Ofsted develops unhealthy obsession

26th May 2006 at 01:00
I believe contextual value-added measures are unhealthy and could damage your education.

A wealth of end-of-key-stage data collected over the past decade now makes it possible to determine past rates of progress for different categories of pupils related to their ethnicity, gender, care status, birth date, socio-economic location, first language and special needs classification.

This makes interesting reading and, if you believe that end-of-key-stage assessments are valid and reliable, shows, for example: that children in care generally make less progress than those not in care; boys progress more slowly than girls; and white British children progress more slowly than Chinese. Clearly, these are matters that need continuing investigation and attention.

I have been working with a school to prepare for calculating its key stage 2 to key stage 4 CVA using the Department for Education and Skills "ready reckoner".

Inputting each pupil's keystage 2 test scores alongside their "characteristics" I was fascinated to see how different characteristics generated different key stage 4 predictions for identical key stage 2 results. A child in care is predicted to score lower than one not in care; a boy is predicted to score lower than a girl; a white British child is predicted to score lower than a Chinese child.

With schools nervous about how Ofsted may use CVA, how long before these predictions become expectations? And at that point could the educational system stand accused of institutional inequality?

Applying the model to predict an individual pupil's future performance feels wrong. Having the highest expectation of every pupil feels right.

I have already seen one distorting effect of the emphasis on CVA. A school noted for its inclusive and differentiated teaching had moved many pupils off the special needs "school action" register, their needs having being fully met through effective planning and teaching. But this lifted the CVA prediction for the school. Mindful of the consequences of falling short of the prediction, the school put the pupils back on to its special needs register.

I would suggest that further work be undertaken to assess the risks of using CVA for measuring school performance.

Peter Lacey

Director ECARDA Ltd 4 Sharpe Close Barton-on-Humber North Lincolnshire

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