External scrutiny has always been a tricky topic as there are so many factors which come into play and many differing opinions on their purpose and value. SATs results, Ofsted or other inspections, league tables, Local Authority scrutiny and governor’s meetings can all be considered to be external scrutiny. Some are what we would call summative in that they are focused on school and teacher accountability, whereas others are approached in a more formative manner and can contribute to an improvement in school effectiveness.
The use of league tables based on test performance, as part of an Ofsted inspection or by parents, can be seen as a summative scrutiny of the school. They provide an easy way to make a judgement about a school’s effectiveness, which is why many schools place so much emphasis on the statutory tests. Within school, their usefulness is often seen as limited, as they do not often lead to chances to change what has already been and gone. However, they do offer a chance for reflection and an element of dialogue in school to build on positive trends as well as identifying and addressing potential issues. Offering internal tracking data alongside this can provide the opportunity to show that changes are already happening even if they have not yet shown themselves in end of Key Stage results.
Other, more “formative”, forms of scrutiny such as Local Authority SIP visits or moderation across a MAT, or governors meetings, are seen more positively as they can all be used to feed straight back in to what is happening now and help the school to make useful changes which impact later down the line on the “summative” judgements discussed above. The main area any scrutiny should be looking for is anything which can impact on teaching and learning which in turn impacts the attainment and progress of the pupils in your care.
How can we use external scrutiny to our advantage and what to do when it, on occasion, it can leave you reeling?
The first contentious point is “what are they even looking to see?” Which has no easy answer. When we talk about moderation across schools, at the end of Key Stages 1, 2 and 4 we have some easy results to analyse – Statutory test results. We also have, lower down the school, phonics tests and EYFS profile results. These help to make comparison possible, although that still doesn’t always make it useful if settings vary. You may also be using various commercially available tests and scores. While these also seem straightforward to compare like for like, there may also be differences based on the specific tests other schools are using or may not match perfectly with how you are teaching the curriculum over the year/key stage. So, the whole affair is quite a minefield!
Moving away from standardised tests and formats and it gets even trickier to comprehend what we should be showing anyone! Groups of schools and MATs have some chance at consistency if they are using the same assessment system. However, this is dependent on other factors like having had the same training, following the same curriculum and having regular discussions and moderations to check you all agree on how assessment is working. Then you may have something concrete to show externally which makes sense at least within the group.
However, in many schools, there is little consistency from one to the next as schools have the freedom to assess in whatever way they like within key stages. This means that even if you are using the same system as others, it’s likely you have all adapted it in different ways, you all use different curricula, and you all have different ideas about what “secure” looks like, or if you even use the word “secure” at all. One school’s “Secure” may mean 50% coverage of the assessment statements for their year group, another may set theirs at 100%. So even a term which seems innocuous and obvious no longer means the same thing, making it difficult for you, and others, to benchmark your school.
There is no set standard for what Secure looks like, or anything else, so long as it impacts on learning. This is why you have autonomy and levels were removed.
The problem with autonomy is that it is, by definition, designed to allow for differences. So, someone, somewhere, decided that individual schools can make their own professional choices. I can sit here safely behind my keyboard and tell you to be brave and go for it and make as many changes as you like, which make sense for your school, but that won’t help you if I cannot sit in those meetings for you and I do not know your school like you do.
What I suggest is to just be totally sure what YOUR assessment means and why. Also try, as much as you can, not to look too hard at what others are doing. Don’t take on another school’s model if you are not 100% of why, and how, it would work for you. You cannot pick and choose bits. If you take on the same outputs you must also be signing up to the same adaptations, curriculum, moderation, time allowed for staff to input, training etc etc which may not all suit you. Look for the ways as laid out in the previous blogs in this series and the many others I have been writing since the change of curriculum, to show data which looks nothing like old ‘levels’ data used to. Because anything you show which looks like the old way – points progress and everything else – to anyone outside the school, will automatically make them think old levels. They will then start looking for X many per year, X many per term, expect six termly outputs with six termly increases on the graph…etc etc. The new curriculum is not the same. It isn’t even slightly the same.
You could use Assessment Summaries, Curriculum Tracking, Books, graphs and even pupils as evidence of what you are doing. These are all valid ways of demonstrating progress. The new Attainment and Progress Reports within Classroom Monitor 2018 have been specifically designed to make it easier for you to share your data. They allow you to categorise pupils’ attainment and progress based on your school’s expectations at a point in time. This results in data that is easy to interpret, and act upon, whilst maintaining control and understanding of that data by setting the expectations yourself.
One thing will be evident if you are using data well though – your assessment WILL be making an impact on teaching and learning. And that will be evident all over your school. It will also give you confidence to speak about your assessment and show/discuss whatever data you like to prove it.
If you do not feel confident to discuss your data with external agencies then speak to us, look through our Advice and Guidance area of our training site, or take one of our training paths. We are here to help. Not to tell you what your data should look like. But to make sure that whatever it looks like; you know why, how, and you can see the impact you ARE having.