There has been a big shift in how Ofsted views assessment. Under the heading of ‘Teaching, Learning and Assessment’, Ofsted has stated that it wants schools to:
see evidence that students are making progress which is appropriate for their age and ability and that students are sufficiently challenged
develop an assessment system that is consistent with their own curriculum and supports effective teaching and learning in their school
keep data to a minimum
be aware that Ofsted will make allowances for schools who are at different stages in developing a new approach following the removal of levels
While schools are being given the freedom to explore individual approaches to assessment, this open set of criteria from Ofsted leaves each school with the task of establishing what its key areas are and then to work out which approach is best for them.
If you’re looking to focus your assessment priorities, here are three important questions I believe you need to be able to answer before the inspectors call.
The big picture: how do you track pupil progress?
You and your senior leadership team will need to be able to explain how you approach assessment and how it works for the specific needs of your school. You will need to talk through three areas in particular: how you use data to support teachers’ planning, how data is used to monitor and track pupils’ learning, and how a range of evidence is used to identify those in need of support and stretch.
Be ready to talk through the mixture of assessments you have chosen; how you combine high-frequency fact-checking tests (which are inevitably of limited reliability) with the less frequent but more reliable assessments that relate student progress to national benchmarks.
One of the schools we work with said that their aim was to be able to explain their assessment strategy to Ofsted on one side of A4. If the overall approach is well constructed, that’s a worthy aim.
Specific groups: who are the ‘hard to spot’?
Ofsted is interested in the progress of many different groups: children on Free School Meals, EAL, children with SEN, and you will have data about these well-recognised groups at your fingertips. But there’s another group you’ll want to look for and understand: the ‘hard to spot’.
Ofsted wants to find the children who you are not adding enough value for, and they will look for these students in your school. Maybe they are the middle groups who coast along on average results and never cause problems but they have the potential to achieve much more, maybe it’s your Year 8 or those taking minority GCSE subjects, maybe it’s a group of quiet children who tend to hide in class.
Assessment is critical in uncovering the hard to spot children and it may be that you need to look at different types of assessment. If you keep assessing the same maths topic but the results don’t improve, you might just need to look at something else; maths attainment is clearly linked in international research to confidence and engagement.
The Newark cluster of schools has been looking at pupils’ attitudes to learning as well as more standard progress measures. They discovered that lack of self-confidence was holding some pupils back and creating a barrier to learning. With this new insight, teachers are working on developing a child’s confidence as well as subject knowledge to help them progress.
If you have your assessment system right, you will have a range of strategies to find the hidden factors. Be ready to share them with the inspectors.
The individual child: can you talk about any student selected at random?
Ofsted’s approach to collecting evidence has not changed. They will still be spending time in lessons gathering first-hand evidence, and they will still want to see how well you know individual students.
The acid test on assessment is this: if you were asked today, could you talk about a student selected at random from the school roll and explain how your progress monitoring system works for that child? This will involve a discussion of teacher judgements, assessment data, feedback, marking, parents’ evening, and so on. A thorough conversation will demonstrate that your system is working.
Greg Watson is Chief Executive of GL Assessment. Join Greg, along with guest speakers including Sean Harford, HMI (Ofsted’s National Director for Education) and Phil Hart, Headteacher, Westhoughton High School, Bolton at ASCL Annual Conference for the breakout session Teaching, learning and assessment in Ofsted’s new Common Inspection Framework on 4 March.
Greg is also one of the speakers at the Leadership of Assessment conference on 22 March, a new one day conference organised in conjunction with ASCL PD and GL Assessment. This conference includes practical advice on implementing effective assessment processes and understanding the latest accountability measures.