An inspector calls

6th February 2009 at 00:00
How many years of results do inspectors look at when they make judgments about whether or not pupils are making adequate progress?

Inspectors will certainly be interested in any discernible trends in results. There may be hiccups, but inspectors will look to see if test results are generally moving up or down.

If standards in a school are low, is the school narrowing the gap? In schools with small cohorts, so particularly primary schools, it may be useful to look at the previous three years' results as a means of identifying factors that could, in one year alone, just be a function of the small numbers.

For example, in a small school, it might look from one year's results as though girls have done much less well than boys. Because each girl might represent, say, 10 per cent of the girls' cohort whereas a boy represents a different proportion of the boys' cohort, the figures could be skewed by the performance of just one child. If, however, results over the previous three years indicate that boys are always doing better than girls, then that is likely to be more significant. It is for that reason that, from 2009, RAISEonline will now include this three-year trend data.

Of course, schools won't want to wait for inspectors to call before identifying gender differences. School and subject leaders will want to see for themselves whether the data signals significant sustained patterns of differing achievement. You'll then want to move from cataloguing this to putting steps in place to boost performance of those who appear to be doing less well.

As you would expect, when inspectors look at the school's test results, they will naturally focus on the most recent results. Where these are very different from previous years, they will want to satisfy themselves that the most recent results are not an aberration, so they'll expect the school to show them evidence. If previous results were low and last year's suddenly shot up, inspectors will want to know how that has been achieved and whether the improvement can be sustained.

If results last year seem to have plummeted, schools will already be anxious to explain that this was a blip, and inspectors will want to assure themselves that the school knows exactly why it occurred and has taken appropriately effective remedial action.

Always remember too that the school's test scores give a picture of the recent past, not necessarily of what is happening now. Inspectors won't just rely on past performance data - particularly as we move further into the school year and the previous year's test scores recede into history. Where standards and achievement have shown little year on year variation, inspectors might reasonably be expected to place some reliance on a school's picture of continuing consistent performance. Where past results have tended to yoyo, you might expect inspectors to focus all the more closely on how current cohorts are doing.

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

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