'Excuses' aren’t just for free schools, and theatre isn’t just for Oxbridge hopefuls

Janet Downs's picture
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'EXCUSES' When two free schools run by the Seckford Foundation in Beccles and Saxmundham posted disappointing GCSE results, local MP Therese Coffey tweeted: ‘I'm sure @SeckfordSuffolk is disappointed with Sax results. Right to have a review though this year group was predicted to be challenging’ But claiming a cohort was ‘challenging’ would not be an acceptable reason for poor results in a non-free school - ‘No excuses’ is the mantra. But 'no excuses' fails to recognise that there are legitimate reasons why some schools return results below the mandated benchmark: 1An intake skewed to the bottom end. 2High staff turnover leading to lack of continuity, inconsistency and children being taught by non-specialists. 3Pupil churn – a large number of pupils entering and leaving in each academic year. 4A large number of children with poor or no English. This is made worse if the numbers arriving are erratic. Stuart Jackson MP, has spoken eloquently about how this affects schools in Peterborough. 5Disadvantage. I can already hear the cries accusing me of ‘the soft bigotry of low expectations’. But pointing out that disadvantage is a handicap is not being a bigot. I know disadvantage can be overcome; I know it’s not destination. But it’s a handicap, nevertheless. One overlooked finding in the OECD 2010 briefing paper about UK PISA results was this: both disadvantaged AND advantaged pupils tend to do worse than might be expected in schools where there is a large proportion of disadvantaged pupils. This was a global, not just a UK, phenomenon. The socio-economic composition of a school’s intake does matter. These factors are rarely taken into account by politicians or inspectors. Results, it appears, are all that count irrespective of context. But it’s worth remembering the two free schools above had been judged Good – poor results don’t necessarily mean the education provided is equally poor. CULTURAL EXPERIENCE FOR OXBRIDGE HOPEFULS The Times (5 December 2015, not available on line but churned by the Mail) described how clever pupils in Harris Federation academies are being groomed for Oxbridge by being sent to watch plays and attend operas. A Times editorial, headed ‘Educating Rons and Ritas’, approved. It would help children whose parents hadn’t been well-educated to gain ‘cultural polish’. But surely such activities should be part of education for all children not just brainy ones destined for Oxbridge? It’s easier, of course, for schools in cities, especially London. Theatres, concert halls and museums are easily accessible. For schools outside cities, especially those hundreds of miles away, it’s logistically more difficult. Watching a recording of a play isn’t the same as watching a live performance, but it still introduces pupils to the play. Accessing a museum on-line isn’t the same as visiting one, but it has the advantage of being able to focus on the object rather than being jostled by visitors posing for selfies. And listening to a musical recording isn’t the same as a live performance – but it’s the way most of us experience and come to love our favourite music. In this search for polish, it’s easy to forget the reason why teachers want to introduce pupils to art, literature, drama and music. It’s primarily for enjoyment. And perhaps the enjoyment comes not from total immersion in cultural events as part of 'finishing' but by a steady drip feed from pre-school to sixth form – something that’s part of the curriculum for every school. It shouldn't be hyped as something which helps clever pupils gain an Oxbridge place – a Unique Selling Point offered by an academy chain - but as something which is life-enhancing and fun for all.

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rogertitcombe's picture
Mon, 07/12/2015 - 21:15

Janet - Of your points 1 - 5, I believe number one is the key to understanding the issue and the rest are really distractors.

'both disadvantaged AND advantaged pupils tend to do worse than might be expected in schools where there is a large proportion of disadvantaged pupils.'

I don't believe this to be true in the terms that you describe. 'Advantage' and 'disadavantage' are slippery. poorly defined concepts that get confused and conflated with cognitive ability.

See my post on my website.

https://rogertitcombelearningmatters.wordpress.com/2015/01/07/closing-th...

A school with a low mean CATs score intake doesn't have to blight the chances of the minority of its high CATs score pupils. It is a choice that the school leaders choose to make through the design of the curriculum. Gove was right about that in his rejection of the vocational scam.

