Accountability, data and Ofsted

ASCL position statements

Includes performance measures

What is the context? Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn announced in a speech in April 2019 that a Labour government would scrap the current primary national curriculum assessments, commonly known as SATs, including those taken at the end of Key Stage 2. 

Instead, Labour plans to bring forward proposals for a new system that would separate the assessment of schools from the assessment of children, understand the learning needs of each child, and encourage a broad curriculum aimed at a rounded education.

ASCL position: ASCL believes that high stakes test-based accountability has impacted negatively on primary education and requires review.

Assessments should inform planning in order to prepare children more effectively for the next phase of their education.   

Why are we saying it? The government’s recent steps to remove the most toxic examples of high-stakes accountability – the floor and coasting standards – are welcome. However, ASCL believe the government should review the negative effects of primary testing on children. These assessments should, we believe, from part of a more rounded set of indicators of school performance and effectiveness. 

Performance data should be used more intelligently to prepare all children for each step of their educational journey, supporting schools in attaining the very best outcomes for young people. 
 

What is the context? The government plans to introduce a Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA), to be taken by all Reception-aged children within the first six weeks of them starting school. A pilot of the RBA began in September 2019. If the RBA becomes statutory from September 2020 as planned, the current end of Key Stage 1 assessments will be removed, and the RBA will form the input to the primary progress measure. 

ASCL position: As we begin to see the outcomes of the Reception Baseline Assessment pilot, ASCL would recommend that the DfE evaluate:
a)    the accessibility of the language of some aspects of the test
b)    the consistency with which the baseline is administered across settings, and how this can be strengthened
c)    the reliability of the baseline as a point of measurement within a broader set of accountability measures

Why are we saying it? If the RBA is to be used as part of the accountability system, some assessment tasks require additional clarity in order for it to be consistent in its delivery. Different approaches to administration, including variations between schools in the timings of the assessment, may also lead to inconsistent data. This could invalidate the accuracy of the measure. 

We are also concerned that some of the language used in the assessment is not sufficiently accessible to children with SEND or English as an Additional Language. 

 

What is the context? Governments implement performance measures in order to incentivise behaviours in schools that they believe are desirable. However, as schools and their leaders are held to account largely by those measures, including through publication in performance tables, perverse incentives and behaviours inevitably result from an over-focus on a narrow set of measures.  

ASCL position: ASCL believes that any data presented on a school’s performance should include a rounded set of indicators and, furthermore, that no single headline measure should dominate.

Why are we saying it? The government has taken steps recently to remove the most toxic examples of high-stakes accountability – the floor and coasting measures. This welcome development needs to be further built upon to lead to performance data being presented and used in a more intelligent, nuanced and comprehensible way. 

What is the context? Governments change performance measures in order to incentivise behaviours in schools that they believe are desirable. But in all cases, as schools and their leaders are held to account largely by those measures, including through publication in performance tables, other perverse incentives and behaviours emerge. The problem is that a focus on any single headline measure will inevitably undermine that measure, a phenomenon enshrined in Goodhart’s Law: "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases tobe a good measure."

ASCL’s vision document  Leading the Way: A Blueprint for a Self-Improving System outlined this problem and called for a broad set of external measures, alongside locally determined metrics which the school or group of schools believe give additional information about the context in which the school is working. This position was reinforced during discussion at Council in June 2019.

ASCL’s position: ASCL does not believe that schools can be effectively judged by any single measure; a more rounded set of indicators would give a clearer and more helpful picture of a school.

Further, the way the current single headline measure is currently presented is oversimplified and misleading.

Why are we saying it? The government has taken steps recently to remove the most toxic examples of high-stakes accountability – floor and coasting standards. This is welcome, but needs to lead to performance data being used more intelligently. For example, the public presentation of Progress 8 is accompanied by coarse gradings based on scores and, incorrectly, confidence intervals. These gradings can be highly misleading and difficult for the public to grasp.

What is the context? In a recent speech, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn announced that a Labour government would scrap the current primary national curriculum assessments, commonly known as SATs, including those taken at the end of Key Stage 2.

Instead, Labour plans to bring forward proposals for a new system that would separate the assessment of schools from the assessment of children, understand the learning needs of each child, and encourage a broad curriculum aimed at a rounded education.

ASCL’s position: ASCL welcomes Labour’s recognition that high stakes test-based accountability has impacted negatively on primary education.

