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  • How obligatory are the writing exemplification materials?

    Well, that is the billion dollar question. The introduction to the materials states in no uncertain terms that schools and LAs must refer to them to ensure that their TA judgements are accurate and standardised across and between schools - which actually makes sense. 

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  • Ofsted myths and facts on assessment

    We’re still hearing from lots of teachers that they’re not completely sure what Ofsted is expecting to see in terms of assessment practice and are worried about fallout from Ofsted at their next inspection.

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  • Final report of the Commission on Assessment without Levels - does it move us on?

    Remember Pavlov? He’s the guy who conditioned dogs to respond with a saliva reflex to the sound of bell.

    At first, the dogs would be given a nice juicy piece of meat each time the bell rang, until eventually, the neural pathway was strong enough that the dogs would salivate at the idea of being fed even when the piece of meat was then withheld.

    Obviously, as humans we’re a bit brighter than your average dog. But that doesn’t mean we don’t respond to conditioning – particularly when fear is involved. For many years now you’ve been expected, as teachers, to take a data-led approach to assessment. To give each child a number and to measure their progress as their evolution between these numbers.

    A failure to keep track of, and to report on children’s attainment using these numbers would result in a less-than-glowing appraisal of your school’s performance from Ofsted.

    So, while the DfE has long been clear that Levels are finished and that schools are free to develop their own systems of assessment and reporting, so strong is the conditioning that many schools have had difficulty believing in this freedom and letting go of the old regime.

    Even those wanting to engage found themselves in a vacuum of information and direction. For pressured Heads and senior leaders with a mountain of things on their plate already, the whole area of assessment must have seemed like a ticking time-bomb that they didn’t have the manual or the time to defuse.

    The Commission on Assessment without Levels was therefore set up to provide guidance to schools on creating their own assessment policies, and to help them through a time of ‘radical cultural and pedagogical change’ (to borrow from John McIntosh’s foreward to the commission’s final report).

    What it does do, is provide a manifesto for high-quality, meaningful assessment that offers guidance to schools to help them develop their own policies.

    However, if any schools were hoping for an off-the-peg solution to assessment or a replacement set of levels fitted to the new curriculum, the commission’s final report does not deliver.

    It provides no templates, and prescribes no specific content for a school’s assessment policy. What it does do, is provide a manifesto for high-quality, meaningful assessment that offers guidance to schools to help them develop their own policies.

    The detail is of course available within the report itself, but the overall message is that formative assessment is crucial; that acting upon assessment is far more important than recording it, and that schools ought not to be driven by expectations of what they think Ofsted inspectors are looking for. (The latest Common Inspection Framework plainly states that they are not looking for a particular approach).

    The report also identifies what needs to happen in order for schools to feel completely comfortable and secure about their assessment policies. To be able, in short, to let go of the old way of thinking without fear of reprisal.

    This includes a greater focus on assessment as part of initial teacher training, training for school leaders and Ofsted inspectors around the principles and purposes of assessment, and what best-practice looks like.

    Does this mean the demise of summative assessment? Not at all. The report recognises that summative tests are a useful means of evaluation pupils’ learning and progress at the end of a period of teaching.

    It’s important, however, that the data is not an end in itself, but is a way of a way of getting information that supports pupils' progress and attainment to help you tailor your teaching accordingly.

    It follows therefore, that when you’re creating, or looking for ready-made summative assessment resources, you need to think about how they help you to close that loop.

    What do you do now? Well, whatever it takes to get rid of that old conditioning. Grasp this opportunity for what it is – a government sanctioned move towards a more innovative, child-focused, sensible approach to assessment.

    Read the report, if you haven’t already, and get excited. And most of all, believe. Believe that you know what good assessment looks like, and believe that the DfE trusts you to make it happen.

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  • Update on the new Common Inspection framework for September 2015

    The updated Ofsted Common Inspection Framework (CIF) was launched on 11 June for inspections from September 2015. Until the end of the current term schools will be inspected under the 2012 framework (last updated in January 2015).

    The new CIF is designed to pull together the inspection of the different education settings (early years setting, maintained schools and academies, non-association independent schools and further education and skills providers) ‘to provide greater coherence across different providers that cater for similar age ranges’.

