True Ofsted conversations #3

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An Ofsted inspection at my school wouldn’t be complete unless it was followed up with another in the popular series of True Ofsted conversations. This time, in a radical shift from the previous two installments, this transcript is not meant to show up the inadequacies of various inspection teams. Instead it aims to show the tricky situation Ofsted are currently in with regards to judging a school’s progress measures in a life without levels. When it came to trying to work out how assessment worked in our school and whether children were maintaining levels of progress compared to previous cohorts, this team were more than diligent. In fact, if there was an Ofsted award for inspecting at greater depth, these guys would surely win gold.

Lead Inspector

So what I really want to explore is whether children are making progress.

Additional Inspector 1

Well, I’ve had a good conversation about assessment with the Head who began the year with a 6 point progress expectation.

Lead Inspector

Ah, yes, the data. How are we doing with the data?

Additional Inspector 2

We have Term 5 data here. Most year groups are currently behind the 6 point target.

Lead Inspector

Are you telling me that the children are not making adequate progress?

Additional Inspector 2

Well, on paper but then –

Additional Inspector 1

– But then the school have recognised that 6 points progress is not an accurate way of measuring progress within an academic year because of the nature of the curriculum.

Lead Inspector

I see. So what are they saying?

Additional Inspector 1

Well, it all depends on what time of year you set your entry and exit points.

Lead Inspector

Because?

Additional Inspector 1

Because for high achieving children, and children working below, their trajectory of progress varies and doesn’t conform to a standardised 6 points a year model.

Additional Inspector 2

How so?

Additional Inspector 2

It is likely that low achieving children will not end the year working at ‘greater depth’. They will most likely end up ‘working at’ this means that their progress will tail off at 4 points. So, in the new year they will need to be moved, statistically speaking, over the ‘greater depth’ levels, on the assessment tracker, and into their current year’s ‘beginning to work at’ expectations. That way the curriculum will be relevant and they won’t get left further behind because the teacher is trying to get them to work on additional expectations from the previous year. Therefore, when they make that statistical leap, their progress will spike.

Lead Inspector

(Turning to the Head) Is that right?

Head

Yes, pretty much. It’s the best way of making sure that their curriculum is relevant and covers the basic skills that need to be consolidated.

Lead Inspector

And it’s not just a way of manipulating the data?

Head

Well, it is manipulating the data but in a way that sharpens the teachers’ mind in delivering appropriate curriculum content.

Lead Inspector

How so? I’d really like to dig deeper on this if I may?

Head

We needed to move away from the concept that a child working at ‘greater depth’ in their year group is a less developed learner than someone ‘just beginning’ to work on the following year’s set of expectations. That’s just not true. In all the work monitoring we did, children working at ‘greater depth’ in the year below, were far more sophisticated, in their knowledge and application, than children ‘just beginning’ to work at the following year’s expectations. Forcing all children to push through every single objective is therefore unnecessary. Sometimes children need to leap-frog some of the extended yearly objectives and start tackling the next set of basics.

Lead Inspector

And is this the advice of the assessment system you’ve bought into?

Additional Inspector 2

No. They’re adapting it to make it work for them.

Lead Inspector

Interesting. So what about the high achieving children. Let’s look, for example at Year 1. They’ve made the least progress, even with your reduced progress disclaimer, what’s going on there.

Additional Inspector 2

Well, these children came in at a higher level from Reception so more of them achieved the expected standard in Year 1 before the end of the year. The school have put a cap on how far beyond a year group’s set of expectations children can go.

Lead Inspector

Because of the curriculum changes?

Additional Inspector 2

Yes. So this Year 1 cohort has been working at greater depth for longer without moving onto Year 2 objectives.

Lead Inspector

So this means that a year group coming in at a higher level is already going to be at a disadvantage in terms of the statistical progress they make.

Additional Inspector 2

Yes, but over the course of 12 months, that should rectify itself.

Head

It’s just the 12 months may not be September to September.

Lead Inspector

So let me be sure that I’ve understood this. The school have been using this assessment system but, over time, have adapted their use of it so that it fits in with how they teach their curriculum.

Additional Inspector 2

Yes.

Lead Inspector

Okay, and how does this translate with the teaching we’ve seen? Are these high achieving children being challenged? Are the less able working on age appropriate objectives?

Additional Inspector 1

The lessons I’ve seen have shown a high degree of challenge. Teachers really stretching the children with their understanding of key concepts. Taking their time too.

Lead Inspector

Yes, I saw that. We often used to talk about the pace of lessons as in how swift could the children be moved onto the next task but these teachers really take their time and allow the children to struggle.

Additional Inspector 1

The work in the Year 1 books also show challenge. You could argue that they began the year completing work that was too easy for them but they quickly moved onto more appropriate and challenging lessons.

Lead Inspector

So, I just want to push back on that to make sure I’m clear. You’re saying that the level of challenge in Year 1 is now appropriate both in the lessons and the books?

Additional Inspector 1

Yes.

Lead Inspector

And do you think that the books show strong progress across the year.

Additional Inspector 1

Without a doubt.

Lead Inspector

Progress in the books is stronger than the progress presented in the data?

Additional Inspector 1

Yes. But the data showing the number of children working at greater depth is accurate and has grown throughout the year.

Additional Inspector 2

It’s just that as they came in higher, there is less of a statistical journey to go on, so on paper it looks as though they have made less progress.

Lead Inspector

Are we satisfied that the Year 1 children have received a challenging education and have made sufficient gains in their learning?

Additional Inspector 1

I would say so, yes.

Lead Inspector

Okay, what about Year 6? Is progress being maintained compared to last year’s results?

Additional Inspector 2

The work in the books is challenging and there is progress. The data suggests that a strong percentage of them are working at the new expected standard.

Lead Inspector

There is a fall compared to last year, but of course we know that standards are now higher and we can’t compare like for like. I suppose what I want to explore here, is whether, the quality of the teaching has been at least maintained if not improved?

Additional Inspector 2

I think from looking at the books you could confidently say that the new curriculum is being taught well. The results last year would suggest that the previous cohort were taught well. Therefore I think, based on the evidence that we have, standards are being maintained.

Additional Inspector 1

The lessons, as well, have been of a high standard. Good challenge. Good teacher knowledge. The children are interested and they work hard on the tasks given to them.

Lead Inspector

So are we saying that the achievement, because of the teaching, is being maintained from previous years?

Additional Inspector 2

I think so yes.

Head

Just one thing, if achievement, because of the teaching, is being maintained from previous years, doesn’t that mean that our standards are higher because the curriculum is more demanding? It would seem to me that you would therefore have to say that the quality of teaching, progress and achievement is actually better than previous years?

Lead Inspector

I think what we have seen is that you have adapted well to the challenges and made sure that standards have been maintained. And that’s great.

Head

Great? I’d call that a bloody miracle.

 Lead Inspector

I guess you’ll find out next week.

Head

Could you come back then and see?

Lead Inspector

Would you like us to come back?

Head

Come to think of it, no.

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