This orthodoxy is deeply embedded into the Inspection Handbook, and it is having unintended consequences which Ofsted must address before more careers and schools are adversely affected. I have already written about the way in which this completely untested initiative has simply replaced one funding stream with another. I also detailed the 27 separate mentions of the Pupil Premium in the April 2014 Handbook and wrote about the circular argument which underpins Ofsted’s thinking. I've also explained what I suggest that schools should do to prevent being treated unfairly by Inspectors acting on orders from above.
The latest Handbook contains the following footnote on page 5: ‘Throughout this document, ‘disadvantaged pupils’ refers to those pupils for whom the pupil premium provides support.’ This is important, since whilst ‘Pupil premium’ appears 20 times within the 88 page document, the word disadvantaged appears 52 times, 39 of which are within the phrase ‘disadvantaged pupils’. That gives a total of 72 separate mentions of 'those pupils for whom the pupil premium provides support.’
The Pupil premium orthodoxy underpins everything, from the opening ‘Before the Inspection’ section, in which:
‘Inspectors must use all available evidence to develop an initial picture of the school’s academic performance. Planning for the inspection must be informed by () analysis of information on the school’s website, including its statement on the use of the pupil premium’, (p5)
to guidance on ‘Lesson observations’ in which:
‘lesson observations and subsequent discussions with senior staff and teachers, inspectors should ensure that they () gather evidence about how well individual pupils and particular groups of pupils are learning, gaining knowledge and understanding, and making progress, including those who have special educational needs, those who are disadvantaged and the most able’ (p16),
via ‘Meetings with pupils, parents, staff and other stakeholders’
‘Inspectors must take advantage of opportunities to gather evidence from a wide range of pupils, including disabled pupils, those with special educational needs, those who are disadvantaged, those who are receiving other forms of support and the most able,’ (p22).
to ‘Judging overall effectiveness: the quality of education provided in the school’
‘Inspection is primarily about evaluating how well individual pupils benefit from the education provided by their school. It is important to test the school’s response to individual needs by observing how well it helps all pupils to make progress and fulfil their potential. It may be relevant to pay particular attention to the achievement of () disadvantaged pupils, including () pupils known to be eligible for free school meals – a school is unlikely to be judged outstanding if these pupils are not making at least good progress,’ (p34).
Flawed thinking based on flawed ‘data’
Ofsted has decided that schools which are not ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ are schools ‘Requiring Improvement'. This is deeply flawed thinking, based on flawed analysis of information produced by Ofsted itself, and I blogged about it here. It is based on a flawed understanding of the validity of the ‘progress data’ collected by the government. But it is what it is, and it’s wrong.
The latest Inspection Handbook damns many schools from the off, since a ‘school requires improvement (if) it is not a good school because one or more of the four key judgements requires improvement (grade 3),’and inspectors must take account of ‘pupils’ attainment in relation to national standards (where available) and compared with all schools, based on data over the last three years where applicable, noting any evidence of performance significantly above or below national averages; trends of improvement or decline; and inspection evidence of current pupils’ attainment across year groups using a range of indicators.’
As I noted here, there is no trend which can be attributed to actions by schools or teachers, since massive pupil effects drown out any possible signal within the enormous noise of fundamentally flawed guesswork. For many schools, however, the random nature of the ‘data’ attributed to their highly individual students will cause them to fall foul of the Achievement of Pupils judgement.
Unless your recent ‘trend’ shows ‘improvement’ when Ofsted come to call, woe betide you. You are not Good and you Require Improvement. Expect heavy handed intervention and a culture of professional mistrust, and watch many of your staff opt to do something else instead.
The following section is quite simply ridiculous, as a moment’s thought should show:
If you have a household income of more than around £17000, your children are expected to make less progress in school than children who earn less than £17000.
Just to reinforce this, here is the requirement for a school to be judged to have Good ‘Achievement of Pupils’ grade:
‘The attainment and progress of disadvantaged pupils are similar to or improving in relation to those of other pupils nationally and in the school.’ The emphasis is mine, and what it highlights is crazy. Whilst there is a small footnote to the say that, ‘where the attainment of disadvantaged pupils is high, any in-school attainment gaps need not be closing rapidly’, the clear implication is that the gap is expected to be closing, and the non-disadvantaged should be making relatively lower progress than the disadvantaged.
A school will be judged ‘Requires improvement (3) (if) Pupils’ achievement requires improvement because it is not good.’ And if a school Requires Improvement in one category, it has to be judged to Require Improvement in its Overall Effectiveness category.
