In this two-part series, education consultant and former headteacher Daniel Taylor discusses the changing data landscape in UK schools.
So, can a school now be judged good or outstanding off the back of consistently poor progress and attainment? Evidence from Ofsted’s own curriculum research, conducted when trialling the new framework, certainly suggests the potential for this to be the case, with approximately half of previously outstanding schools scoring moderately or poorly on curriculum during the trial – the natural caveat for this being that some such schools had not been inspected for a considerable number of years. ‘Intent, Implementation and Impact’ are the new buzzwords and it remains to be seen for how long the latter might end up sustaining poor outcomes. The rationale, after all, surely is that a high-quality education and curriculum will deliver high-quality outcomes for the learners?
Like so many others in education, I am aware of many staff having left the profession over the last decade, ultimately citing obsessions with targets and progress and a lack of realism as key factors in their decisions. For many perhaps the new framework does offer some hope. Having implemented a full curriculum review in my last post as head, giving staff time to look in detail at what was being delivered, in what order, by whom and to whom proved valuable even to some of our more experienced staff. Critical as ever, however, was ‘time’. A thoughtful, self-critical analysis can only be achieved properly by allowing staff to look collaboratively and independently at present practice and schemes of work. For many this led to logical and common-sense improvements. Perhaps given my chance again, I might also insist on incorporating more feedback from students. Some of the best practitioners do this intuitively and for a long time it has been incorporated into quality assurance reviews of many vocational subjects but perhaps not so much so for GCSE and A Level qualifications. The same students, after all, play a key role when schools are visited but, more importantly, should be the key benefactors from any review process within education.
Has the importance of data however really diminished? Although no longer at the forefront of inspections the need for accurate internal data and its subsequent analysis naturally remains. I am not one for turning everything into numbers, indeed, if schools are truly to be judged on the quality of what is being delivered and how it is being delivered then this new focus is to be welcomed. Nevertheless measures of internal progress and attainment, used properly, allow staff and leaders to identify genuine strengths within their schools and draw upon them to tackle their weaknesses. Furthermore, it facilitates comparison internally, locally and at national levels, enabling leaders themselves to benchmark their own schools and take appropriate action. It allows for genuine review and evaluation. Most importantly, it should be used as a powerful tool to inform both parents and students but, conversely, should not be used as a stick with which to beat – be that staff or students. Where there is an average, there are always those both above and below but should being below average consign students, staff and schools to negative labelling? Students need to know how to improve and staff need to be able to identify and address these shortcomings, and data has a role to play here. Progress 8 is not a perfect measure. For many it does not take into account sufficient external and contextual factors. Curriculum and teaching should be shaped around the needs of the students and not based on a perverted obsession with outcomes and progress.
So there remains a role for progress and achievement tracking but perhaps no longer is it, or should it be, the pre-determinant of a school’s Ofsted label. If deep dives can truly gauge the quality of a school’s education then, for now at least, our spreadsheets and graphs can take more of a back seat.