Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Fifth Special Report

Appendix 2

Ofsted's response to the Third Report from the Children, Schools and Families Committee, Session 2007-08

Your Committee published its report on Testing and Assessment on Tuesday 13 May, which was followed by Ofsted's oral evidence session on Wednesday 14 May. As promised, I now provide some relevant evidence on this issue together with a written response to those recommendations from the Report which make reference to Ofsted.


Solid evidence of performance through test and exam results, particularly in English and maths, is essential to learners' future access to employment. Proficiency in these subjects is also vital for access to a wider curriculum. Inspection evidence shows that the most successful schools focus on national testing and assessment without reducing creativity in the curriculum.

My Annual Report for 2006/07 states that the overall quality of the primary curriculum has improved, although specific weaknesses are cited in relation to both the primary and the secondary curriculum.

However, in some schools an emphasis on tests in English, mathematics and science limits the range of work in these subjects in particular year groups (often Years 6 and 9), as well as more broadly across the curriculum in some primary schools. For example, in Year 6 mathematics there are sometimes fewer opportunities than in other years for practical work because of the emphasis given to practising skills and techniques in preparation for national Key Stage 2 tests. Similar issues arise with older learners: my Annual Report for 2006/07 comments that skills for life training offered by colleges, learndirect and other providers, "was often too narrowly focused on simply passing a test, rather than on the value of the learning process."

Evidence from survey work

As stated above, the best schools can focus on tests and exams without narrowing the curriculum. However this is not always the case. My Annual Report for 2005/06 said that, "For some pupils, however, the experience of English had become narrower in certain years as teachers focused on tests and examinations; this affected pupils' achievement in speaking and listening in particular," and that, "Weaker teaching (in mathematics) was too narrowly focused on proficiency in examination techniques at the expense of building understanding of concepts and their relationships."

More recent evidence suggests the continuance of these trends. For example, in Year 6 mathematics there are fewer opportunities than in other years for practical work because of the emphasis given to practising skills and techniques in preparation for national Key Stage 2 tests. Similarly, in some secondary schools, routine exercises and preparation for tests impair the development of understanding as well as enjoyment of mathematics particularly but not exclusively in year 9. The recently published poetry report also discusses the significant impact of tests on the teaching of poetry in English, particularly in year 9. However the best schools found ways to continue to teach poetry.

A 'teaching to the test' effect can be observed in some schools at GCSE and A level as well. The report "Evaluating mathematics provision for 14-19 year olds" (HMI 2611) published in May 2006 reported that factors which acted against effective achievement, motivation and participation included:

"A narrow focus on meeting examination requirements by 'teaching to the test', so that although students are able to pass the examinations they are not able to apply their knowledge independently to new contexts and they are not well prepared for further study."

Similar issues arise with older learners, my Annual Report for 2006/07 comments that learning for skills for life training offered by colleges, learndirect and other providers, "was often too narrowly focused on simply passing a test, rather than on the value of the learning process. Providers still offered insufficiently individualised learning packages. These concentrated on dealing with the gaps in learners' skills, rather than laying the secure foundations needed to support them effectively in employment and their personal lives."

The following are direct references to teaching to the test in survey reports published since April 2007. There are more oblique references in some other reports, for example to a narrowing of the curriculum; however, these are examples of the most direct references.

Poetry in schools: A survey of practice, 2006/07

(070034, December 2007)

The end-of-key-stage national tests and examinations have had a significant impact on poetry in schools. Poetry featured less in the English curriculum in Years 6 and 9 in the schools visited because too many teachers focused on preparing pupils for the tests.

The Key Stage 4 curriculum: Increased flexibility and work-related learning

(070113, May 2007)

The Key Stage 4 curriculum was good in well over half of the schools surveyed in the second year of the survey, a more positive picture than in the previous year. Across the two years of the survey, curriculum development in a small minority of the schools visited was constrained by a perception that change would not maximise success in public examinations. They offered a narrow curriculum with little or no access to vocational qualifications.

History in the balance: History in English schools 2003-07

(070043, July 2007)

History currently has a limited place in the curriculum. In primary schools, this has been because of the necessary focus on literacy and numeracy.

