Second-guessing Ofsted? It’s as futile as Googling a rash

9th June 2017 at 00:00
Speculating over reports from other schools is unhelpful – concentrating on providing a comprehensive curriculum is a safer route to success

For the past two years, I have been finishing many of my talks with a simple message: “in order to get assessment and tracking right, we need to pretend that Ofsted doesn’t exist.”

Becoming too preoccupied with what Ofsted might expect is barking up the wrong tree. Concentrate on teaching and learning and all will be well.

But some days we break our own rules. The lure of reading other schools’ inspection reports can be irresistible. We make assumptions, listen to rumours and make small changes to the way we do things, just in case.

Sometimes, part of a report will find its way onto social media and all hell will break loose. Recently, a primary headteacher posted a screenshot containing the following statement: “Develop further the teaching of other that leaders, governors and teachers can more accurately assess and track pupils’ progress across other subjects, to the same high standard as they do in English and mathematics.”

I spend a lot of my time advocating a “less is more” approach to tracking, so statements such as this really worry me. Does “to the same standard” mean “in the same detail”? Are Ofsted expecting schools to develop a whole series of tracking objectives for foundation subjects, eating further into teachers’ time? And, without detailed programmes of study for all subjects, can this realistically be done anyway?

Debate ensued in response to the tweet. Sean Harford, Ofsted’s national director of education, pointed out that “from here we don’t know how English and maths are being assessed, so it’s not worth speculating”. He was right. This school may have been tracking against a handful of key objectives and is now intending to develop a similar approach in other subjects.

The risk of misinterpretation

Not that this stopped us from further divination. What if they are using one of those tracking systems that have 1,001 objectives per year, that SLT love but teachers hate? If that was the case, adopting a similar approach in other subjects would be deeply concerning.

But it’s still not worth speculating. We can easily misinterpret the findings of other schools’ reports without knowing the full story. It’s a bit like diagnosis by Google: after an hour of searching, you’re convinced your slight rash is some hideous tropical disease.

Remember: the Ofsted handbook says Ofsted “does not expect performance and pupil-tracking information to be presented in a particular format”. Focus on a broad, balanced and challenging curriculum, collecting data that impacts pupils’ progress. Do that and all will be fine.

James Pembroke founded Sig+, an independent school data consultancy, after 10 years working with the Learning and Skills Council and local authorities


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