However now it is OfSTED and the DfE that more likely blight the chances of such pupils by failing to recognise that low mean CATs score intake schools SHOULD get low mean GCSE results and that falling below the floor target could well be equally expected given the particular intake ability profile. No individual pupils are necessarily disadvantaged by such an outcome. When this happens what could be a good school is destroyed including the chances of the minority of cognitively able pupils who were actually doing very well.

This is the huge elephant-in-the-room mega-fallacy at the core of the marketised education system.

See Section 5.9 in 'Learning Matters'

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 08/12/2015 - 08:48

Roger - I agree that 'advantage' and 'disadvantage' are slippery. The OECD definition talks more about 'disadvantaged schools' rather than disadvantaged pupils. OECD defines three types of schools:

A: socio-economically disadvantaged schools, in which the average socio-economic background of students is below the national average; socio-economically advantaged schools;

B advantaged schools, in which the average socio-economic background of students is above the national average

C Socio-economically mixed schools whose socio-economic intake is around the national average.

OECD finds 'schools with an advantaged socio-economic intake perform above the country average; and schools with a disadvantaged socio-economic intake perform below the country average' (p148 here).

This is a wider definition than eligibility to free school meals which is the proxy for disadvantage in England. And the OECD's findings are a generalisation - there will be schools (and it admits this) that buck the trend.


Guest's picture
Tue, 08/12/2015 - 18:16

In addition to Barry's input I would politely invite attention to the Inspection Handbook effective September 2015:

At page 13, paragraph 29: bullet point 6 and footnote 22:

"information on the school’s website, including its statement on the use of the pupil premium, in primary schools the PE and sport premium, the statutory sharing with parents of curriculum information (so the lead inspector can start to assess the breadth and balance of the school’s curriculum and whether it is likely to promote preparation for and an appreciation of life in modern Britain), the special educational needs (SEN) information report, the presence and suitability of the safeguarding guidance, taking into account current government requirements, information about the promotion of equality of opportunity and other information for parents"

" Throughout this document, ‘disadvantaged pupils’ refers to those pupils for whom the pupil premium provides support."

It is reasonable and rational to assert that this definition comes from DfE not HMCI/Ofsted. The latter are simply ensuring that 'disadvantaged pupils' for whom additional funding is paid make appropriate progress and in this way valid the effective use of the funding for the purpose for which it is paid.

In this regard see paragraph 61, page 21:

"61.Inspectors will evaluate evidence relating to the achievement of specific groups of pupils and individuals, including disadvantaged pupils, the most able pupils, disabled pupils and those with special educational needs. They will give specific attention to the quality of learning within mainstream lessons and on-site separate provision and evidence of learning in off-site alternative provision."

The terminology 'disadvantaged' is used 37 times throughout the handbook.

rogertitcombe's picture
Wed, 09/12/2015 - 12:47

Janet - Schools certainly vary in their effectiveness, but this is a school-based, rather than a pupil-based factor. There are many reasons why a school may be failing its pupils and many of these are triggered by the perverse negative consequences of not meeting floor targets, which now automatically results in OfSTED 'inadequate' judgements. This was not the case in the earlier years of OfSTED when lead inspectors could make judgements about the quality of teaching and learning based on genuine investigation and informed observation. Now it is the other way round. The inspector is forced to fail schools on the basis of results not meeting floor targets. The lesson observations have to be selectively interpreted to support these automatic judgements.

It is certainly true that schools with an intake of predominantly 'disadvantaged' pupils as arbitrarily defined in the many ways defined by the DfE and pointed out by Barry and Guest are more likely to fail to meet floor targets, be condemned by OfSTED as a consequence and then suffer the further negative consequences described by Janet.

This results in the illusion of social factors 'causing' educational disadvantage. It is an illusion because all of these 'social factors' are themselves strongly linked to pupil cognitive ability and it is the latter that is the causal factor.

There are plenty of anecdotal examples that refute the common sense expectations of disadvantage set out by Janet. Many of these are to found in the diverse multi-ethnic communities in London. For example, there are plenty of high performing London schools with very high proportions of pupils with English as a second language.

How sure can we be that the apparently poor performance of Peterborough schools is down to immigrants, rather than low mean cognitive ability in the local indigenous population?

