Debbie Isaachsen, headteacher of Heatherton, the prep school in Amersham for girls aged 3-11, outlines the importance of tracking in education
One of the most common concerns I hear from parents keen for their daughters to join Heatherton is how they feel their child is being overlooked at their current school. This is why I place such importance on tracking.
Whether a child is part of a large class of 32 or has the advantage of being part of a smaller class, such as those at Heatherton, it is of paramount importance that the whole child’s learning experience is assessed, monitored and tracked on a regular basis. How will we know that a pupil is struggling with a new concept in literacy if we hadn’t previously assessed and tracked their former progress?
Observing, assessing and tracking a pupil’s progress needs to start from the beginning of the child’s learning journey in Early Years and continue until the day they leave. All staff at Heatherton contribute to the academic and pastoral tracking of our girls, putting in intervention where necessary, catching any girls who are coasting and extending those who need it. Our detailed and unique tracking grid records all attainment scores in Maths and English, allowing staff to see at a glance any intervention needed. Termly meetings are also held to discuss the progress of each pupil and this is shared with parents.
With time and staffing constraints, many schools focus on the under-achievers or those with specific learning needs. Here, we have half-termly focus pupils which ensures every pupil in every school year they are with us is discussed with all the staff and opportunities provided for them to develop their learning further.
But while academic tracking and progression is a key part of a child’s education, it is by no means a standalone priority. We educate the whole child at Heatherton and celebrate them as individuals. We want each pupil to be inspired and to reach their potential; children excel if they are secure and happy in their learning environment. To get that right, we need to be monitoring their individual pastoral needs. Our staff record all achievements and opportunities the girls have and ensure everyone is given the chance to represent the school during their time here. This ensures that the same girls are not always picked for main parts, music solos, class and school responsibilities but that everyone gets the chance to build their confidence, learn new skills and to have their moment to shine.
In addition, Heatherton have introduced a new social-emotional assessment and tracking tool in Years 3-6 called AS Tracking. AS Tracking is being used in a growing number of schools to support proactive, targeted and evidence-based pastoral care. Children are asked to fill out a short 20-minute assessment online and the pupils’ data is used by pastoral leaders to guide them in nuancing their pastoral care for each of their pupils.
‘AS Tracking offers the opportunity to track and better understand the needs of individual pupils as they progress through their school career,’ says Chris King, Chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistress’ Conference in 2015. ‘A tool such as this potentially helps schools to better help their pupils to deal with the stress of modern life, and in doing so, be more likely to perform to the maximum of their academic potential.’
Living in a changing world, our job as educators is to prepare our children for jobs that may not yet exist. We no longer ask: What do you want to be when you are older? Rather, we now ask: What skills do you want to use? This is why, alongside academic and pastoral tracking, it’s essential for schools to monitor and develop children’s growth mindset in order to prepare pupils for a lifetime of learning. As part of our tracking process, Heatherton staff plan opportunities for our girls to experience resilience, perseverance, collaboration etc, and these learning styles are recorded on each pupil’s tracking overview to help identify areas of strength and development.
We have a motto here at Heatherton that no child will ever be overlooked or lost in the crowd. In order to ensure this, I firmly believe that regular tracking of progress – academically, pastorally and of learning dispositions – is essential. These children will be shaping all our futures and we must prepare them to be the best versions of themselves that they can be.