Is APP back to stay? Or have schools lost their way?

by Jodie Lopez

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Do you remember the days of APP? The grids of "best fit" which went alongside the pre-2014 National Curriculum and the levels which accompanied that? These grids led to a huge level of workload for teachers. It likely was never designed to be used in the ways it was eventually used, but it did cause so much stress. I remember seeing it used to in-depth track 3 children per class. Then it was suddenly 3 children from the top, 3 from the middle, 3 from lower ability. "For consistency." Then in some schools teachers were expected to print out APP grids for every single child and tick off every single statement that they could do, highlighting with different colours for each term and making notes for every child. It was exhausting. Once a term, usually at the end over a bottle of win, teachers would compete the grids and then be expected to explain them in Pupil Progress Meetings. The eventual goal was to show every term that each child had made a sub level of progress. Even that was a stretch as actually you only wanted to show 2 sub levels per child per year but somehow we wanted to also have one sub level per term. It just didn't really add up.

I once heard Richard Selfridge call this the "Goldilocks of assessment" - move every child up just the right amount of sub levels to show "good" or "expected" progress, but never too much. You wouldn't want to make the next teacher look bad would you? And so it went on. There were gaps along the way still. A child could keep moving through the levels using the best fit model even if they couldn't ever meet the spelling or handwriting requirements.

In 2014 we were told the new curriculum and the scrapping of levels would get rid of all this. We were told we had got it all wrong and that was never how it was supposed to be used. That the new "secure fit" Interim Teacher Assessment Frameworks would stop any child from having any learning gaps slipping through the cracks. That schools would come up with their own assessment for within key stages so that they could just focus on what is important for each child.

Assessment online systems tried to keep up with the changes. New ways of organising the data, new labels for the "levels" so that schools can still track against Age Related Expectations (ARE) and new outputs so that parents didn't have to be given any results for their child. With no consistency from school to school this all looked like good news. I worked for an assessment tracker helping schools to move across to this new way so I have seen those who scrapped all the old way completely, and those who clung to all the old points but gave them new names.

However, a consistent lack of consistency is hard going for schools. While Ofsted continues to grade schools then school leaders will naturally look to successful schools to see what they are doing. They will then try and emulate them. So what has happened is that schools have started to all do a very similar thing. But even worse than sub levels, they have seemed to all take on the APP model - ticking off every single objective taught, and then are trying to shoehorn that into some semblance of a sub levels/points progress model in line with what they used to know. 

I totally understand why schools do this. It's scary when you see school takeovers, headteachers losing jobs over SATs results and so on. Teachers all have bills to pay and having consistent data has historically always helped schools to survive the inspections and results days. But it's not necessary to repeat this APP model which is causing such a huge strain on workload. Which in turn is adding to a teacher retention crisis, and well-being issues which no amount of massage vouchers will cure.

With Kinteract we have built a system which puts teachers and school leaders back in control without the workload piling on. Add observations whenever needed to show progress or highlight next steps for individual children. Add assessments as often as you need to  - fortnightly, or termly, or whenever required - where you can use the terminology you use for an overall ARE judgement for each child. But it is up to the teacher how much to add. For some children that might require something more in-depth. Adding to multiple objectives on multiple occasions. But for some children - likely those who are around the class expected average - you probably do not need to keep adding observations or ticking off every objective constantly. For the majority of your mainstream cohort a few observations a term would suffice to show their strengths and keep track of any learning gaps which need consolidating. 

Yet still we are met with teachers who seem to WANT to add a note of some sort against every single curriculum objective. We are delighted to say that the schools who have started using the system are realising that this is a new way which still gives all the data needed without the APP-style workload. We hope more schools will embrace the chance to throw the full APP grids to the style - the new versions online as well as the old paper ones! You really don't need....and I know I say this a lot but it's true...to tick off every objective you teach for your curriculum. Just pick those that matter for either the whole class, a group, or an individual.