Measure of success

11th April 1997 at 01:00
Q. Following an OFSTED inspection our school was designated as having "serious weaknesses". We have just had our first follow-up visit from Her Majesty's Inspectors, and have been told there has been no improvement because of continuing unsatisfactory pupil attainment.

We are very worried by the report which clearly implies that we shall fall into the "special measures" category unless there is a considerable improvement.

We have worked hard since the inspection to implement the key recommendations and believe we have made some progress. However, we think that HMI are unreasonable in their demands for such a rapid improvement. Can you suggest what we can do to convince the inspectors that we are doing everything possible to raise standards?

A. Ensuring that pupils' attainment matches their capability, that they are doing as well as they can, has always been one of the hardest challenges facing teachers.

In addition to the assessment measures built into the national curriculum, schools increasingly use baseline assessment and entry profiles, and standardised testing in reading and mathematics.

There are also Desirable Outcomes for Children Entering Statutory Education, published by the Department for Education and Employment. In addition, many commercial schemes of work in the core subjects provide assignments and tasks relating to national curriculum level descriptions.

How can you use such indicators to help you raise the standards of attainment in your school and to demonstrate that you are doing so? First you need to answer these questions: * Is it true that standards of attainment are unsatisfactory, matched against broadly comparable schools?

* Which pupils are underachieving in what subjects?

* Are you setting challenging and realistic targets for pupils?

* Has pupils' performance improved?

This information will come from your national curriculum test results, regular in-class assessment, local and national base-line assessment data, and your own consistently maintained samples of pupils' graded work.

This last record is particularly important for schools where, often for reasons beyond teachers' control, pupils fall below national norms, since it indicates pupil progress. In practical terms, try to: * Match pupils' attainment against level descriptions and use this as a basis for planning and setting work

* Use all the data available to establish for which pupils, and in which subjects, attainment is unsatisfactory. Target these for concentrated effort

* Establish systems for moderating and "levelling" pupils' attainment in the core and foundation subjects in year groups, phases and across phases

* Seek ways of moderating pupils' work in conjunction with other schools

* Consider systematic standardised and diagnostic testing in literacy and mathematics, especially during the long period between national tests at seven and 11

* Regularly collect and maintain samples of pupils' work as records of prog-ress. Such material can be valuably used in consultation with pupils for diagnostic purposes and to set realistic targets

* Consider the value of using external evaluation

* Provide staff with detailed schemes of work, with examples of level descriptions translated into learning objectives

* Set appropriate targets. The DFEE's Setting Targets to Raise Standards will be helpful. Finally, set agreed and clear targets in perhaps two of the core subjects to be achieved by the time of the next HMI visit.

Bill Laar is a registered inspector. Write to him co The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY, fax 0171 782 3200. u His book, Surviving School Inspection, is available for TES readers at Pounds 10.99 from TES Surviving School Inspection Offer, PO Box 345, Falmouth TR11 2YX

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