In the 1990s in my Barrow headship school, we admitted a large number of Kosovar refugee children of various ages. As well as having suffered traumatic war-related experiences, all had English as a second language, if at all, on entry to the school. As a group these Kosovar refugees hugely outperformed our Barrow born children, who they were taught alongside, when it came to Y11 academic attainment

Think about the following allegedly disadvantageous factors.

Eligible for Free Schools Meals (FSM) in the last six years
Looked after continuously for 1 day or more; or
Adopted from care

What possible causal mechanism could result in a link between low school attainment and being on FSM for one term five years ago; or being 'looked after' for one day per week (regardless of who does the looking after); or being adopted?

My argument can be easily tested if DfE/OfSTED chooses to, using data from schools with banded admissions such as those in Hackney.

For the whole school you plot GCSE attainment against CATs score. You will get the usual very strong correlation (typically 0.8 - 0.9). You also get similarly strong correlations for each of the socially disadvantageous factors.

If you CONTROL for CATs score by selecting pupils from narrow ability bands then the correlation with the social factors is much weaker.

However, if you then separately control for each of the social factors (eg by restricting the exercise to FSM children) then the correlation with CATs score remains very strong.

This proves that it is cognitive ability that is the causal factor, the illusion being caused by the similar strong correlation between cognitive ability and the social factors.

Much of the social science establishment does not wish to recognise this and is happier with the social disadvantage model of school under-achievement.

All this is discussed in Part 1 in 'Learning Matters' is why Professor Michael Shayer writes about my book as follows.

"If teaching-to-the-test undermines understanding, then what kinds of learning promote cognitive development and hence better understanding? Titcombe addresses this question and also analyses the success of Mossbourne Academy to argue how the whole school system should be reformed, rejecting both the right and the left wing establishment in the process."

The lesson is to be very suspicious of any social deprivation based explanations for school under achievement based on cohorts with unknown CATs scores. This generally includes all such research.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 09/12/2015 - 13:17

Roger - while I appreciate the significance of CAT scores for secondary schools, how would they work with children entering primary?

I am also wary (weary, perhaps) of Mossbourne being held up as a shining example. It was a brand-new school with hand-picked staff which built up year by year. Having a comprehensive intake based on CAT scores was only one factor in its success - most schools don't have the luxury of being new and being built up gradually. In any case, Mossbourne's GCSE cohort in 2014 showed it had 10% more previously high-attaining pupils (28%) than previously low-attainers (18%). This suggests it's losing a proportion of low-attainers, CAT scores notwithstanding.

rogertitcombe's picture
Wed, 09/12/2015 - 14:22

Janet - If you look at Part 4 of your copy of 'Learning Matters' you will see that I do not, 'hold Mossbourne up as a shining example'. What have I tried to do is emphasise the essential part in its success played by its banded admissions system. I also explain why the Hackney banding system is not truly 'fair banding' and how this works to Mossbourne's advantage. However, I conclude that the Hackney system is probably the best that can be achieved given the current fragmentation of the education system and state of the law. It remains, to my knowledge, the only fair banding admissions system involving Academies, LA schools and a Religious School, all co-operating with each other and with the Hackney LA, which administers the uniform LA wide system.

You ask a good question about Primary Education. My answer is that it should be completely focussed on the development of individual children and be free from any forms of national testing other than for the purpose of tracking standards through sampling. Approaches to teaching and learning should focus on the various aspects of KS1 and KS2 development that are both age and developmental level appropriate for individual children. This will of course involve assessment and testing, but of a diagnostic nature for the benefit of each individual child rather than the school.

In my view the current 'national standards and expectations' regime has the effect of perversely corrupting teaching and learning because of its high stakes nature in relation to competition between pupils for favoured intakes and in relation to SATs based league tables. I would abolish SATs replacing them with CATs taken in Y6 by all pupils in all schools. These would have no role in judging the effectiveness of schools, this being the responsibility of reinstated LEAs regulated by a reformed HM Inspectorate of Schools. OfSTED in its present form would be abolished.

