Monday 21st September was for me dominated by Ofsted. No, we didn’t have visitors in school, we only welcomed our Ofsted team a little over a year ago so we aren’t expecting them quite yet. Monday was a day of simply talking to Ofsted and I feel better for it.
In previous posts I have made no secret of the fact that I have something of a soft spot for Ofsted. Just like the rest of us the Inspectors are simply doing their job. They are aiming to ensure that our children and young people achieve the best educational outcomes possible. Surely that’s what we all want and are working towards.
In the afternoon my Head Teacher and I attended a training event run by a HMI about the new Common Inspection Framework which came in to effect on Monday. We made our usual complaint about lack of parity with mainstream schools and then found the remaining three hours informative and useful.
In the Summer term I had emailed Sean Harford, Ofsted’s National Director for Education with my questions regarding accountability and data in special schools. Sean helpfully suggested I email Charlie Henry who in turn agreed to speak to me. The time and date was set and I had my questions ready.
My main question to Charlie centered around the use of Caspa. As a special school we have been using Caspa in order to show comparative data for our children. We are using B Squared to track our children and show their progress. Caspa is working on the old curriculum and B Squared has moved to the new curriculum which means the two are not compatible. P Levels have not changed but there are changes to science and maths which skews the data. I am not alone in worrying about this lack of data, many special schools are asking the same question.
Charlie talked me through the problems that had arisen with assessment and have been highlighted in the recent ‘Assessment Without Levels Commission Report.’ In special schools the formative assessment too easily became used as a curriculum but the reality is that formative assessment has to be assessment against the pupil’s curriculum. There is no plan to remove the P Levels so schools are able to continue using those as a summative assessment tool. Charlie also mentioned the new DfE report expected in December for children who are working below the levels of national assessments. That may shed some more light on the situation.
We then got down to the finer details.
1. Schools must be clear about their curriculum. Is it personalized for the children? They are not all working towards the same end point, some will have a common goal but many will have different starting and end points.
2. Track progress, if you are not able to do this in the formative sense how will you show progress? Are the children making good progress? This is where you need to use your summative assessment too.
3. For comparative data there is still the Progression Guidance although this is now dated. There are also some commercial schemes out there. The question we need to ask ourselves with any assessment scheme is: Is it assessing what we want the pupils to learn? Of course Charlie did not recommend any of these schemes as this is outside Ofsted’s remit.
4. Remember, in special schools we are talking about small cohorts and this means the statistics can be unreliable. In essence you can use whichever system you like but remember there will be flaws.
5. Be rigorous! This word cropped up time and again. Ofsted want rigour. Show the inspector the children’s work. Not just their best piece of work, a selection of representative work.
6. Externally moderate work with other teachers in other schools and reach a common agreement on the moderation.
7. Remember the purpose of tracking progress is to show that we have prepared children and young people for transition to their next stage, either key stage or work.
8. Don’t move away from individuality or personalizing the curriculum. The children and young people have individual needs, be cautious about aiming to introduce a uniform approach. Check your SEF. If you state your school makes ‘good’ progress be prepared to show how you will know if it drops. How will you raise standards?
9. Keep aspirations high, and robustly challenge low expectations and what are thought to be barriers to learning
10. The commercial systems only look at part of the child, there is much more to children working significantly below national expectations. We need a more holistic view. Talk about the child who has made lateral progress and the reason why.
11. Don’t forget the key areas for progress towards adulthood that are stated in the Code of Practice. It is too easy to underestimate the importance of ‘becoming independent’ and ‘participating in society’.
12. Be confident, remember we are ‘special’ and show how we are meeting those ‘special’ needs.
13. Paragraph 175/176 of the report says to set challenging targets given their starting points, this need not be numbers. Paragraph 184 says that for children with complex needs any assessment measures the school holds may be used.
14. There is no neat, uniform answer.
My conversation with Charlie can be summed up as:
1. Demonstrate proof and be rigorous
2. If you are not using comparative data be clear about your reasons for your decision. We must use national assessment data where a pupil is at this level.
3. Externally moderate
4. Be confident
5. Remember we are ‘special’ and we are meeting individual needs.
So there we have it. There is no uniform answer and nor should there be. Throughout my conversation with Charlie his passion for children with SEND was clear. I thank him for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk to me and answer my questions. Like Sean Harford and Mike Cladingbowl before him Charlie Henry is a thoroughly decent man who is working hard to remove the ‘fear factor’ from Ofsted.