We would support a review of end of Key Stage 2 assessment. These assessments should support schools in preparing children effectively for the next stage of their education, and support stakeholders in effectively holding schools to account for the quality of education they provide.

Why are we saying it? We believe strongly that action needs to be taken to address theimpact of the current high stakes accountability system on primary education. We are also clear, however, that high quality assessment is essential to support children’s learning, and that schools should be held accountable for the education they provide.

We therefore support a review of the end of Key Stage 2 assessment, based on the following principles:

  • It should recognise that testing, while an important aspect of pupil learning, is only one of a number of strategies that contribute to our understanding of the quality of children’s education.
  • It should consider the role of Key Stage 2 assessment in ensuring pupils leave primary school with the knowledge and skills to succeed in the next phase of their education.
  • It should aim to reduce the perverse incentives drive by the current approach to accountability.
  • It should include a clear focus on strategies to close the achievement gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils.

What is the context? Currently, mainstream schools judged outstanding by Ofsted are exempt from routine inspection. HMCI Amanda Spielman has publicly stated that Ofsted wishes the DfE to remove this exemption.

ASCL position: The exemption from inspection for mainstream outstanding schools should be removed. Ofsted should apply the same approach to the conversion from section 8 to section 5 inspection that is used for inspection of good schools.

Why are we saying it? Given the changes to Ofsted’s inspection framework from 2019, it is right that all schools are judged according to the new criteria and approach, as this will provide assurance to parents and stakeholders. Furthermore, ending the outstanding exemption will provide assurance about safeguarding practices and allow inspectors to get greater insight into best practice, enabling this to be shared across the system.

Ofsted has recently introduced a more nuanced approach to the conversion of section 8 to section 5 inspections, which has helped to reduce the ‘cliff edge’ nature of inspections. If the exemption for outstanding schools is ended, these schools should be afforded the same nuanced approach as good schools. This will improve fairness and consistency in the inspection system and help to ensure inspection is supportive of all schools.

ASCL believes that whilst all schools and colleges are subject to regulatory compliance, this should be decoupled from quality assurance which should be the sole focus of the Ofsted Inspection Framework.

Schools have a central role in teaching children and young people about emotional wellbeing, mental health and resilience alongside supporting them with these issues. Schools must also ensure that they signpost specialist services that are available and make appropriate referrals.

We welcome that there is consideration of the effectiveness of Section 8 inspections converting to Section 5, especially in ensuring that all inspectors are fully briefed when joining at the Section 5 conversion stage.

However, we urge Ofsted to communicate proposals for pilot inspections in an open and transparent manner to all schools before embarking on these and then undertake a full review, with feedback from schools, before this becomes the norm.

In a school-led system, it is for each school to determine the curriculum that meets the needs of its students in particular contexts.

A separate grade for curriculum would imply compliance with a set view of an imposed curriculum which may not be in the best interests of individual students. Judging the curriculum as part of leadership and management ensures it is for senior leaders and governors to determine the curriculum for their students.

ASCL welcomes the contribution that the SICI Report makes to a more considered and evidence-based approach to the role of inspection in school improvement. We note the growing trends identified in the report towards clear criteria for school accountability, the promotion of best practice and the evidence of a link between inspection and school improvement.

However inspection alone does not improve school performance. High impact and high stakes inspection regimes can be counter-productive and we note that many high performing school systems do not have formal school inspection. School leaders must be involved in shaping and influencing the education policies for which they are held to account. The evidence in the report of considerable variability in this respect is a concern.

We support the principle of system leadership in a self-improving school led system and where this is effective, it should be recognised. However we do not think it should be a requirement in formulating a judgement on leadership and management.

ASCL’s position is that inspection is essential to the accountability framework and should be one of the major drivers of school improvement. The teaching profession needs to have confidence in the inspection process and inspectors need to be able to report independently without fear or favour on the standards and quality of all parts of the education service.

Fairness, consistency and transparency must underpin the inspection process so that parents have reliable information about the education their children receive, and schools must be able to trust inspectors to give balanced judgements which reflect authentically the school’s work and which contribute to further improvement. Like any other public body, the work of Ofsted should be subject to regular, independent review.

ASCL agrees that inspection should be rigorous and challenging, but believes that it must be rooted in professional judgement. More time should be provided to allow inspectors to share their initial hypothesis with schools that could then either endorse the analysis or produce evidence to disprove it. It is essential that the inspectorate maintain their independence and do not become an instrument of government policy.