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Just because Ofsted no longer demands it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it

Colin Logan, SSAT’s data guru, argues that predictions still have a use in identifying students who are slipping in order to help them get back on track…

Sean Harford, Ofsted’s national director for education, has once again clarified what inspectors should and shouldn’t ask for during inspection (clearly, some people are not paying attention). More than this, we hope, he has also reinforced the message to senior leaders and governors about the futility of trying to predict school Progress 8 scores.

Following last term’s inspection update, in which he made it clear that “inspectors must not give the impression that marking needs to be undertaken in any particular format and to any particular degree of sophistication or detail”, he has now turned his attention to predicting examination results and showing progress.

No more “What results are you inspecting?”

Inspectors in the past have often asked school leaders what results they were expecting at the end of the current school year. This was usually followed up by asking what results they were predicting at the same time the previous year and how this compared with the actual results in order to evaluate the accuracy of the school’s predictions.

All that has now changed as a result of the changes to testing at both key stages 2 and 4. In the latest inspection newsletter, Sean talks about the “inherent volatility in grade boundaries as the new qualifications bed in” and the resulting difficulty (indeed, futility) of trying to guess grade boundaries to predict grades. He specifically instructs inspectors not to ask for predictions for cohorts about to take tests and examinations: “we shouldn’t put schools under any pressure to do so – it’s meaningless”, he says.

But predictions still have a place

I’m not sure that that should be taken as a blanket instruction to school leaders not to expect teachers to be providing predictions to SLT, students and parents, however. While there undeniably remains a good deal of uncertainty surrounding the awarding of grades for reformed GCSEs, that doesn’t necessarily mean that teachers shouldn’t be developing their professional judgement and learning from their experience as things emerge and develop. Provided, of course, that school leaders understand the limitations of the process. Schools shouldn’t be doing anything specifically for Ofsted – but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be doing anything unless it’s needed for Ofsted.

Schools shouldn’t be doing anything specifically for Ofsted – but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be doing anything unless it’s needed for Ofsted

Understanding these limitations of the process would include not expecting any predictions of an Attainment 8 or Progress 8 figure aggregated from already emerging subject-level predictions. But we do need to accept that regaining the skill to predict grades with any degree of confidence is in itself an important exercise in teachers’ professional development.

How do you assess progress?

School leaders will want to be able to assess the progress their students are making, and inspectors will be asking them about this, too. So how might they do this? Sean advises inspectors that, rather than expecting predictions, it would be “much better to ask schools how they have assessed whether pupils are making the kind of progress they should in their studies and, if not, what their teachers have been doing to support them to better achievement.”

How are schools to know what progress their students are making? One way could be in the effective use of target setting. For example:

  • Appropriate, challenging targets could be set for students at subject level, using the latest available data (for example by consulting the range of estimates provided by FFT Aspire).
  • Teachers’ professional judgement is being developed by internal moderation and access to the latest information and training provided by examination boards.
  • Students’ progress can then be measured by how close they are to being on track to achieve those targets at the end of the key stage.

And what do you do about it?

As Sean points out, the important thing is how this information is being used to support students who are not on track.

What is clear is that, once again, it is up to school leaders to decide: “Inspectors should only ask to see assessment information, including any pupil-tracking information, in the format that the school would ordinarily use to monitor the progress of pupils in that school”, Sean Harford concludes.

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