    Between the framework, the Inspectors' handbook, and a plethora of supporting material to assist schools with its roll-out and assimilation, there is quite a lot to wade through, so here is a quick summary of the most important points:

    Slight shift in judgement areas

    • Ofsted will now make graded judgements in the following areas (2012 judgement areas in brackets). The same judgement areas will be used in all education settings.
    • Overall effectiveness (Overall effectiveness)
    • Effectiveness of leadership and management (Leadership and management)
    • Personal development, behaviour and welfare (Behaviour and safety of pupils)
    • Quality of teaching, learning and assessment (Quality of teaching)
    • Outcomes for pupils (Achievement of pupils)

    Increased emphasis on safeguarding

    Safeguarding is now reported under Leadership and Management. There will also be a greater emphasis on the notion of ‘British values’ (already included in the January edition) which include ‘tolerance’ and ‘respect’.

    The personal development section also includes a reference to extremism – ‘understand how to keep themselves safe from relevant risks such as exploitation or extremism, including when using the internet’.

    Shorter inspections for good schools

    Short inspections for schools judged as being ‘good’ in their last inspection are being introduced. These new shorter inspections will start from the assumption that the school is still good, with an emphasis on leadership.

    The onus is therefore on the leaders to provide sufficient evidence to HMI that this is the case, with a full inspection to follow only if HMI do not see enough during the short visit to be convinced.

    Focus areas

    The launch of the new CIF was heralded by a speech delivered by Sir Michael Wilshaw to Westminister outlining the principles of the document and talking about the future of education inspection.

    In it, he outlined a number of key focus areas that inspectors would be looking at. In his own words, these are:

    • Have the leaders got a grip on the institution? Do they fully understand its strengths and weaknesses?
    • Have they communicated their strategy for raising standards to the key stakeholders?
    • Are they focussed on what really benefits children and young people, rather than wasting their time endlessly preparing for an Ofsted inspection which could be years away?
    • Do they refuse to accept excuses for underachievement and are they prepared to go the extra mile to compensate for family background?
    • Are they simply presiders over the status quo, content to take the path of least resistance or are they prepared to challenge staff and students to do better?
    • Have they built, or are they developing, a culture that is calm, orderly and aspirational?
    • Are they, for example, people who tolerate scrappy worksheets? Or are they people who insist that children should have good materials to work with, including textbooks, readers and library books which they can use for classwork and homework?

    Dispelling the myths

    Alongside the inspection handbook/document is an additional paper clarifying the facts about Ofsted inspections and attempting to dispel the ‘myths’ surrounding inspection preparation, a key source of stress for teachers and school leaders. Ofsted does not:

    • Require schools to show individual or previous lesson plans
    • Require details of the pay grade of individual teachers
    • Require evidence for inspection beyond what is set out in the inspection handbook
    • Expect to see a particular frequency or quantity of work in pupils’ books or folders
    • Require the performance and pupil-tracking data and school or college self-evaluations to be presented in a specific format
    • Grade individual lessons

    This guidance has been well received by teachers and teaching unions. as evidence that Ofsted is recognising - and seeking to address - both the mental toll and the considerable demands on teachers' time that inspection has been taking in recent years.

    What about assessment?

    From September 2015 schools are required to show how they are managing and measuring attainment and progress now that they are no longer using levels to measure attainment.

    Inspectors will consider how well teachers use any assessment for establishing pupils’ starting points, teacher assessment and testing to modify teaching so that pupils achieve their potential by the end of a year or key stage. However, Ofsted does not expect to see any particular system of assessment in place.

    Evidence of in-year progress and attainment information should be provided to inspectors in the format that the school would ordinarily use to track and monitor the progress of pupils in the school.

    Reference is made many times in the document to 'Schools' own Assessment Policies'. As part of the good practice in school policy update and review, schools are well-advised to have their assessment, marking and feedback policies updated and in place by the start of the Autumn term.

    Find out more how Pearson can support you with assessment with our new service Progress & Assess.

    Image credit: Robert Kneschke. Shutterstock

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