I had some weird dreams last week. One involved a cottage that slipped its anchor and rolled down a hill, crashing into a farmyard. I emerged shaken but unscathed. The other involved a dystopian, Running Man-style game staged in a dimly lit branch of B&Q. Cornered and frightened, I thankfully awoke before my inevitable, grisly demise. I never got the flexible tap connector I went in for.
And for all this mental anguish I blame Ofsted. Jack Marwood had invited me along to Ofsted Towers to meet with Sean Harford and others to discuss data and assessment and tracking and stuff, and I was rather anxious. Turns out I really didn't need to be. Sometimes you pump yourself up for an argument only to discover that the assumed adversary agrees with much of what you have to say. Rather deflating really. All that time spent rehearsing in front of the mirror...........
So, last Friday (4th September) I met with Jack Marwood (@Jack_Marwood), Steve Wren (@Yorkshire_Steve) and Peter Atherton (@DataEducator) in London for our date with destiny. Unfortunately Destiny couldn't make it so.......
Rubbish joke. I apologise. Back to the meeting. I went with two main points to discuss:
1) The Ofsted view of assessment and tracking systems
2) The misinterpretation of statistical significance indicators
I want to deal with point 1 here because a) it's probably the area that schools are most concerned about, and b) opinions voiced in the room on the subject of statistical significance indicators in RAISE, whilst extremely encouraging, were simply that: opinions. We have some way to go on that one.
Now, anyone who has read my blog will know my opinions on the various new and popular approaches to assessment without levels. I am really concerned that schools are replacing levels with systems that are simply levels by another name; systems that place pupils into best-fit bands; that involve point scores and expected rates of progress built upon assumptions of linear progress. In short, they are flawed and risk repeating many of the mistakes that led to the removal of levels in the first place. A key issue is that many of these systems are not sufficiently designed to show progress during periods of consolidation and deepening of learning. They therefore have the potential to cause pupils to be moved on before they are ready in order to show progress. But schools want these systems because a) they provide a security blanket by offering the comfort of the familiar, and b) They believe that this is what Ofsted want.
"We have to measure progress, right?"
But Ofsted have been at pains to bust these myths. The handbook now states:
Ofsted does not expect performance and pupil-tracking information to be presented in a particular format. Such information should be provided to inspectors in the format that the school would ordinarily use to monitor the progress of pupils in that school (Ofsted Handbook, p12).
Sean Harford went further by saying:
"what we want to see is information, not data. I don't care if this involves numbers or not."
This is a welcome and radical departure from what most of us assume is required for inspection i.e. that progress and gaps must be quantified in some way using a points-based system. Essentially, what Ofsted are expecting to see is useful and meaningful assessment of pupils' learning; information that helps teachers identify strengths and weakness, gaps and next steps; information that can be understood by pupils and parents as well as staff. Formative assessment. Assessment for learning. This may or may not involve numbers, and if learning is represented by numbers then those numbers must mean something. Data must be an aid to learning.
We talked about target setting. Sean hoped that schools would no longer be setting targets via thresholds, e.g. "this term we have X% at 3B. Next term we expect that to increase to Y%".
I think I got a bit animated at this point. 'But that's exactly what is happening' I cried, tears of frustration falling onto my Pukka Pad, 'except schools are now saying "this term we have X% at Secure. Next term we expect that to increase to Y%"'.
Sean responded: "if that's what schools think we want to see then we have a problem."
I just about resisted leaping into the air, shouting "BACK OF THE NET!" and doing airplanes round the room with my shirt pulled up over my head.
Perceptions of Ofsted have changed a lot in the past couple of years and Sean Harford (and his predecessor Mike Cladingbowl) must take much of the credit for this by providing a public face; by listening and responding; by agreeing to hold meetings such as this. Consequently, headteachers have fewer concerns about Ofsted as an organisation; instead they now fear the 'rogue inspector'. The new Ofsted Handbook along with the included myth-busting statements have gone a long way to relieve some of the anxiety but still teachers will be heard to utter "well, they say that but........". There is evidently some cynicism about what they say and what they do actually matching. And this is why so many schools are implementing systems that carry on tracking in the same old way, just in case Ofsted want points and bands and thresholds. In case they still want levels. I am now convinced that they don't but it's up to Sean and his team to ensure that this message gets across to all inspectors.
I have faith but ultimately, the proof will be in the pudding.
After all, Ofsted is as Ofsted does.