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Assessment – what are inspectors looking at?

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In a previous blog, I discussed data and how it must not be the be-all and end-all of an inspection. I want to build on that and talk about assessment.

There’s been a great deal of change, as you know, in assessment over the past few years. Rightly, the blunt instrument of levels has been removed and replaced by the freedom for different schools to develop assessment systems of their choosing. With this needs to come a move to a far more sophisticated way of thinking about how we assess pupils. And of course, what also comes is the need for sharper thinking about how assessment sits within the curriculum. I like Tim Oates’ remark about how good assessment is ‘an insight into the mental life of the children’.

When it comes to inspection, inspectors are looking to see that a school’s assessment system supports the pupils’ journeys through the curriculum. It’s really important that schools don’t design assessment around what they think inspectors will want to see.

I reiterate: inspectors do not need to see quantities of data, spreadsheets, graphs and charts on how children are performing. We don’t want to see a specific amount, frequency or type of marking. You know what’s right for your pupils and we trust you to design systems that reflect their achievement – the achievement that’s come about through the teaching within your curriculum.

I was asked recently on Twitter what I thought was the biggest flaw in assessment across schools currently. My 280 character response was intended to get across this: I think there is too much marking being expected compared with the resultant benefits to pupils’ learning; too much reliance on meaningless data; and too little meaningful assessment of the right things at the right point in the curriculum.

Two pupils in a classroom doing design and technology.

As inspectors, we can help here. We shouldn't be asking you to predict progress or attainment scores. This is for the very good reason that they’re based on the national performance of each cohort, so they can’t be compared until everyone’s taken the test. ‘Expected progress’ was removed as an accountability measure in 2015 by the Department for Education.

What inspectors do want to see is the assessment information your school uses, in the format that you find works best, to help you know how well your pupils are doing at the point they are at in your curriculum. And then, crucially, what you do with that information to support better pupil achievement. We’ll then evaluate how well your school is supporting pupils to progress and deepen their knowledge, in order to promote understanding and develop their skills.

By progress, we mean pupils knowing more and remembering more. Has a child really gained the knowledge to understand the key concepts and ideas? Is this enabling them to develop the skills they need to master?

Ofsted is only one part of the national accountability system. The assessment that schools carry out – including formative assessment, in-school summative assessment and nationally standardised summative assessments – all do different jobs. But the key reason for all assessment is to ensure that teaching and learning are working well and that children are benefiting from a deep and rich education. Bear that in mind and none of us can go far wrong.


Give us your views – comment on here, and join the discussion via @Ofstednews on Twitter.

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  1. Comment by John Bald posted on

    This is excellent work, and needs to be understood fully by heads. Ofsted also needs to continue to demonstrate in each inspection that this is what it is really being looked for.

  2. Comment by Mark Patterson posted on

    There’s a lot of good sense in this blog. I like it! I have a question about the statement relating to expected progress: since National Curriculum levels are no more, clearly the expectation that students make, on average, 3 levels (ie NC levels) of progress between the start of Tear 7 and the end of Year 11 had to go, too.

    However, doesn’t a score of Zero for Progress 8 now represent ‘expected progress’ for secondary schools?

  3. Comment by David Grice posted on

    This is mostly very sensible. However, this stance needs to be understood and adhered to by all inspectors. Only then will it become reflected in school policy.

  4. Comment by Ann L posted on

    Some of our students [who are nearly all ASD/high functioning] do not have KS2 data and some have been out of school for many months [one student hasn't been in education for 2 years!] . For these students we use GL progress tests to give us a baseline and a diagnostic for intervention. Yet in our recent inspection, this was rejected out of hand - none of our chosen assessments were looked at or acknowledged. We were told to give a baseline score of 80 for those students who had no KS2 data/had not taken any test so that progress could be measured. This was the only data we could discuss, nothing else was relevant. How can this be acceptable? How does this serve the best interests of our students, all of whom have extreme anxiety about school and testing. We have moved to mastery/AfL and summative x2 per year, following on Wiliam/Christodoulu research. Yet none of this was deemed acceptable. It is extremely frustrating to read this - I would appreciate your advice.

  5. Comment by J. Goodman posted on

    Absolutely. All heads must be aware of Ofsted’s position on the issue of assessment as well as all inspectors. Focus on learning primarily, not accountability - very positive. This needs a culture shift and about time.

  6. Comment by Ofsted external relations posted on

    I'm afraid we cannot comment on individual inspections here. We would encourage schools to raise any concerns about an inspection at during the inspection or by following Ofsted’s complaints procedure. Our inspection handbook states that during an inspection, the inspection team considers all the information presented by the school, including that of external organisations. This is considered alongside other evidence gathered during the inspection on progress, attainment and attendance. With small groups of children, inspectors will approach the data with caution to avoid unfair judgements.

  7. Comment by Ofsted external relations posted on

    A progress 8 score of zero means pupils on average do well at Key Stage 4 as other pupils across England who get similar results at the end of Key Stage 2. This is average progress. We do not set an expected threshold, we simply compare an individual’s progress to the progress of similar points.

  8. Comment by Mr John Egerton posted on

    Clarifies a great deal. Very useful thank you.

  9. Comment by theflyinggherkin posted on

    " ... data ... must not be the be-all and end-all of an inspection."

    But it seems to play a very persuasive role — if not a defining role — in the outcome of an inspection.

  10. Comment by Ofsted external relations posted on

    Hi, Ofsted’s inspection framework takes account of both progress and attainment of pupils, with explicit guidance to inspectors to consider a wide range of information, but to place most weight on the pupils’ progress. In doing so, no single measure or indicator determines judgements.