Dear Data…. this is not goodbye

By Gary Alexander, Deputy Head Teacher

So, it’s finally out there. Ofsted’s consultation paper on the proposed new inspection framework. And it’s pretty much as expected. While the rebalancing of the curriculum is a very welcome and long overdue change, the ‘let’s cut out assessment data and we’ll magically solve the problem of teacher workload’, is perhaps a little over-ambitious. Obviously I’m only focusing on the headlines here, but as an overworked, underpaid Deputy Headteacher, I genuinely welcome any changes which will make life easier and help me to focus on what teachers do best… teach.

The reality is that when we factor in the broadened curriculum, the time we’ll supposedly save from ‘wasting time on data collection and analysis’, will rapidly diminish. While we’ve always naturally had a broad curriculum in primary, in recent years we’ve had to focus efforts on English and Maths to be in with a chance of achieving a good inspection result – which is why over the past three years, I’ve focused on raising standards in these subjects. Because that’s what my last Ofsted inspection advised…

So, as I now look forward to the next one in November (yes, just ten months away), I’ve got to think pretty hard, and act just as fast to ensure that our entire curriculum is as well-thought out as English and Maths, and that our teachers all update their subject knowledge in all subjects, oh – and that they understand how to incorporate recent thoughts from cognitive science into pedagogy. So much for a workload reduction.

No change is a good change

The good news for my team is, when it comes to assessment, nothing changes. Just because Ofsted doesn’t want to look at our performance data, doesn’t mean it loses its value. Quite the contrary. We use Star Assessments to guide and support pupil progression and help us to effectively manage interventions. The fact that we could share the reports with Ofsted inspectors as independent evidence has only ever been a bonus.

That said, in my opinion the proposals for change will do schools who already use standardised tests a huge disservice. The data that sits behind these assessments doesn’t require the inspector to assess whether the data is an accurate and valid representation of pupils’ learning of the curriculum. In fact, with Star, the NFER has already conducted its own validation. And as for ‘wasting time’… Star tests require no marking and produce detailed reports at the click of a button… which means teachers in our school benefit from validated assessment insight – without impacting workload. And any inspector that can sample some books from a school with 420+ children and determine progress and attainment standards with a higher degree of reliability and validity than a standardised assessment can, is either a superior person than I, or deluded. For that matter, if they can determine standards with a higher degree of reliability than the teacher who teaches the class every day they must be something special.

SATS are here to stay

Internal assessment aside, we need to remember that end of Key Stage assessments will still play a factor in Ofsted inspections. Preparing pupils for SATs and helping to ensure each performs to the best of their ability will remain a priority – and one which we are already well equipped to do because we have an assessment programme in place that helps us to accurately predict those who are on track to meet expected standards… and those who need additional support.

Anyone who has met me or listened to my webinars will know that I love data. Not because I’m a geek, but because I recognise the role it can play in guiding teaching, supporting learning and reducing the time teachers need to spend trying to identify the pupils who need additional support. So, just because Ofsted won’t be using internal assessment data as part of the inspection, doesn’t mean that I’ll be saying goodbye to data. The value of data in our school lies in the contribution it makes to teaching and to our pupil progress: being able to print off a report as assessment evidence for Ofsted was only ever a by-product that proved to be a bit of a bonus. Now, we’ll be re-focusing our efforts to broaden our curriculum and put subjects like arts and crafts right back where they belong… in the primary classroom.

There’s many positives about the new Ofsted inspection framework, but I’d urge my fellow school leaders to approach assessment with caution. Just because Ofsted doesn’t want to see it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a role to play. If only standardised assessments were available for all subjects… then we’d really see a huge decrease in teacher workload!

Gary Alexander regularly shares his thoughts and experiences on assessment via Twitter: @MrLearnwell

Gary Alexander
Deputy Head Teacher

Gary Alexander has been working in education in the UK and abroad for 17 years.  He is currently Deputy Head Teacher at Battle & Langton CE Primary School in East Sussex; a large and successful school where he leads on teaching learning and assessment.  He is interested in all things educational, but has a particular interest in making use of technology to reduce teacher workload and enable them to spend more time thinking about and improving their practice.

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