Ofsted, data and a school system in flux

Arbor - 2 October, 2018

Category : Blog

Ofsted, data and a school system in flux

By Loic Menzies, LKMco The school accountability system is changing fast. League table measures have been reformed dramatically and Ofsted has been grappling with how it can become a more proportionate and reliable force for good. This has led to a brand new strategy for the inspectorate and recent speeches and publications have started to set

By Loic Menzies, LKMco

The school accountability system is changing fast. League table measures have been reformed dramatically and Ofsted has been grappling with how it can become a more proportionate and reliable force for good. This has led to a brand new strategy for the inspectorate and recent speeches and publications have started to set out a new landscape which will have important implications for how schools use data to reflect, improve and prepare for inspection.

This blog talks about how you can use Arbor Insight Reports to analyse your schools’ performance and set out your plans for improvement. As Amanda Spielman, the Chief Inspector of Schools, put it this Summer: “Rather than just intensifying the focus on data, Ofsted inspections must explore what is behind the data, asking how results have been achieved”. This report should therefore act as a starting point for important conversations and reflection.

A new landscape

At secondary school, the shift to Progress 8 has heralded a new era in which a much wider range of subjects falls under the lens of school accountability and where the emphasis has shifted away from pupils on the C-D borderline. Meanwhile, life-after-levels and the new system of ‘scaled scores’ are now a reality in primary schools across the country. As further shifts come into place over the next few years, the pace shows no sign of slowing.

All this rapid change, and a shift in emphasis towards progress – sometimes from unreliable base lines – is leading to some unexpected and unpredictable results. It is therefore particularly important that you scrutinise data particularly carefully to be clear what it is and is not saying. Ofsted has also made it clear that attempts to predict progress scores are not worth the effort since they are impossible to know in advance. Instead, your school should be prepared to respond to queries from inspectors who will have looked at a range of information in advance including:

Details from the school website – much of which will be data-driven like:

  • The school’s pupil premium strategy (including rationale and evaluation)
  • The PE and sport premium (in primary)
  • The Year 7 literacy and numeracy catch-up premium (at secondary)
  • The curriculum
  • The special educational needs (SEN) information report
  • The promotion of equality of opportunity and other information for parents

Inspectors will also have looked at key data summaries such as: the Inspection Data Summary Report (IDSR), ‘Analyse School Performance’ (ASP), (which Arbor’s Ofsted Readiness report helps you analyse), and the Level 3 Value Added (L3VA) report. This will help determine any pupil groups that inspectors want to focus on during the inspection. Careful advance scrutiny of your data can therefore ensure you are not taken by surprise. (School Inspection Handbook, p. 15 & 23)

As Ofsted’s National Director of Education explains in relation to the new ‘short inspections’, what the inspectorate wants to understand is:

  • Whether leaders have a sound grasp of relative strengths and weaknesses in their school/provider
  • If there’s a credible plan to address the areas for concern and maintain the strengths

The two key questions to ask yourself are therefore:

1. What do we do well/less well?

2. What is our plan going forward?

On the other hand, Ofsted has also been keen to insist that:

“Ofsted does not require self-evaluation to be graded or provided in a specific format. Any assessment that is provided should be part of the school’s business processes and not generated solely for inspection purposes.”

Arbor Insight Reports – in particular the Ofsted Readiness Report – are intended to support you in understanding the two key questions above. It should prompt you to consider your strengths and weaknesses and help you dig beyond the headlines to question what might really be going on. This is crucial since the strength of leadership and management is largely driven by “the rigour and accuracy of self-evaluation and how well it leads to planning that secures continual improvement.” (School Inspection Handbook, p. 41)

Key in this is looking across different sources of information to triangulate and reach better evidenced conclusions. As the current Inspection Handbook points out, “No single measure or indicator should determine judgements”, and as Ofsted’s recently published strategy points out:

“While data will always be an important starting point, our inspections should look beyond published data, explore how results have been achieved and in some cases act as a counterbalance to any unintended incentives in the broader accountability system.”


