An inspector calls

15th May 2009 at 01:00
What's the point of inspectors coming into schools? It's all about the league tables, isn't it?

The cry that "It's all about the data" is understandable, but wrong. Inspectors focus at least as much on the parallel outcome: pupils' personal development and wellbeing, and on the Every Child Matters agenda.

Nevertheless, achievement and progress remain, of course, fundamental measures of the success of any school. Ofsted has made it clear in its published guidance that inspectors cannot judge a school to be good unless learners make good progress. That means inspectors will look carefully at the school's performance data in RAISEonline.

This shows how well your school's Sats, GCSE or A-level results compare with others. It also gives an indication of what these results look like in terms of added value in relation to how well the pupils have done in the previous key stage. These comparisons take account of the context of the school and its pupils, including socio-economic data, which is why they are known as contextualised value added (CVA) figures.

The data only tells part of the story, however, and there may even be reasons why it might give a misleading picture.

If we could rely simply on the data, Ofsted wouldn't need to bother with inspections: schools with consistently high CVA would be classified as outstanding schools and all those with a low CVA would automatically be declared inadequate. But inspections do sometimes lead to outcomes that are not exactly explained by the data themselves but by the broader context.

For example, in small schools, a wide difference from the norm will be required before the CVA figures show as statistically significant. A small primary school may have key stage 2 results above those of a neighbouring larger school, but, because of the small cohort size, the small school's results may appear in RAISEonline as average while the large school's results are above average.

Inspectors will also be conscious of the fact that RAISEonline only gives a picture of past performance. They will also want to see what is happening now.

Selwyn Ward has been an inspector for 15 years, working in primary and secondary schools. The views expressed here are his own. To ask him a question, email him at features@tes.co.uk.

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