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Important information regarding Ofsted & Assessment

I’ve recently read two important documents regarding changes to Ofsted and the new arrangements for school assessment. These changes will significant affect primary practice and the way schools monitor teaching and learning, as a consequence they are essential reading for everyone in primary eduction.

The first was published by Ofsted in May 2015:

Ofsted inspections – clarification for schools

The purpose of this document is to confirm facts about the requirements of Ofsted and to dispel myths that can result in unnecessary workloads in schools. It should be read alongside the ‘School inspection handbook’.

This document is intended to highlight specific practices that are not required by Ofsted. It is up to schools themselves to determine their practices and for leadership teams to justify these on their own merits rather than by reference to the inspection handbook.

Lesson planning
– Ofsted does not require schools to provide individual lesson plans to inspectors. Equally, Ofsted does not require schools to provide previous lesson plans.
– Ofsted does not specify how planning should be set out, the length of time it should take or the amount of detail it should contain. Inspectors are interested in the effectiveness of planning rather than the form it takes.

Self-evaluation
– Ofsted does not require self-evaluation to be provided in a specific format.

Grading of lessons
– Ofsted does not award a grade for the quality of teaching for any individual lessons visited and it does not grade individual lessons. It does not expect schools to use the Ofsted evaluation schedule to grade teaching or individual lessons.

Lesson observations
– Ofsted does not require schools to undertake a specified amount of lesson observation.
– Ofsted does not expect schools to provide specific details of the pay grade of individual teachers who are observed during inspection.

Pupils’ work
– Ofsted does not expect to see a particular frequency or quantity of work in pupils’ books or folders. Ofsted recognises that the amount of work in books and folders will depend on the subject being studied and the age and ability of the pupils.
– Ofsted recognises that marking and feedback to pupils, both written and oral, are important aspects of assessment. However, Ofsted does not expect to see any specific frequency, type or volume of marking and feedback; these are for the school to decide through its assessment policy. Marking and feedback should be consistent with that policy, which may cater for different subjects and different age groups of pupils in different ways, in order to be effective and efficient in promoting learning.
– While inspectors will consider how written and oral feedback are used to promote learning, Ofsted does not expect to see any written record of oral feedback provided to pupils by teachers.
– If it is necessary for inspectors to identify marking as an area for improvement for a school, they will pay careful attention to the way recommendations are written to ensure that these do not drive unnecessary workload for teachers.

Evidence for inspection
– Ofsted does not expect schools to provide evidence for inspection beyond that set out in the inspection handbook.
– Ofsted will take a range of evidence into account when making judgements, including published performance data, the school’s in-year performance data and work in pupils’ books and folders. However, unnecessary or extensive collections of marked pupils’ work are not required for inspection.
– Ofsted does not expect performance- and pupil-tracking data to be presented in a particular format. Such data should be provided to inspectors in the format that the school would ordinarily use to track and monitor the progress of pupils in that school.
– Ofsted does not require teachers to undertake additional work or to ask pupils to undertake work specifically for the inspection.
– Ofsted will usually expect to see evidence of the monitoring of teaching and learning and its link to teachers’ performance management and the Teachers’ Standards, but this should be the information that the school uses routinely and not additional evidence generated for inspection.
– Ofsted does not require schools to provide evidence for each teacher for each of the bulleted sub-headings in the Teachers’ Standards.

Statutory provisions
– Ofsted will report on any failure to comply with statutory arrangements, including those relating to the workforce, where these form part of the inspection framework and evaluation schedule (Part 2 of the ‘School inspection handbook’).

The second was an article written by Prof. Dylan William for Teach Primary

Planning assessment without levels

Let me be clear. I was a huge fan of the system of 10 (later eight) levels that Paul Black’s Task Group on Assessment and Testing recommended to Kenneth Baker (then Secretary of State for Education) in December 1987, not least because it was based on the work that Margaret Brown and I had done on levels of achievement in graded assessment schemes, and Carol Dweck’s early work on mindset. I actually did my PhD on national curriculum levels. And had we stuck to reporting student achievement at the end of each key stage—which is still the only legal requirement—everything would have been fine.

But then schools started reporting levels every year, and then every term, and then on individual pieces of work, which makes no sense at all since the levels had been designed to be a summary of the totality of achievement across a key stage. And then Ofsted inspectors insisted students should make a certain number of levels of progress each year and started asking students what level they were working at, in response to which schools started training students to answer appropriately. And don’t get me started on sub-levels…

So that is why, when I was appointed as a member of the Expert Panel to advise the Secretary of State on revisions to the national curriculum, I recommended that national curriculum levels should be abolished. Not because the levels were a bad idea, but the way they were being used was getting in the way of children’s learning.

Some people are happy about this. Others are not. But levels have been abolished, and the Department for Education is not going to recommend anything to replace them. It will be up to each school to decide how to determine whether children are learning what they need to be learning. Some schools are planning to continue with national curriculum levels for the time being. That’s fine. But it is important to realise there will be no straightforward way to carry levels forward from the current national curriculum to the new curriculum.

