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Ofsted switches back to exam results ‘as a starting point’

Results will once again be the “starting point on inspection”, Ofsted has said after grades returned to pre-pandemic standards.

Primary school accountability guidance for this year notes that the watchdog used 2021-22 outcomes “with caution” solely to “inform discussion” with schools about pupil outcomes.

But 2022-23 data will be used to inform inspection in the “normal way” as a “starting point on inspection”, recently updated guidance states.

Ofsted also confirmed that secondary performance data from this summer will be used in the same way.

Earlier this year, Schools Week reported on a broken link between performance and Ofsted grades after 2019 when cancelled exams and teacher grades left inspectors effectively “results blind”.

An analysis found four formerly ‘outstanding’ schools with progress 8 scores among the highest 100 in the country had been downgraded since 2021.

Meanwhile, eight schools rated ‘good’ were in the bottom 100 schools in the country for their P8 scores.

Inspectors who attended Ofsted’s autumn conferences this month said a training session on “curriculum impact” marked what they thought was a shift on the watchdog’s overall approach to performance data.

Inspector reports ‘definite shift’

One inspector said the undertone of the session was that if performance data was poor, inspectors would need to make sure evidence showed the school was on the way to improvement for it to achieve a ‘good’ grade.

This went against previous approaches where assessment was seen as less important and was a “definite shift”, they claimed.

Another described the advice given during the session as a “pretty clear implied steer” that a school’s curriculum could not be judged as ‘good’ if outcomes were “not good, even where leaders have a planned and sequenced model in place”.

They added that inspection outcomes would “start to show this trend” during this academic term.

Another said it had become harder for schools to gain ‘good’ overall when data was poor.

In slides from the training sessions seen by Schools Week, inspectors were asked to consider what might be “recorded in the evidence base if there is a mismatch between the published data and what inspection evidence shows”.

One of the “takeaway points” was also outlined as “external data is one crucial form of evidence of impact but needs interpreting with care”.

When asked about the inspectors’ claims, Ofsted insisted there had been “no change to the Education Inspection Framework (EIF) or to the way we approach inspection”.

“While we take pupils’ results into account when evaluating the impact of the curriculum, inspectors are trained to base the quality of education judgment on a much wider range of evidence.”

No school was judged on “the data alone”.

Current framework was ‘evolutionary shift’

When the EIF was introduced in 2019, Ofsted pitched it as an “evolutionary shift” that would look more closely “at the substance of education” rather than results.

While Sir Martyn Oliver, the incoming chief inspector, was originally critical of the focus, he has since been more positive.

Sir Martyn Oliver

But it is still expected the dial will swing back towards data being more important under Oliver, the Outwood Grange Academies Trust boss who takes over in January.

He told MPs earlier this month it was “difficult to explain” how some schools with the best results in the country were only getting ‘good’, while some with  the worst got the same grade.

The school inspection handbook sets out that when evaluating the quality of education, inspectors look at the inspection data summary report (IDSR) – which includes attainment and progress data.

It will be updated to include key stages 1 and 2 data in October, and key stage 4 data from November.

Guidance adds inspectors will “consider any outcomes data, where this is available in nationally published data, but it does not constitute a substitute for inspectors’ first-hand inspection activities”.

Data from 2021-22 will continue to be treated with caution.

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