It would be true to say that I am obsessed with target setting – or more accurately high-quality target setting which is driven by, and purposefully integrates with, the ITT central curriculum. As a provider we have come on a big journey with target setting over the last few years. Whereas target setting has always been central to provision, our systems and training and consequently coherence which sat behind it was not always spot on.
I distinctly remember, to my horror, our external moderator feeding back to us five years ago a conversation with a trainee as to how he applied his training to classroom practice (in today’s language, how purposefully integrated was his provision). His response still makes me shudder: “Well I don’t really apply my training, I just plan”. This trainee’s planning had become stagnant as a result. He was stuck in a rut. His planning and in-school provision was not focussed on his targets, his feedback was too broad, and did not align with our curriculum.
Luckily this response was not representative of the whole cohort, but it did really make me reflect on how we encourage and quality assure that our trainees apply the centrally taught curriculum to their own practice. The focus on the purposeful integration of the curriculum is welcomed. Our trainees since this moderator’s visit, and even prior to the ITT Core Content Framework and new Ofsted framework, have targets to apply from their core and subject curriculum training sessions. When executed expertly, what should then take place in school is mentors contextualise this target and adapt it to be even more specific for a particular class, cohort of pupils, pupil, or aspect of subject knowledge.
Our Quality Assurance committee is innovative and drives change. What we can see when we analyse the quality of target setting from our live and online system is that when this is integrated, granular and applies deliberate practice, target setting facilitates in-depth dialogue between trainee and mentor about a specific aspect of their practice. Cognitively this is manageable. When targets are too broad, feedback is too broad and provision is too broad, trainees make slower progress. We have internal findings, both qualitative and quantitative to support this. These findings have driven mentor framework tools to support the quality of dialogue around target setting. This, however, cannot be effective without the understanding of how to formulate quality targets in the first place.
I know this is synonymous with other providers – by far our biggest challenge is equipping mentors with the knowledge and understanding as well as head space to write high-quality targets. Their current hour per week meeting goes quickly, is never really a full hour and mentors in a busy day have to reflect on live targets as well as formulate new targets all within the space of a mentor meeting. Mentor training around target setting is compulsory and this is written into our partnership agreement. Where this has not worked so well is where mentor engagement is low, there is a change in mentor and time is needed for them, and as a small provider, it is not cost effective to re-run training – but we do.
Target setting that moves learning on, that allows trainees to slowly reveal their understanding of teaching and learning layer by layer, through carefully sequenced curriculum design is an ongoing priority in our ongoing mentoring curriculum design.
I have carried out a school visit to a trainee in the past month where target setting is strong, curriculum integration is 100% there. The mentor gets it, the trainee gets it. It is platinum service. This trainee and her pupils are making brilliant progress and in some areas exceeding our curriculum. As a result we were able to have an in-depth, reflective, powerful conversation to deepen her learning around the particular focus of my visit (her current targets). Where target setting is not strong, conversations during school visits have to stay at a superficial level, and cannot challenge and support in the right way as we need to spend time revisiting how to target set in coherence with the curriculum.
So, in our experience, the following factors help to achieve coherent provision through high-quality target setting (and it won’t be rocket science):
- A well sequenced curriculum which is understood and applied by mentors. This provides a coherent base upon which to target set.
- An agreed and contextualised criteria of what makes high-quality target setting. Your internal team have to get it, in order for your school teams to get it!
- Appropriate and developmental mentor training, as well as ongoing targeted interventions to understand the curriculum as early on in provision as possible. That way, in-depth dialogue will follow as target setting is embedded. The systems work for themselves.
- Mentors who want to mentor, consider mentoring as a career path, are engaged in their own learning and professional development, as well as their trainees. They want to be good at target setting. We come back to the selection and retention of high-quality mentors.
- A well-organised school team or department with a well sequenced subject curriculum in place. This allows mentors the brain space to dedicate to applying their own professional development and allows the whole school team or department to be on board with the trainee’s targets at any given time.
- Robust quality assurance systems which can swiftly and appropriately provide a live and formative picture of the quality of target setting and therefore the coherence of provision. Systems which accurately analyse where target setting is not of expected quality. Is this a school, a mentor, a subject, a phase, a time of year, a particular situation?
- Internal and external moderation that seeks to understand your curriculum priorities and can align their moderation to your own assessment procedures.
Jo Anderson is SCITT Director at Wildern Partnership SCITT