rogertitcombe's picture
Wed, 09/12/2015 - 14:36

As for a 'brand new school and hand picked staff', this is no guarantee of success as the people of Barrow-in-Furness know to the cost of their children. Three secondary schools were closed and replaced by Furness Academy, which had its pick of the available teachers (bar those that chose to walked away). The result is that the predecessor schools that had 2500+ pupils between them have all closed (two bulldozed for private housing - the third lined up as the site for an urban NHS Health Centre) and have been replaced by a half empty Academy with hundreds of children now making daily train or bus journeys to the successful LA schools in the neighbouring towns.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 10/12/2015 - 08:27

Roger - When you say, "However now it is OfSTED and the DfE that more likely blight the chances of such pupils by failing to recognise that low mean CATs score intake schools SHOULD get low mean GCSE results and that falling below the floor target could well be equally expected given the particular intake ability profile", I would float in that it is misleading to front load Ofsted, which implies that they - and HMCI - have an active role in promoting a flawed system. The reality is that it is the SoS Educ and DFE that drive the floor targets and basis for gauging a pupils projected GCSE outcomes. It is only after this that Ofsted comes to the fore to assess and judge progress and performance against these data sets.

For me what this serves to exemplify is how SMW, as HMCI, is not stepping up to the plate in his job description/role and responsibility and challenging the SoS Educ/DFE regarding how a pupils projected progress/GCSE outcomes are determined. It is surely only when this foundational data is agreed that the floor targets can be agreed. In turn this means that the floor targets will be different for each school because each cohort will have personalised estimated outturns. This ushers in the demise of blanket national floor targets and the comparison of these with national results to arrive at meangingless national averages.

The problem is that there are detractors of the CATs approach who will fight all the way and more importantly the adoption of the latter would go toward undermining GERM. But it would be a huge step forward in personalising outcomes based on each pupils abilities. It would also enable far more meaningful targeting of support for pupils.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 10/12/2015 - 08:37

Roger - your suggestion that CATs should replace SATs is a sensible one. Am I right in thinking CATs are immune from tutoring and preparation?

Would it make any difference if CATs were done at the end of Year 5 rather than Year 6? If it would make little difference, then CAT scores could be used instead of 11+ tests in areas where selection still exists. Parents would have CAT scores before applying for secondary places at the start of Year 6. I think this would be more reliable (and more immune to intensive tutoring) than the 11+.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 10/12/2015 - 08:45

Roger - your comparison with Barrow and Mossbourne doesn't work. Mossbourne didn't replace any existing schools - it was built on the site of a school demolished some years before. It built up its intake year-by-year. It made it clear what its ethos would be thereby attracting applicants from the type of child likely to benefit. There were other school nearby for other children which is not the same as being the only school in a neighbourhood. It's also in London which has benefited over the years from the London Challenge, a large number of well-motivated and hard-working children of immigrants and improvements in primary schools in the 90s feeding through to secondaries.

This isn't the same as an amalgamation of three schools which presumably took all (or most of) the children from the existing schools).

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 08/12/2015 - 09:03

Roger - while I agree it should be recognised that schools with a low mean CAT score should get low mean GCSE results, I don't agree the other points are 'distractors'.

A school with a stable staff can ensure consistency and continuity in a way schools with ever-changing and temporary staff cannot. It raises the question, of course, why the school can't keep staff (perhaps the turbulence was caused by a change of leadership or academy conversion). But it might be because teachers perceive the school as one which is likely to underperform (perhaps, say, because of an intake skewed to the bottom end, or in a disadvantaged area) and to apply there could be career suicide. Or the schools might be in an area in which teachers might not choose to live (eg isolated rural areas, run-down coastal towns).

Pupil churn will affect overall performance. A stable intake is easier to educate than one in a state of flux.

The churn affect is worsened if the incoming children can't speak English. Peterborough is one of the lowest-performing LAs. Its MP Stuart Jackson has described how an erratic influx of pupils, mainly from Eastern Europe, with little or no English affects Peterborough schools. He cited the case of one primary faced with six Roma children with little social conditioning and no English. Not typical nationally, he said, but typical for Peterborough.

