The new inspection framework no longer calls for judgments about achievement in relation to ability. This was almost impossible to do in such a short time scale. But is its replacement - judgments about children's progress - likely to be any more reliable, or easy? For example, how can an inspector judge whether children in a large junior class are making progress in geography on the evidence of a single lesson?
It will be particularly important for inspectors to understand and establish what schools in disadvantaged circumstances are achieving in terms of children's progress, especially where evidence about their attainment in national curriculum subjects will probably make disappointing reading for parents and cast misleading reflections on teachers' work.
Inspectors evaluate and report on what pupils are achieving in relation to national standards - and the progress they make in relation to their earlier attainment. As you suggest, this judgment about progress is extremely important, because it is a key indicator of the effectiveness of the school or subject area, and a difficult matter to get right. Inspectors are required to decide not merely whether there are gains in knowledge, understanding and skill, but whether they are sufficient, good or poor in relation to prior attainments. Clearly to base such judgments on the evidence of individual lessons, or even collections of lessons alone, would be unrealistic and unacceptable. Inspectors are required to employ various methods:
* frequent and systematic lesson observations are important. For example, in the geography lesson you allude to, an inspector might be seeking to pinpoint children's ability to recognise and apply patterns, to use appropriate geographical vocabulary, or to use and interpret globes, maps and plans at a variety of scales, and to determine whether that knowledge or skill has been extended or developed to any recognisable extent during the course of the lesson. The inspector will take account of children's ability to cope with, respond to and comprehend the lesson and will listen to their incidental talk and comments, the contributions they make, their responses to questions and the questions they raise for themselves.
He or she will examine all work they do and the manner in which they tackle problems and deal with tasks - attempting as far as possible to relate all this to their previous understanding and attainment and to previous achievement;
* examine samples of children's completed work to compare achievement, to look for evidence of progress in specific knowledge, developing skills, more fluent descriptions and accounts and better presentation of information at different times;
* find out the levels, skills and techniques achieved through looking at the work on display;
* look at other forms of display and information, visual records, photographs, evidence of projects, out-of-school activities and similar educational initiatives;
* look at all forms of recorded assessment so past and present attainment can be compared;
* compare the work of different age groups in the same subject and the work of pupils of similar ability in different age groups;
* discuss the perceptions and evidence of teachers and other adults about children's progress;
* judge the progress of under-fives by observing the same children, taking account of whether they return to activities, showing what they can do and how much further they can take them; practise, consolidate and extend their skills; solve practical problems.
In the area of children's progress, schools can offer useful information and valuable advice to inspectors. The advances pupils are making, what they are learning, how well they are getting on have always been central pre-occupations of teachers.
Schools monitor children's attainment and progress through formative assessment; profiles of work and the moderation of levels of achievement; national tests; the application of the special needs code of practice; entry profiles and baseline assessment.
This knowledge of children's progress can contribute significantly to inspectors' insights.
Bill Laar is a registered inspector.
Write to him at The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171 782 3200.
"Schools can offer useful information and valuable advice to inspectors".