Thursday, 26 January 2012

Ofsted and the Missing Year

"Ofsted: they want the impossible."

I'm sure I've heard someone actually say that and I know many disgruntled teachers must have felt that over the years.

But today I have actually seen it with my own eyes.

You see we hired a fully trained HMI Ofsted type person to come in to our school and tell us the kind of things that inspectors like to say. Gluttons for punishment, you might say - masochists even. Actually the experience was rather cathartic. We now have a clear picture of the things we're good at and the things we need to improve.

With the new Ofsted framework just enacted in January, schools such as ours - a one form entry Primary school in a deprived part of Birmingham need to be prepared for what's coming. For a start, small schools are more likely to be hit by cohort-specific effects - with each child being worth over 3%, it only takes a few children to have a bad day in their SATs test to generate the dreaded blue boxes on the RaiseOnline, which indicates that the school has become significantly below national average in a particular area. In addition small schools are more likely to affected by staffing issues -  one or two people our on maternity might not have a big impact in a secondary school with 80 teachers and 140 support staff, but in a school with only 10 teachers it can make a big difference.

So theory apart, many of the things that the inspector lady told us we knew anyway. We know it with more clarity now, but we did kind of know it in the first place. However one thing has really surprised me - Ofsted expect primary Sschools to be able to create a whole year of education. They expect us to warp some temporal field, maybe by harnessing the power of a nearby singularity and actually create time. A whole year of time.They expect 7 years of education from Reception to Year 6 to be worth 8.

Here's how I know this.

You're going to have to bear with some numbers now.

Most children leave our Reception class on about Early Years Foundation Profile point 6. This is out of a 9 point scale in a range of areas. Leaving at point 6 is about national average. Early Years Practitioners and Experts get very cross if at the notion that there is any correlation between the Early Learning Goals and the Level Descriptors within the National Curriculum. So cross in fact, that some will literally shout at you if you suggest such a thing. Nevertheless Ofsted have deemed that there is a correlation. What they say is that if you leave at the average point 6 from Reception, then by the time you get to Year 2 (in two years time) you should have made it to a secure level 2 in the National Curriculum.

Now I should explain at this point that there is a numerical scale that helps both Ofsted and geeky-data-crunching-school-leader-types like me to drill into the data provided by the National Curriculum Level Descriptors. It divides each broad brush stroke level into 6 points called APS (standing for average point score). And the progression goes something like this:
  • Level 1 >> APS 6-11
  • Level 2 >> APS 12-17
  • Level 3 >> APS 18-23
  • Level 4 >> APS 24-29
  • and so on.
This APS system means you can say that normal progress is about 3 points progress per year, which good progress being about 4 points a year. Now working backwards from Year 2, Ofsted say that most children should get a secure level 2, which is about 15 or 16 points. Working backwards 3 points a year, this means that children need to start Year 1 (having just left Reception) on about 9 or 10 points (a secure level 1).

However, in reality children leaving Reception at the average 6 points on the EYFSP tends to start their Year 1 class at the start of the National Curriculum at a low level 1, or the equivalent of 6 or 7 points. This means they need to make an additional 3 points progress just to catch up with where they need to be - a full year's normal progress.

To make matters worse, Ofsted say that children leaving Reception as high flyers on Point 9 of the EYFSP are the equivalent of a secure National Curriculum level 1 (i.e. 9 or 10 points on the APS scale). It would be reasonable to assume that these children could make good progress to secure a high level at maybe 17 points on the APS scale. But no, Ofsted expect these children to make 11 points progress in 2 years to 21 points by the end of Year 2.

There are various possible consequences for this missing year:
  1. Schools can remain doing what they are doing - making normal progress and then watch as their Key Stage 1 department gets labelled as inadequate for not making enough progress with their children.
  2. They can increase the quantity and quality of the staff in Key Stage 1, to intensify the learning there, allowing teachers to teach to smaller groups, thereby increasing the progress.
  3. They can cheat. This could happen at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage or at the end of Year 2, but cheating would certainly help make the data look better than it is.
  4. Schools could actually invent that time machine and give the children the extra year's education required to make the progress they need.

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