Barry Wise's picture
Tue, 08/12/2015 - 10:05

The DfE's definition of 'disadvantaged' is:

A pupil will be defined as disadvantaged in the 2015 performance tables and in RAISEonline if they are recorded as:

Eligible for Free Schools Meals (FSM) in the last six years; or

Looked after continuously for 1 day or more; or

Adopted from care


https://www.raiseonline.org/contact/faqData.aspx?faqId=43

Guest's picture
Tue, 08/12/2015 - 20:40

PS - Not forgetting that pupils attracting the Y7 Catchup payment do not fall into the 'disadvantaged' category. Rather they are Y6 pupils who - under the now former KS2 SATs regime - did not achieve L4 in English and/or maths.

rogertitcombe's picture
Thu, 10/12/2015 - 09:25

Andy - I accept your point about OfSTED being the delivery agent rather than the originator of the system.

It supports the argument that you also make that not only should OfSTED be genuinely independent of government but should be seen to be so.

rogertitcombe's picture
Thu, 10/12/2015 - 11:13

Janet - True, my comment was more aimed at Furness Academy (and other new build, hand-picked Academy failures) than as a defence of Mossbourne.

Mossbourne' first admissions policy reserved 60 per cent of places for pupils living within 1000m of the school (designated the 'inner zone'). The school site is truly at the heart of a severely economically and socially disadvantaged community. This does not mean that they all got in as there were only 30 places for inner zone pupils in each of the four bands. (Now there are only 25) The lower bands would have been heavily oversubscribed and so subject to the over-subscription criteria. The minority of higher band pupils would probably all have been admitted. This demonstrates the power of banding to achieve in a neighbourhood local comprehensive system what the grammar school lobby claims for 11 plus selection.

In the absence of a uniform LA wide banding system as operated in Hackney an Academy like Mossbourne just dumps its excess low band applicants into neighbouring LA schools, while creaming off the higher ability pupils into the vacancies in its higher bands. In Hackney the neighbouring schools are protected against being flooded with low ability pupils discarded from banded academies by their own banded admissions policies. Uniquely in Hackney this also applies to the LA and religious schools. So it's win-win. It would not suit a rural LA where the schools are a long way apart, but then such schools do not usually need banding because of a good social mix in their catchments.

All this is explained in great detail in my book, which analyses real, anonymised pupil intake data provided by The Learning Trust (on behalf of the Hackney LA) and by Mossbourne Academy, both of which co-operated fully with my study and were very helpful.

Much is made by the DfE and the proponents of Academies of the 'extra freedoms' these schools have over LA schools. These 'freedoms' are regularly quoted as the explanation for the success of particular Academies, but never referred to as having anything to do with the growing number of Academy failures.

This is from Section 4.13 of 'Learning Matters'.

"The most important of these freedoms has been the right to have banded admissions policies driven by Cognitive Ability Testing. The enormous significance of this has been explained at length and in detail.

Mossbourne started life with this huge advantage over other Hackney schools, but in co-operation with the Learning Trust, has been happy to join a common admissions system ceding much of the responsibility for secondary transfer, in effect, to the Local Authority. This includes distribution of prospectuses, the co-ordinating of open evenings and communicating the process and its outcomes to parents.

Mossbourne is indeed a very good school but all its successful practices are, in principle, transferable to LA schools. In Hackney, but not elsewhere, this has included its crucial CAT based banded admissions system."

My study was based an admission cohort regulated by Mossbourne's first admissions policy. However unlike LA schools, Academies can change their admissions policies with a simple application to the (almost always co-operative) Secretary of State.

The Mossbourne admissions policy changed in 2013 as described in Section 4.4 of my book.

"Priority for teachers’ children even if they live nowhere near the Academy. If teachers’ children have higher-than-average ability, then this would raise the average ability of the intake.

Change in inner/outer balance from 60-40 to 50-50.

The inner zone has a lower mean CAT score than the outer zone. This is also likely to raise the average intake ability.

A Lottery within zones & bands, so the closest will no longer be assured a place.

One effect will be Mossbourne will no longer take so many pupils from the Pembury estate."

I feature Mossbourne Academy in my book, not because of any support for Academies (pretty obvious from my posts and the rest of my book), but because it is an important example of how the comprehensive system can be made to work extremely effectively for the benefit of pupils of all abilities and their parents, who are freed from, 'choice of school angst' - there are no failing schools in Hackney and all the schools enjoy a sufficiently balanced intake to support a fully comprehensive, opportunity enabling curriculum.

