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25 April 2018

Assessment – what are inspectors looking at?

Posted by: Sean Harford

Posted on:23 April 2018 

In a previous blog, I discussed data and how it must not be the be-all and end-all of an inspection. I want to build on that and talk about assessment.

There’s been a great deal of change, as you know, in assessment over the past few years. Rightly, the blunt instrument of levels has been removed and replaced by the freedom for different schools to develop assessment systems of their choosing. With this needs to come a move to a far more sophisticated way of thinking about how we assess pupils. And of course, what also comes is the need for sharper thinking about how assessment sits within the curriculum. I like Tim Oates’ remark about how good assessment is ‘an insight into the mental life of the children’.

When it comes to inspection, inspectors are looking to see that a school’s assessment system supports the pupils’ journeys through the curriculum. It’s really important that schools don’t design assessment around what they think inspectors will want to see.

I reiterate: inspectors do not need to see quantities of data, spreadsheets, graphs and charts on how children are performing. We don’t want to see a specific amount, frequency or type of marking. You know what’s right for your pupils and we trust you to design systems that reflect their achievement – the achievement that’s come about through the teaching within your curriculum.

I was asked recently on Twitter what I thought was the biggest flaw in assessment across schools currently. My 280 character response was intended to get across this: I think there is too much marking being expected compared with the resultant benefits to pupils’ learning; too much reliance on meaningless data; and too little meaningful assessment of the right things at the right point in the curriculum.

As inspectors, we can help here. We shouldn't be asking you to predict progress or attainment scores. This is for the very good reason that they’re based on the national performance of each cohort, so they can’t be compared until everyone’s taken the test. ‘Expected progress’ was removed as an accountability measure in 2015 by the Department for Education.

What inspectors do want to see is the assessment information your school uses, in the format that you find works best, to help you know how well your pupils’ are doing at the point they are at in your curriculum. And then, crucially, what you do with that information to support better pupil achievement. We’ll then evaluate how well your school is supporting pupils to progress and deepen their knowledge, in order to promote understanding and develop their skills.

By progress, we mean pupils knowing more and remembering more. Has a child really gained the knowledge to understand the key concepts and ideas? Is this enabling them to develop the skills they need to master?

Ofsted is only one part of the national accountability system. The assessment that schools carry out – including formative assessment, in-school summative assessment and nationally standardised summative assessments – all do different jobs. But the key reason for all assessment is to ensure that teaching and learning are working well and that children are benefiting from a deep and rich education. Bear that in mind and none of us can go far wrong.


Give us your views – comment on here, and join the discussion via @Ofstednews on Twitter.

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