This is madness and urgently needs to be reviewed.
Luckily, it's not all bad news - there is hope in the air
As many teachers now know, the School Inspection Handbook now says, ‘Ofsted does not favour any particular teaching style and inspectors must not give the impression that it does.’ This is a huge move forward, in many ways, the most important of which is that this change was clearly driven by teachers themselves. Much of the credit for this change goes to blogger Andrew Smith, whose long campaign to highlight the implicit assumptions of many Ofsted inspectors has paid off in spades. After all, the following can hardly be more clear:
Whilst it may take some time for these changes to be truly felt in school, the knowledge that teacher-led campaigns for change to Ofsted’s Inspection Handbook can be successful gives those of us who want to see change a huge incentive to help Ofsted to improve its inspection framework. Unfortunately, in spite of the huge victory for teachers this significant change represents, Ofsted clearly do impose their own teaching style in many key areas, but that’s for another time. For now –officially, anyway - lessons will not be graded by Ofsted, teachers should not have to do the jazz hands monkey dance of the past few years, and, finally, schools should no longer ask 'What are Ofsted looking for?’ but 'What do the kids need to do really well?’.
Earlier this year, Andrew Smith highlighted Ofsted reports for two schools which are ‘technically separate institutions; in reality they share a building, a staff, and a governing body’. Despite this, the two were graded differently based on their Achievement of Pupils grade, which many believe is the driver for Overall Effectiveness judgement. The new handbook tries to avoid this happening in future, asking inspectors to fudge judgements:
Whilst I argue that schools have to prepare themselves for the inevitable problems with a system which judges on Not Even Wrong progress data, the good news is that Ofsted is listening. And Ofsted is listening to those of us on the ground, dealing with the orthodoxies it has - either deliberately or unwittingly - put in place. We're moving on from the era in which Ofsted inspectors told us how to teach. Ofsted have - officially at least - stopped grading individual lessons, and, with a bit of luck, school leaders should stop doing this too. Now we need to move on from the use of Not Even Wrong data and the damning of schools based on different levels of badly measured 'progress' within a school. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
This next bit is in the comments, but having re-read it, I realised that it didn't quite make sense unless you saw the tweet to which it responds from @GiftedPhoenix in which he asked what my suggested alternative to this was. This is my response:
As with many things educational, defining terms is crucial. The Pupil Premium is – as far as anyone can read politicians' minds – aimed at ensuring that those who are poor have no less effective an educational experience as those who are not. But given that there is no real agreement on the reasons why poor children (as a group) have a less effective educational experience than those who are not poor (as a group), this is a political minefield. Additionally, a simplistic, Not Even Wrong assumption that the ‘gaps’ can be measured by a test of some sort is ludicrous, as is the lumping together all of ‘the poor’ as if those in poor households are somehow homogeneous, which is clearly not the case.
The section which clearly explains the current thinking at Ofsted regarding ‘closing the gap’ is paragraph 196: “Inspectors must take particular account of the progress made by disadvantaged pupils compared with that made nationally by other pupils with similar starting points, and the extent to which any gaps in this progress, and consequently in attainment, are closing.”
As will be clear from my various posts regarding the progress data available to inspectors, I am of the opinion that the information which is currently used as ‘progress data’ is too difficult to measure accurately, too random and too noisy to be used in the way Ofsted demands that its Inspection teams use it, and that we need to tackle this flawed thinking before we can put an alternative in place.
That creates a problem when considering an alternative position which would be readily implementable as of now, as this flawed thinking is deeply embedded in official thinking about schools. That said, I’m happy to work on the assumption that my criticisms regarding ‘progress data’ will come to be widely accepted.
In addition to this, I would also argue that schools should work for all of the children in their care, regardless of their socio-economic status. Pupil Premium funding should be used to support the whole school community – which politicians have implicitly decided needs the financial support - not simply a disparate group of children lumped together for socio-economic factors beyond their control.
Ofsted has badly misjudged the potential of Pupil Premium funding, which is – in the view of many of us - to support whole school communities which struggle to compete with the better off school communities in our society. Instead of Not Even Wrong comparisons between two largely random groups of children, Ofsted should expect to see additional funding being used to do things which schools attracting minimal PP funding don’t have to do - whatever that might be.
That being the case, I’d suggest something along the following lines:
“Inspectors must take particular account of extent to which Pupil Premium funding is used to support and enhance the educational experience of all children in the school.”
And I’d leave it at that
Come along and say hello.