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Q. We recently had an inspection and the outcome was that our school has been given a notice to improve. This was based solely on our contextual value added (CVA) scores, even though the inspectors agreed the school has many good features.

They told us that if our CVA score had been better, we would have been graded as good. The thing I find so unfair about this is that we are a middle school, so our CVA scores are basically constructed by looking at another local schools' results.

Can CVA scores really dictate the whole outcome of an inspection, and how is this fair when so many good things are happening in the school?.

A. Where a school's overall grade is pulled down by just one aspect, in your case achievement, staff quite often feel hard done by. However, saying if it weren't for the achievement we'd be a good school, is rather reminiscent of music hall comedian Gus Elan's refrain: "Wiv a ladder and some glasses, you could see to 'Ackney marshes, if it wasn't for the 'ouses in between."

Although some features might be good, I find it hard to envisage a scenario where a school's overall effectiveness "would have been graded as good" but for the achievement. After all, for a school to be issued a notice to improve for achievement, inspectors will have determined that it is not providing an acceptable standard of education. The concern you raise about CVA in middle schools is one I have come across many times. The suggestion is that either the assessments from the first schools are exaggerated, or that pupils are allowed to coast in the key stage 2 years before they come to you. If you have other evidence of progress and achievement, then inspectors will certainly look at it if you draw it to their attention.

What they cannot do is pass judgments or comments about schools that they are not actually inspecting. Nor can they wholly disregard the pupils'

published assessment scores. If the school believes that key stage 1 data is "inflated", or that pupils aren't making sufficient progress in key stage 2 in their first schools, then why is the school not raising this concern and doing something about it with the first schools, or through the local authority? Simply rebasing your starting point for measuring adding value is masking, rather than tackling, the underachievement

Selwyn Ward draws on years of inspection experience. The views expressed here are his own. To ask him a question, contact him at regularly answers your Ofsted questions on our forums at

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