Geography in schools: changing practice

(070044, January 2008)

Achievement was slightly better in Key Stage 1 than in Key Stage 2. Achievement in Year 6 is often very limited and pupils in many schools study little geography until the statutory tests have finished.

Evidence from school inspection reports

The issue has not been raised frequently in individual school inspection reports. One of the most regular adverse references has been to the squeezing out of activities such as problem-solving and a small proportion of letters to learners make direct reference to learners' concerns about a lack of interest and variety in the curriculum. This occurs more commonly in primary than in secondary schools.

Responses to recommendations directly relating to the work of Ofsted

Recommendation 2

The evidence we have received strongly favours the view that national tests do not serve all of the purposes for which they are, in fact used. The fact that the results of these tests are used for so many purposes, with high-stakes attached to the outcomes, creates tensions in the system leading to undesirable consequences, including distortion of the education experience of many children. In addition, the data derived from the testing system do not necessarily provide an accurate or complete picture of the performance of schools and teachers, yet they are relied upon by the Government, the QCA and Ofsted to make important decisions affecting the education system in general and individual schools, teachers and pupils in particular. In short, we consider that the current national testing system is being applied to serve too many purposes.

Ofsted does not rely on published test data alone to provide a complete picture of the performance of pupils, teachers and schools. When considering learners' achievement, inspectors consider the attainment (or standards) of the learners, and in doing so they make use of published test data. Inspectors also form a view about the progress learners are making. This judgement is based on a wide range of evidence including contextual value added (CVA) data.

The evidence taken into account during an inspection includes the school's self assessment, covering a wide range of judgements about the quality of provision and information about the tracking of pupils' progress. In addition, first-hand observations of pupils' current progress in developing their skills, knowledge and understanding will always be a key part of the inspection process. Inspectors will talk to learners about their experiences, observe them at work and draw on the views expressed in the parents' questionnaire.

The inspector's evaluation of the school is summarised in the Overall Effectiveness judgement; this is most closely related to the inspection judgement on learners' progress, rather than the judgement on standards. Although the greatest focus in inspection is on whether the school is helping young people to make good progress, the system is sufficiently flexible to allow for special schools, where standards are invariably very low in comparison to those found nationally, to be graded as outstanding where appropriate because of the very good provision they make for their pupils. In order to make a judgement about the overall effectiveness of a school, inspectors will also consider factors other than achievement and standards, such as the personal development and well-being of pupils, the quality of teaching and learning, how well the curriculum meets individual needs, and the effectiveness of the leadership and management of the school.

We therefore believe that Ofsted makes appropriate use of the national testing system in its evaluation of schools. Data are sufficiently accurate for the school-level purposes for which we use them but greatest emphasis is placed upon the most reliable indicators, such as progress across Key Stage 2 to 4 rather than Key Stage 2 to 3.

We believe that using national test and exam data for several purposes is a strength. One of the core principles for efficient use of data in government should be 'collect once, use more than once', and this is the case. We believe that the use of test and exam data in inspection is appropriate. Set within the context of the inspection methodology described above, we believe the data are extremely helpful in evaluating schools' effectiveness.


We are concerned about the underlying assumptions on which Contextualised Value Added scores are based. Whilst it may be true that the sub-groups adjusted for in the Contextualised Value Added measure may statistically perform less well than other sub-groups, we do not consider that it should be accepted that they will always perform less well than others.

The Contextualised Value Added (CVA) data are a key aspect of the RAISEonline data package, which is jointly managed by Ofsted and the DCSF and provided to all maintained schools for the purpose of self-evaluation. It is also used by Ofsted inspectors in inspection. The weightings (coefficients) used in the CVA model are recalculated each year to use the actual performance data of the latest cohort of pupils. In this way they reflect trends in performance of cohorts. The data should not be used to predict the future performance of any particular group of learners or to set pupils' targets. The CVA score of a pupil tells us how s/he has performed compared to other pupils with similar characteristics across the country. This serves to highlight where pupils have performed much better, or much worse, than other similar pupils. When aggregated up to the school level, this indicates where overall performance is better, or worse, than in other schools with similar intakes of pupils.

