- The Ofsted inspection handbook states that inspectors must not look for or advocate any particular method of assessment.
- Inspectors will be looking for a suitably broad and balanced curriculum and a system of assessment that sets out what pupils are expected to know, understand and do, and by when.
- There should be rigorous analysis of all data, external and internal, broken down into subjects, aspects of subjects and groups within subjects.
- Assessment should be frequent and accurate and used to set challenging work that builds on prior knowledge, understanding and skills.
Assessment is, in publishing jargon, a hot topic. This is because of curriculum changes and the removal of national curriculum levels. Without specific national guidance, schools are anxious about how to assess so that their judgements are compatible with other schools and national expectations. This anxiety is fuelled by the prospect of being inspected and having assessment and teaching criticised and downgraded.
It is no consolation to know that inspectors do not have the answers and, in response, Ofsted issued guidance before the changes came into effect: Note for inspectors: use of assessment information during inspections in 2014/15. This article interprets this and other guidance to support school self-evaluation.
What will inspectors look for?
The Ofsted handbook states that inspectors must not look for or advocate any particular method of assessment. Also, and particularly in the first year, inspectors should understand that schools are still trialling and evaluating their systems. So inspectors will be trying to evaluate the effectiveness of the school’s systems and then the factors that account for success or, alternatively, weaknesses.
Leadership and management
Inspectors will consider how well:
- a suitably broad and balanced curriculum and the system of assessment set out what pupils are expected to know, understand and do, and by when
- the assessment system is linked to the school’s curriculum
- information about what is taught in the curriculum is shared with parents and carers
- leaders use formative and summative assessment to ensure that pupils, teachers and parents know if pupils are achieving the expected standard, or if they need to catch up
- assessment information, including test results, is used by leaders and governors to improve teaching and the curriculum
- leaders ensure the accuracy of assessment through internal and external standardisation and moderation
- schools adopt the best practice of working together to moderate assessment for year groups and the end of key stages, come to a common understanding of attainment and share records at points of transfer.
Implications for schools
Schools need clear policies for the curriculum that tell staff, governors, pupils and parents what pupils will learn at what stage and how they will be assessed, including the methods and evidence used. Parents should know what their children will be studying during the course of the year and what progress they have made.
There should be rigorous analysis of all data, external and internal, broken down into subjects, aspects of subjects and groups within subjects.
Schools should be part of networks so they can moderate the work of their pupils against similar pupils in other schools. They should also use training materials produced by the DfE and other organisations.
All of this should feed into action plans to improve the quality of provision, the curriculum, pastoral care or teaching, so as to raise standards.
The quality of teaching
Inspectors will be evaluating whether:
- assessment is frequent and accurate and is used to set challenging work that builds on prior knowledge, understanding and skills
- pupils understand well how to improve their work, which goes beyond whether they know their current ‘target grade’ or equivalent
- any baseline assessment, teacher assessment and testing are used to modify teaching so that pupils achieve the expected standards by the end of a year or key stage
- assessment draws on a range of evidence of what pupils know, understand and can do in the different aspects of subjects in the curriculum, for example, through regular testing
- teachers make consistent judgements and share them with each other, for example, within a subject, across a year group and between adjacent year groups.
Where assessment is good or better
Inspectors would recognise the following as good or even outstanding practice.
- The school has clear procedures for assessment that are understood by staff and pupils and applied consistently across the curriculum.
- Assessment is linked to curriculum planning so it gives information about knowledge, skills and understanding rather than unconnected numbers.
- The school sets challenging targets for all pupils, subjects and cohorts based on an analysis of prior attainment, capabilities, attitudes and potential.
- Assessment strategies are tightly focused and used regularly so that they provide an accurate, up-to-date picture of the achievement all pupils.
- This information is used carefully to track progress towards targets, identify difficulties where progress is slow and accelerated progress where greater challenge is needed.
- Pupils are consistently involved in evaluating how well they achieve across the range of subjects they study. This contributes to their progress and achievement and gives them confidence that they can make further improvement.
- Accurate, regular, systematic assessment ensures that pupils know what the school expects of them and how well they are doing in all aspects of their work.
- This partnership between pupils and their teachers has a very positive impact on improving rates of progress or sustaining high levels of achievement.
- Parents and carers understand how well their child is progressing and this enables them to act as learning partners.
- Analyses of assessment data are used to evaluate educational provision and this feeds into action planning, continuous professional development and performance management.
When assessment requires improvement or is inadequate
Inspectors would recognise the following as either ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’:
- The school’s systems for assessment lack rigour and consistency and, as a result, it does not have a clear picture of the achievement of individual pupils or particular groups.
- Progress records are not linked to the curriculum and do not give meaningful information.
- Targets lack challenge and are, in any case, not used as a strategy for improvement.
- Not all pupils or significant groups are involved in evaluating their own performance, and guidance from teachers is limited.
- Marking is inconsistent. Much is infrequent and superficial, with general comments rather than guidance on how to improve. Mistakes frequently go unchecked.
- As a result, pupils are unclear about how to improve their work.
- Weak assessment procedures are having a negative impact on progress and achievement.
- Data analysis is weak and the messages from assessment are ignored.
- Parents and carers have little, or misleading, information about their child’s progress.
Note for inspectors: Use of assessment information during inspections in 2014/15, Ofsted, July 2014: http://bit.ly/AssessmentInInspection
Use the following item in the Toolkit to help you to put the ideas in this article into practice:
About the author
Tony Powell is an experienced Additional Inspector and LA adviser. He writes extensively on education management, but his main work is supporting schools to develop systems for self-evaluation, school improvement and continuing professional development.
This article was first published in August 2015 issue of School Inspection and Improvement magazine.