Of course it could and would be better still under Jeremy Corbyn's Labour proposals - reinstate LEAs and unify the school system by bringing all non-LEA schools under democratic local control.

rogertitcombe's picture
Thu, 10/12/2015 - 11:35

Janet, CATs are a form of 'content free' IQ test. I am not sure how they differ from 11+ selection tests, but I suspect that the latter include some of the curriculum content based features of SATs, and so like SATs they can be crammed for on the basis of practising past papers.

So yes, there is no reason why 11+ selection could not be based on CATs taken at the end of Year 5.

I am sure some parents would still want to provide private tuition for the CATs. This doesn't happen much now because CATs tests that drive banded admissions policies are nothing like so 'high stakes'.

CATs tests are designed to be 'tutor proof' through their content-free nature. If a parent wanted to improve the chances of their children getting high CATs scores they should opt out of the high stakes SATs system by providing their children with the sorts of learning experiences I describe in Part 5 of 'Learning Matters'. I would regard this as a good thing as it would destabilise the current oppressive English primary education system by encouraging parents to refuse to let their children do SATs revision and provide cognitively developmental challenges for them instead. A lot of primary teachers would support this but their heads would risk being sacked.

However such parents would be severely victimised by our increasingly Stalinist education system if they tried.

Guest's picture
Thu, 10/12/2015 - 12:20

Roger

"There are many reasons why a school may be failing its pupils and many of these are triggered by the perverse negative consequences of not meeting floor targets, which now automatically results in OfSTED ‘inadequate’ judgements ... Now it is the other way round. The inspector is forced to fail schools on the basis of results not meeting floor targets. The lesson observations have to be selectively interpreted to support these automatic judgements"

May I press you for the evidence to support this statement? Before you launch your fingers on the keyboard in instant response may I also recommend that - if not urge - you to read the Sept 15 Inspection Handbook. There is no reference in this to automatic judgements and this makes me wonder whether you are harking back to the old limiting judgements regime that very happily was discarded some years ago.

You would I suggest also find it quite enlightening to update yourself regarding the whole issue of lesson observations and their purpose alongside all the other sources of evidence that inspectors seek out to inform judgements.

Also the fact that HMCI has confirmed that Headteachers and Governing Bodies can obtain the full inspection evidence base for a report means that your assertion of observations being chosen selectively is untenable.

rogertitcombe's picture
Thu, 10/12/2015 - 13:14

Hello Guest

This is what the DfE say here.

http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/performance/2013/fs_13/index.html

"The school performance measures are compared against the threshold levels in pupils’ attainment and/or progress (i.e. floor/minimum standards). Schools and colleges that do not meet the standards may face a number of potential challenges and interventions from central or local government, depending on the perceived level of under-performance. In some cases, a school might receive a written warning from the government. In others, it might be subject to an inspection by Ofsted, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted). In the most extreme cases, the head teacher might be removed or the school faced with closure and replacement by an academy."

No mention of any cognitive ability based considerations here at all.

So how many such 'inspections by OfSTED' that result from failing to hit floor targets result in an inspection conclusion like this?

'The school's GCSE results are well below floor targets but in relation to the intake CATs scores, the majority of pupils are achieving in line with or better than predicted by the CATs data'.

But then if there are no CATs scores or OfSTED ignores them then what else can be expected?

I will read yours if you read mine.

Learning Matters, 'Section 2.1 Educational Failure - By Definition', p42

Guest's picture
Thu, 10/12/2015 - 14:36

Roger

Unless I am misreading your response it strike me you are tiptoeing around the question I put to you. I say this because the training for Ofsted Inspectors is rooted in the inspection handbook. The terminology 'Floor standards' occurs in the handbook twice at page 56:

1. Once in the Pupil Outcomes grade descriptors for inadequate (bullet point 4 of 7)

"The school’s performance regularly falls below the floor standards. Any improvement is insufficient, fragile or inconsistent."

2. Once in the footnotes for (1) above

" Floor standards refer to the expected levels of performance at Key Stages 2 and 4 set by the government."