Most importantly, Ofsted inspectors will no longer be able to walk into a school and assume they know how a school is monitoring student progress. They will have to ask. And as long as the school has a good answer, they will be OK.

Think what’s right for your school
Developing an assessment system will be challenging, to be sure, but primary schools now have an opportunity to develop assessment systems that fit their curriculums, rather than trying to shoehorn their curriculum to fit a predetermined assessment system. And because every school’s curriculum is different, the best assessment system for one school may be useless for another. Ultimately, each school will need to find an assessment system that meets its needs.

Companies are already falling over themselves to offer ‘assessment systems’ to primary schools, but it is important to realise that most of the solutions on offer are really recording systems, not assessment systems. They allow teachers to specify what they are recording, and then, once information has been entered into the system, nice reports will be generated at the touch of a button. However, before a school decides how it wants to keep track of student progress, it needs to decide what it’s going to keep track of. Moreover, there can be no off-the-peg solutions, because the assessment needs to match the curriculum in place in the school.

What follows, therefore, is not a blueprint for an assessment system, but rather a set of principles that schools should consider as they design, and over time, refine, their assessment system. These principles will often be in tension, so there can never be an assessment system that satisfies all the principles, but by thinking about these principles, schools can ensure that the compromises and trade-offs they are making are ones with which they feel comfortable.

1. Start with big ideas
A school’s assessment system could assess everything students are learning, but then teachers would spend more time assessing than teaching. The important point here is that any assessment system needs to be selective about what gets assessed and what does not, and so the assessment system needs to focus on the ‘big ideas’ in each curriculum area. For example, place value is a central concept in the understanding of our number system. Without a profound understanding of place value, most of mathematics makes little sense. Roman numerals, on the other hand, is not quite so important. As the headteacher or a parent, I would far rather know how a child is doing in terms of their understanding of place value than their knowledge of Roman numerals. You can’t assess everything – be selective.

2. Identify learning progressions
Once a school is clear about the ‘big ideas’ on which the formal assessment system will focus, it makes sense to think about the ways in which students will get there. Not all students will follow the same routes in their learning, but the assessment system will need to collect evidence of how students are progressing towards the goals.

3. Establish checkpoints
Once the learning progressions have been identified, it is useful to establish ‘checkpoints’ along the way, which can either be intrinsic to the subject, or driven by extrinsic demands, such as the need to report to parents. Intrinsic checkpoints might include particular issues that are known to cause some students difficulty, or significant stages in development. Extrinsic checkpoints would include end of years and key stages.

4. Determine where the evidence will come from
It is one thing to say that we want to know whether students can “use inference and deduction” in their reading. It is quite another to decide what evidence we need to enable us to conclude they can, or cannot, do this. Some of the evidence may come from formal tests or set-piece situations such as interviews or discussions with children. Some evidence will come from marking and some will come from just observing children. Obviously, the more formal the assessment procedure is, the easier it is to record the evidence, but schools also need to make sure that the desire to record evidence for purposes of external accountability does not result in high-quality ephemeral evidence being ignored.

5. Think about how the evidence will be accumulated
In particular, schools will need to decide how much evidence is needed before a child is regarded as being able to do this. This is tricky because almost all students may be able to demonstrate a particular competence in one context, and no-one will be able to do so in all contexts. Simplistic rules of thumb like requiring a child to demonstrate something three times to prove they have ‘got it’ are unlikely to be helpful. Sometimes a single example of a child using something learned in one context in a very different context will be convincing evidence of mastery. At the other extreme, a dozen repetitions of a particular skill in similar contexts may mean very little. Here, there is no substitute for professional judgement – provided, of course, ‘professional’ means not just exercising one’s judgement, but also discussing one’s decisions with others, to establish that they too, with the same evidence, would have drawn the same conclusion.

6. Set targets thoughtfully
Too many schools set ‘minimum target levels’. The problem with such targets is that given our ability to predict future performance is so poor, the targets are hopelessly undemanding for some students and really challenging for others. A related problem is that due to the use of monitoring and tracking systems that have become popular in England over the last decade or so, we tend to use current performance as a guide to future performance. This may sound innocuous enough, but it is a recipe for reproducing the status quo. For a child in Year 3, the minimum target achievement for the end of the year should be the level of achievement they need to thrive in Year 4. For many students this will be a relatively undemanding target, and higher targets should be set. But for lower achievers, the aim should always be to break the cycle of failure and do everything we can to get that student to where he or she needs to be. In response, some people might say this target may be too ambitious, but my response would be to change the question. Instead of asking “What level of achievement should we have as a target?” we should ask, “What do we need to do to make sure that this child is ready for Year 4?” As Rick DuFour says, “Don’t tell me you believe that all students can succeed. Tell me what you do when they don’t”.

Assessment is a good servant, but a terrible master. Too often, we start out with the idea of making the important measurable, and end up making the measurable important. By sticking clearly to a set of principles for the design of an assessment system, schools can ensure that the assessment system supports learning, rather than gets in its way.

For those interested in learning more about the approach outlined in this article, see Principled assessment design by Dylan Wiliam, published by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (ssatuk.co.uk).

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