Assess for Success

The Manchester College is the largest further education (FE) college group in the UK. Like other colleges, it has faced struggles in dealing with the large increase in the number of 16-18 year old students needing to re-take GCSE courses. Its English department decided to work with the College’s strong ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) team to develop a new approach to initial and ongoing assessment. Instead of getting new students to sit computerised diagnostic assessments used by almost all colleges, it instead developed its own more nuanced assessment of pupils’ skills, based on short, handwritten exercises. Complemented by ongoing bitesize assessments focusing on particular skill areas, and CPD to support teachers to use the assessments to inform their teaching, the approach aims to focus teachers’ and learners’ efforts on the areas they most need to develop, thereby improving confidence and outcomes. The assessments feed into a review tool that captures the pupils’ English skills, but also their attitudes and confidence, allowing tutors to easily see how their learners (often over 100 per teacher) are progressing.

So far, the approach has only been used on The Manchester College’s main campus (though this did reach over 900 learners). However, the College has experience of training the college group’s other settings, including a recent project which established communities of practice across the group. This project will have a development phase until summer 2018 followed by a pilot the following academic year.

Why are we funding it?

This project has been funded as part of joint initiative with J.P. Morgan to explore how to improve outcomes for disadvantaged 16-18 year old learners without a C or above in GCSE English or mathematics. You can read more about this partnership here.

There is general evidence about the importance of good quality assessment. When used to inform teachers’ practice and direct learners’ efforts, it can be a highly effective tool for improving outcomes. This general evidence includes the studies in the Feedback strand of the Toolkit, and was also highlighted in our literature review examining the evidence for interventions for older learners. However, there is little specific evidence showing that assessment programmes can be used to improve outcomes, particularly for this age group. The Manchester College saw an increase in the proportion passing English GCSE this year, despite moving to the new GCSE exam a year earlier than they had to. This increase meant that 30% of learners passed the GCSE – much higher than many settings.

How are we evaluating it?

BIT, led by Jessica Heal, has been appointed as the independent evaluator. BIT has experience of working in the FE sector, both in project delivery and independent evaluation.

The proposal is to test whether The Manchester College’s assessment toolkit and approach is feasible for other settings to adopt, by developing and piloting a CPD package about how to use the tools effectively. The College will recruit 6 other FE colleges, each with at least 200 English resitters, in early 2017, and begin to train them in summer 2018. Colleges will be expected to put forward either all or a proportion of their English teaching staff to attend the training (which will be on site) and adopt the approaches.

The independent evaluators will collect qualitative and quantitative data to assess whether the model is feasible (e.g. can other colleges use the approaches), has evidence of promise (e.g. does it appear to improve teaching and learning behaviours) and whether it is ready for scale (e.g. is there a clear model that could be adopted across a larger number of settings). 

When will the evaluation report be due?

The evaluation report will be published in Autumn 2021.