Nowhere in the handbook is there any reference to schools/academies automatically being judged inadequate for not meeting government/DFE floor standards. What is made clear is that if "performance regularly falls below the floor standards. Any improvement is insufficient, fragile or inconsistent" (i.e. expected levels [of progress] are not met) then this would count as a contributory factor in arriving at a judgement of inadequate. Clearly, this does not trigger an automatic judgement of inadequate. Whereas other shortcomings and a history or not meeting floor standard may well lead to an inadequate judgement but no a single year of falling short.

The other information you provide - and forgive me for this - is self-evident in that, any school/academy whose results demonstrate a marked/catastrophic dip has always been treated as a trigger for interest. The normal pathway would be for DFE to send one of their own to investigate and report on the reasons. In its turn the report would either allay/explain things sufficient to let matters run until either the next annual results or Ofsted S5 inspection whichever was the earlier or trigger an Ofsted S8 inspection (which can become a full S5 if warranted). Other than that Ofsted inspections are on a cycle published in the public domain and/or can be initiated as a result of other factors (e.g. parental complaints/concerns).

We are both agreed that Ofsted don't set the system for determining progress or attainment. This down to DFE. Equally, Ofsted - and certainly under SMW - refer to pupils making expected progress from their starting point (i.e. year of entry into a school) but when Gove scrapped levels and sub levels he explicitly stated that it was up to secondary phase schools to develop and use their own methodology for evidencing progress; adding that whichever they settled on had to be robust and reliable. It follows then that there are many different methodologies being employed across the secondary sector and for all either is us knows more are turning to CATs then other systems. So it is untenable to say that Ofsted ignores CATs. Pre assessment without levels Ofsted had no choice but to rely on RoL. That said, the 2012 inspection documentation onwards acknowledged that if schools provided alternative data then it had to be taken into account. Since assessment without levels Ofsted directs that inspectors ascertain what method/system each school uses and assesses its reliability and robustness.

It follows then that Ofsted don't ignore CATs or any other system that schools use.

I look forward to your evidence to support your assertions about Ofsted automatically judging schools inadequate solely because they miss floor standards.

rogertitcombe's picture
Fri, 11/12/2015 - 13:05

Guest - I note what it states in the OfSTED handbook. You ask me to produce evidence to support my assertion that failing to reach floor targets in practice triggers OfSTED 'inadequate' judgements. You state the following.

"So it is untenable to say that Ofsted ignores CATs. Pre assessment without levels Ofsted had no choice but to rely on RoL. That said, the 2012 inspection documentation onwards acknowledged that if schools provided alternative data then it had to be taken into account. Since assessment without levels Ofsted directs that inspectors ascertain what method/system each school uses and assesses its reliability and robustness.

It follows then that Ofsted don’t ignore CATs or any other system that schools use."

It is hard to see how I could find the direct confirmatory evidence you ask for, so I propose we resort to the principle of falsification proposed by Karl Popper.

If you can find any actual OfSTED report that contradicts my assertion then I will withdraw it. You will need to find a recent OfSTED report on a school that significantly and consistently fails to meet floor targets, where the school's CATs based evidence is taken account of in the inspection report in considering the floor target issue, resulting in a conclusion that the school's pupils are not in fact under-performing despite failing to meet the floor targets.

I can point to three such reports but they are not recent. They relate to the Alfred Barrow School, where I was head, in 1995, 1998 & 2004. (I retired in 2003).

There are of course hundreds of reports that confirm that failure to meet floor targets triggers 'inadequate' judgements.

Guest's picture
Fri, 11/12/2015 - 15:34

Roger - Are you attempting to convey some sort of bizzare humour, deliberately misquoting me or wilfully being blindly obdurate? I suggest you try re-reading my comment thread and unscrambling it from what you thought you'd read.

With regard to your unevidenced and unsubstantiated assertion that Ofsted operates a policy of 'automatically judging a school - or at least its pupil outcomes - inadequate' if they don't meet floor standards. I quoted the inspection handbook:

"page 56:

1. Once in the Pupil Outcomes grade descriptors for inadequate (bullet point 4 of 7)

“The school’s performance regularly falls below the floor standards. Any improvement is insufficient, fragile or inconsistent.”

