What is the impact? How do you know?

impactMeasurements and data do not sit well with many English departments. Things don’t always fit neatly into boxes, however many skill descriptors we generate. The problem, as Daisy Christodoulou in ‘Making Good Progress’  (2016) points out is that when we attempt to measure, ‘then ever finer subdivisions of grades are a perfectly good idea:…’ until we are attempting to measure ‘x% of a GCSE grade’s worth of progress per lesson.

The whole is more that the sum of its parts‘ is one of my favourite truisms in life, but there is something irresistible about a simple yes/no answer. The whole being simply equal to the sum of its parts, nothing more, nothing less.

During my first year in post as Head of Faculty, I have been asked by line managers, SLT, the DFE and Ofsted the same questions: What is the impact? How do you know? These seemingly innocent questions of four fairly innocuous words are the linchpin of much of what we do. Even in an Ofsted free world, we would want to know that what we are doing, all the planning, reflecting & refining, has impact.

Judging impact at the cutting edge of KS4 is easy, even though somewhat crude & brutal. Students can pass, meet target grades, outperform or they can ‘fail’ to measure up to the numbers assigned to them. Endless variables, endless factors on what is often thought to be shaky foundations in the first place.

But – impact over time matters, because why else would we be doing what we are doing?

Nestled within the term impact is the implicit idea of a destination – that there is somewhere you had intended to get the students to in the first place. As I mentioned before, the GCSE is an obvious and blunt tool for this. With KS3, it is a little more difficult. Unless the team have a sharp focus on the destination, their understanding of the impact will always be fuzzy. For this reason, we have been working on making the different strands of the curriculum explicit – grammar, vocabulary, content and exemplar texts.

For next year, our goal will be to judge whether our strategies are having impact in these areas. Do students demonstrate emerging ability as evidenced in summative assessments? The following should be the measure of the impact of our teaching:

  • Students’ emerging ability to recall/use the key vocabulary for the unit
  • Students’ emerging ability to use the grammar/punctuation for the unit
  • Students’ emerging ability to recall/use the content they have been taught in the unit
  • Students’ emerging ability to express their ideas orally
  • Students’ emerging ability to express their ideas through crafted writing

This will result in an increase in low stakes testing, clearer success criteria and in greater teacher judgement based on evidencing these emerging abilities.

If we simplify our assessment of KS3 tasks, removing many of the extraneous descriptors, we are much more likely to see the wood for the trees, and ‘know’ where progress is bring made, and where there are persistent, underlying problems.


Christodoulou, D., 2016 Making Good Progress  Oxford University Press


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