of the to-be-teacher. This is where an additional curriculum of mentor training sits alongside our trainees’ study; mentors are enabled to successfully support and articulate the growth of the trainee as a classroom practitioner, in line with our core curriculum concepts and aims.

Long-term development and implications for the sector, including retention

We know that ‘teachers working in more supportive professional environments improve their effectiveness more over time than teachers working in less supportive contexts’ (Kraft and Papay, 2014, p. 476) and that support and assistance for novice teachers has ‘a positive impact on three sets of outcomes: teacher commitment and retention, teacher classroom instructional practices, and student achievement’ (Ingersoll and Strong, 2011, p. 201). Recently, Hobbiss et al. found that growth in teacher effectiveness declines over time, ‘in large part because teachers’ practice becomes habitual’ (Hobbiss et al., 2020, p. 14), and this is something that our model looks to mitigate; we promote the need for careful and deliberate development of practice over time, instilling in our trainees, and their partner schools and future employers, that teacher development takes time, apprenticeship must take place and progress can always be made.

Trainee teachers cross the threshold of the Teachers’ Standards but providers need to communicate closely with future employers to ensure full understanding of trainee progress and their ‘point of transfer’, so as to make sure that ongoing professional development and support are appropriately targeted and pitched. Our curriculum is the vehicle that carries the instruction necessary to attain the Standards, but the assessment must be the valid and reliable indicator of the progress being made towards those standards and whether, indeed, they can be conferred at the end of the journey – assessment essentially validates the curriculum, and the curriculum must be sound.

Ultimately, ITE assessment must be founded on core principles of teaching related to both the Standards and the finer detail of the ITT Core Content, but underpinned by the assessment ‘identity’ of the provider and their interpretation of coverage – as a provider, we need authenticity and belief in our model. We are – and, as we continue to evaluate, we remain – in the centre of a Venn diagram, with the circles being ‘past’ and ‘future’. Our present structure borrows from the old and looks to the new; there are still areas to address, and curricula change with their recipient cohorts – we must not be static in our development.

Andrew is sadly no longer with us, but our SCITT and the impact that we have is – and will continue to be – his legacy. In loving memory of Andrew Currie.

References

Atteberry A, Loeb S and Wyckoff J (2015) Do first impressions matter? Predicting early career teacher effectiveness. AERA-Open. DOI: 10.3386/w19096.

Berliner D (2004) Expert teachers: Their characteristics, development and accomplishments. Available at: www.researchgate.net/publication/255666969_Expert_Teachers_Their_Characteristics_Development_and_Accomplishments (accessed 15 March 2021).

Churches R and Lawrance J (2020) How to assess the potential to teach. Data Insights report. Available at: www.educationdevelopmenttrust.com/EducationDevelopmentTrust/files/b8/b89ca696-101b-4650-8f7a-016a753112d0.pdf (accessed 15 March 2021).

Deans for Impact (2020) Learning by scientific design. Available at: https://deansforimpact.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Deans_for_Impact_LbSD_Report_FINAL-1.pdf (accessed 15 March 2021).

Department for Education (DfE) (2019a) ITT Core Content Framework. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/919166/ITT_core_content_framework_.pdf (accessed 15 March 2021).

Department for Education (DfE) (2019b) Early Career Framework. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/913646/Early-Career_Framework.pdf (accessed 15 March 2021).

Fletcher-Wood H, Bignall B, Calvert J et al. (2019) The Learning Curriculum version 2.0. Ambition Institute. Available at: https://s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/ambition-institute/documents/Learning_Curriculum_2.0.pdf (accessed 15 March 2021).

Freire P (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Continuum International, NY / London

Hobbis M, Sims S and Allen R (2020) Habit formation limits growth in teacher effectiveness: A review of converging evidence from neuroscience and social science. Review of Education 9(1): 3–23.

Ingersoll R and Strong M (2011) The impact of induction and mentoring programs for beginning teachers. Review of Educational Research 81: 201.

Kraft M and Papay J (2014) Can professional environments in schools promote teacher development? Explaining heterogeneity in returns to teaching experience. Educational Effectiveness and Policy Analysis 36(4): 476–500.

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