2. Once in the footnotes for (1) above

” Floor standards refer to the expected levels of performance at Key Stages 2 and 4 set by the government.”

Nowhere in the handbook is there any reference to schools/academies automatically being judged inadequate for not meeting government/DFE floor standards. What is made clear is that if “performance regularly falls below the floor standards. Any improvement is insufficient, fragile or inconsistent” (i.e. expected levels [of progress] are not met) then this would count as a contributory factor in arriving at a judgement of inadequate. Clearly, this does not trigger an automatic judgement of inadequate. Whereas other shortcomings and a history or not meeting floor standard may well lead to an inadequate judgement but no a single year of falling short."

Why, then, you chose to be perverse and refer to my comments about Ofsted and CATs is beyond comprehension.

Even more bizarrely you attempt to set up a straw man argument by interweaving CATs mean testing results into the mix. My other comments relating to SATs/CATs and assessment without levels made it quite clear that schools must make use of a method/system of assessing, monitoring and tracking pupil progress that best suits their needs but the the caveat that whatever they use must be reliable and robust. I went on to say that if a school chose CATs then the inspectors must use that along with internal school data as the basis of evidencing progress. Unless/until things change it is the HMCI/Ofsted postion that among other things there is no officially prescribed/recommended form of lesson planning, frequency or type of marking or evidencing progress.

Just because you feel strongly that all schools should CATs and therefore HMCI should approve it and direct Ofsted to check it is being used, is by no means evidence to support your assertion.

On the contrary. It is an ideal opportunity for you and other like minded people to draw up the evidence to support your position and lobby for its adoption. Whereas all I am doing is basing my comments on the prevailing framework and criteria.

For what it is worth, at a personal and professional level I am big fan of CATs and have stated elsewhere that a strong clear rational foundation for evidencing progress would be CATs in Y7 repeated in Y9. Indeed, with the right focus of evidence CATs could easily and effectively be used in Y6 in conjunction with the new end of KS2 tests.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 10/12/2015 - 11:46

Roger - Forgive what you may perceive to be my pendantism but Ofsted are not even the "delivery agent". They are the assessors of how a school performs against the predetermined criteria.

This aspect of the issue highlights the need for there to be an discrete non-political post in education to set the criteria e.g. SATs v CATs and floor targets etc and a remodelled Ofsted to assess and support performance. A significant obstacle/hurdle here would be ensuring academies/free schools participated in collaborative partnership ventures with other chains and LA schools.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 10/12/2015 - 13:11

Thanks, Barry. That definition of 'disadvantaged' which includes those eligible for FSM in the last 6 years (FSM6) is also made clear in the Statistics First Release of 10 December (today). According to the data, 32% of 11 year olds were classed as disadvantaged in 2015.

If you remember, I queried a speech made by Sean Harford of Ofsted over data for disadvantaged pupils in Bath/NE Somerset and Gloucestershire. It boiled down to two different definitions of disadvantaged: those eligible for FSM in the year SATs were taken and FSM6. Now the definition has been clarified (ie it's FSM6), it's to be hoped that LAs aren't criticised for FSM data alone.
That said, the FSM6 figures don't include looked after children or those adopted from care.

Phil Taylor's picture
Mon, 07/12/2015 - 11:44

Thank you Janet for returning to an issue that should always have been at the heart of the discussion about standards and the fairness of measures used to judge school performance. Having worked mostly in schools that had a very high proportion of disadvantaged students I have always been aware how intellectually vacuous the basic premise behind 'no excuses' is. Fortunately, when Ofsted inspections were carried out by competent people and overseen by experienced HMIs and when inspection teams were able to look beyond the statistics schools like the ones I led were able to demonstrate the reasons why their results did not look as impressive as those of schools which did not have anything like the same number of difficulties.

The introduction of league tables and fundamentally flawed performance measures was a crime against schools and young people. Sadly, even now, people who know better perpetuate the lies They need to find a little bit of moral courage. Perhaps some with an interest and investment in free schools that are struggling will start to understand what so many schools. teachers and students have had to suffer for so many wasted years.

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