The inspectorate will consider:

  • “Performance information” including:
    • Data published before the inspection
    • Information you present about current pupils across year groups and previous cohorts
  • Information on progress, attainment, attendance and exclusion, with a particular focus on:
    • Consistency in performance, trends of improvement or decline, and differences in the performance of groups
    • The accuracy of the school’s assessment of pupils’ progress and attainment
    • The robustness and accuracy of the school’s self-evaluation or equivalent, particularly about pupils’ outcomes, teaching, learning and assessment and pupils’ personal development, behaviour and welfare

Primary school accountability

According to the DfE Guidance, last updated in August 2017, headline measures for primary schools are:

  • The percentage of pupils achieving the ‘expected standard’ in Reading, Writing and Mathematics at the end of Key Stage 2
  • Pupils’ average scaled score:
    • in Reading at the end of Key Stage 2
    • in Mathematics at the end of Key Stage 2
    • the percentage of pupils who achieve at a higher standard in Reading, Writing and
    • Mathematics
    • Pupils’ average progress:
    • in Reading
    • in Writing
    • in Mathematics

Secondary school accountability

Key measures for secondary schools are:

  • Progress 8
  • Attainment 8
  • Percentage achieving the English Baccalaureate
  • Percentage of pupils entered for the English Baccalaureate
  • Percentage achieving grade 5+in English and Maths
  • Students moving to and sustaining educational or employment destinations

Given that Progress 8 is now the headline secondary measure it is important to take into account the following key definitions:

Key progress 8 values Interpretation
+0.5 or greater Pupils are making well above average progress
-0.5 or below Pupils are not achieving the floor standard

You can find out more about the full range of measures and how they are constructed in Schools Week’s special supplement by LKMco.

Using the data

Progress 8 at secondary school and relative progress at primary school have shifted the emphasis of school accountability to how pupils with similar starting points are doing in different schools as well as how each pupil is performing – whether they are starting from a high or low baseline. The national and ‘‘schools like you’ measures in this Arbor Insight Reports will help you to scrutinise this and identify your schools’ particular strengths and areas for development. Consider for example:

  • What proportion of pupils with different starting points are making average progress or above average progress?
  • How does this compare to schools nationally?
  • How about different ethnic groups or demographics – how many of them are achieving different benchmarks?
  • How does that compare to outstanding schools nationally? How does this vary between subjects?

Throughout your analysis, be wary of making overly concrete conclusions based on small groups, for example, if you only have five black male pupils, do not use statistics based on this to make major claims about their relative performance. Look carefully at the patterns you spot and be prepared to use three-year rolling averages for example to spot longer term trends amongst larger cohorts of pupils. Where this report helps you identify an underperforming group, be careful about jumping to quick fit solutions, Ofsted itself has recently stated that:

“The existence of a gap does not always indicate that an intervention at sub-group level is the right approach. Very often, identifying and correcting institutional shortcomings (for example in curriculum, teaching or behaviour management) will improve outcomes, with disproportionate benefits for lower attaining and disadvantaged students”

It is therefore perfectly acceptable to identify an underperforming group and consider how whole school improvements might address this issue, rather than specifically targeting a new intervention at the group. You can investigate gaps further using Arbor’s set of Gap reports which analyse the performance of pupils in different groups (based on gender, SEN, prior attainment, ethnicity and disadvantage).

If your pupils appear to be doing particularly well, note this, and combine it with different sources of information, including your professional judgement to understand why, and how you can build on this. Ofsted too will look at a range of evidence so be prepared to share how you have brought a range of different sources of information together to plan for improvement. Consider for example how patterns vary across subjects and how you might spread good practice from one area to another.

Explaining and presenting this information however, need not mean putting together extensive and labour intensive pre-prepared packs. As Ofsted has explained:

There will almost invariably be areas in which your pupils are doing well, or groups that are doing particularly well so share your reflection and plans with inspectors. As Simon Eardley, Head Teacher at Orton Wistow Primary School, explains, the morning of his school’s short inspection was all about “dialogue and discussion” and an:

“Opportunity to go through our school self-evaluation evidence and tell the story about our school and to pick out the things we think we thought we were doing well but also the things we’d recognised we needed to get better on… that initial conversation steered the rest of the day.”

By providing this type of information in an easily digestible form, Arbor’s Ofsted Readiness Report helps you prepare for these discussions. Used well, it will be an invaluable part of the tapestry of evidence that you use to support your pupils, raise standards and evidence your achievements to inspectors.

Interested in finding out more about how Arbor Insight Reports can help your school ahead of your next inspection? Drop us a line at hello@arbor-education, give us a call on +44 (0) 207 043 0470 or get in touch via the contact form on our website.

LKMco are an education and youth-development ‘think-and-action tank.’ They support schools, teachers and education and youth organisations by planning, evaluating and improving the way they work. LKMco work to ensure all children and young people receive the support they need to make a fulfilling transition to adulthood by carrying out research and campaigning for action.

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