It is a statistical fact that groups of pupils achieve, on average, different standards. For example, the latest performance data shows that, on average, girls outperformed boys last year. However, it cannot be used to predict that girls will again outperform boys next year and it should not be used to justify setting lower targets for particular groups of pupils.

Therefore we agree with the Select Committee that they should not be used by schools to determine expectations of particular sub-groups. CVA scores give an historic picture of how pupils have performed, taking their prior attainment and circumstances into account, in order to inform an evaluation of the school's performance. CVA is a very powerful tool for this purpose and allows us to compare the work of schools in similar contexts, but it should not be used to set targets or expectations for individual learners or groups into the future.


In addition to these specific recommendations about Contextual Value Added scores, we recommend that the Government rethinks the way it publishes the information presented in the Achievement and Attainment Tables generally. We believe that this information should be presented in a more accessible manner so that parents and others can make a holistic evaluation of a school more easily. In addition, there should be a statement with the Achievement and Attainment Tables that they should not be read in isolation, but in conjunction with the relevant Ofsted report in order to get a more rounded view of a school's performance and a link to the Ofsted site should be provided.

The Achievement and Attainment Tables now contain a wealth of detailed information and we have become aware that—on occasions—the information in them has been misunderstood by local newspapers. A link to the Ofsted report would be helpful.

A balance needs to be found between providing enough information to be useful and not so much detail that it becomes confusing.


The scope of this inquiry does not extend to a thorough examination of the way Ofsted uses data from the performance tables under the new, lighter touch, inspection regime. However, we would be concerned if Ofsted were, in fact, using test result data as primary inspection evidence in a disproportionate manner because of our view that national test data are evidence only of a very limited amount of the important and wide-ranging work that schools do.

National test data contribute to judgements on standards, and progress and on how effectively schools are using targets to raise attainment for all learners. The use of CVA data means that it is perfectly possible for a school operating in challenging circumstances, with attainment on entry much below average, to achieve a good inspection report because there is clear evidence that learners are making better progress than is typical. Although the CVA data provide an important piece of evidence for this judgement, inspectors are asked to verify by looking at the school's own assessment systems, the impact of teaching on progress, actual progress in lessons, and by discussions with learners. Data help to inform the agenda for the inspection, and to set some parameters, but they do not determine the final inspection grade.

Schools with low standards may therefore be graded good or, on rare occasions, even outstanding if the provision had enabled pupils to make good or outstanding progress compared with their starting points on entry. This is the case in those special schools, for example, where learners have attainment well below the national expectations but who nonetheless are making very good progress due to the quality of education and care provided. Conversely, schools in advantaged areas with high attainment on entry may be judged inadequate if inspectors judge that pupils make insufficient progress.

Nonetheless, we think it is right that standards in national tests and examinations should continue to be prominently reported in inspections. This is because success in tests and exams is fundamental to the future life chances of young learners and this is especially true of areas where low standards in education have prevailed for a number of years.

Currently, very good data are available to inspectors about standards and progress through RAISEonline and also other data packages. We are aware, though, that the same is not true of all the Every Child Matters outcomes. That is why we are working to improve the range of data available for the next round of inspections in 2009.

The proportion of complaints about school inspections which are about the way inspectors use data have fallen steadily over the last two years and now account for fewer than 1 in 10 complaints. This is in the context of about 4% of school inspections giving rise to a complaint.


We consider that schools are being held accountable for only a very narrow part of their essential activities and we recommend that the Government reforms the performance tables to include a wider range of measures, including those from the recent Ofsted report.

Performance tables, by their nature, reflect a narrow if very important part of school's work. Inspection judgements are made across a wide range of a school's provision (including teaching, curriculum, care, guidance and support) and the outcomes for its pupils (including their standards and achievement, personal development and well-being, and the Every Child Matters outcomes). Certainly, including the school's overall effectiveness grade from its last inspection report would help to provide a wider perspective. However, inclusion of this information could be misleading if the most recent inspection is several years out of date. This risk would be lessened if the date of the inspection were included.

I hope that this response is useful and would be happy to discuss the subject further. Please be in touch if you have specific concerns, or if you would like to meet to discuss this issue further.

Christine Gilbert, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education, Children's Services and Skills

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