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Good news – Progress 8 will control Ofsted

Progress 8 (P8) figures for almost all the state secondary schools in England were published for the first time by the DfE on 19th January – Each school is now judged by the value it has added in 5 years to the expected attainment of its Year 7 students entering in 2011 – a plus figure shows the value the school has added, a minus figure shows the reverse. P8 is now the headline figure for schools’ success and everyone can see how well each school has done compared with the other schools in its local authority area and other members of its academy chain.

The DfE has confirmed that decisions on inspections will now be taken in the light of P8. Schools with +1.0 won’t have a routine inspection in the calendar year following publication of P8 (an inspection could still be triggered by unusual concerns like a complaint, safeguarding or radicalisation). Schools with -0.5 or below are likely to be inspected; and schools with -0.25 or below with other factors for 3 consecutive years will be regarded as ‘coasting’ and liable to intervention – see DfE Progress 8 and Attainment 8, pages 8/9.

A less noticed result of P8 is that it will now control Ofsted’s judgements.
Progress 8 is reported in 5 categories:

Well above average +0.50 and above About 5% of schools
Above average +0.49 to +0.20 approx[1] About 25% of schools
Average +0.20 approx to -0.20 approx About 40% of schools
Below average -0.20 approx to -0.50 About 20% of schools
Well below average -0.51 and below About 10% of schools

A school with Above average P8 can hardly now be judged as Requiring Improvement (except for unusual reasons like safeguarding or radicalisation). And a school with a Below average P8 can hardly be judged as Good, let alone Outstanding. Objective evidence of value added by the school’s work over 5 years must necessarily take precedence over the judgements typically of 5 inspectors carried out over 2 days.

The consequences can be striking. For example, a Let’s Think in in a northern city assessed as Requiring improvement and attaining Above average P8 (+.0.33, the equal 6th highest of the city’s 32 schools for which P8 is available) cannot now reasonably be judged as less than Good. And a school assessed as Good in January 2016 attaining Below average P8 (-0.29, the lowest of the 14 non-special schools in its London borough for which P8 is available) can no longer be regarded as Good.

Ofsted inspectors are required to take statistical information about the school into account (School Inspection Handbook, paragraph 29). It is therefore very hard to see how, apart from unusual factors such as safeguarding or radicalisation, inspectors can now judge schools with Well above average P8 as other than Outstanding, schools with Above average P8 as other than Good or better and schools with negative P8 as other than Requiring improvement or, particularly if they have Well below average P8, as other than Inadequate.

It is clear that Ofsted’s internal quality control will scrutinise discrepancies between inspectors’ judgements and Progress 8 to avoid the risk of a judicial review which Ofsted would lose.


This control of Ofsted through Progress 8 will have five benefits for teachers.

  1. It will remove the uncertainty of Ofsted inspections and therefore their ‘threat’ element which contributes to teachers’ stress. Knowing that Ofsted can’t reasonably come up with a judgement different from what’s shown by Progress 8 will make inspections little more than routine. As parents and local communities come to understand what P8 means, as they soon will, and as P8 scores are updated annually as Ofsted judgements can’t be, P8 rather than Ofsted will become the yardstick of the school’s reputation.

  2. Ofsted inspections will become rarer and may soon be limited to schools with Well below average or unchanging negative P8 scores and schools with significant drops in P8. This may well be intended. Ofsted inspections are expensive and reducing their number will make significant savings.

  3. These changes will gradually stop SLTs using Ofsted to frighten their staff and making unreasonable demands on them. The Ofsted School Inspection Handbook, paragraph 28, contains a remarkable list of 19 things that Ofsted does not require from schools (“does not” is in bold each time). They include such things as Ofsted requiring lesson plans, evidence of previous planning and assessments, and data recorded in a particular format or frequency. The Handbook calls these “myths” and they clearly have been included because SLTs still use them to pressure their staff to work in particular ways –

    Moving to P8 should put an end to this, also to schools buying advice from former Ofsted inspectors and spending time and resources on mock inspections.

  4. Moving to Progress 8 will also put an end to the unfairness where Ofsted judges schools in middle-class areas as Outstanding much more often than schools in more deprived areas. The Education Policy Institute has found that secondary schools with up to 5 per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) are over three times as likely to be rated ‘outstanding’ as schools with at least 23 per cent FSM. Secondary schools with the most FSM pupils are much more likely to be rated ‘inadequate’ than those with the fewest.

    The least deprived schools are also most likely to improve their Ofsted judgement and least likely to be down-graded. Secondary schools with the fewest pupils with low prior attainment are almost six times as likely to be rated ‘outstanding’ as schools with the most low prior attainers. At the other end of the scale, schools with the most low prior attainers are much more likely to be rated ‘inadequate’ than those with the fewest low prior attainers –

    This shows Ofsted inspectors’ bias towards schools in middle-class areas and the replacement of such judgements with a more objective system is long overdue.

  5. A move to Progress 8 as schools’ headline figure for accountability should in due course allow Ofsted to resume HM Inspectors’ original role of advising on good practice. At present Ofsted inspectors are forbidden to give advice on improving teaching and learning. The School Inspection Handbook, paragraph 28, begins:

    Inspectors must not advocate a particular method of planning, teaching or assessment. It is up to schools themselves to determine their practices and for leadership teams to justify these on their own merits.

    This shows Ofsted’s continuing lack of confidence in the professional judgement of its inspectors, probably for good reason in that most of its inspectors developed their experience under the now discredited National Strategies. But it causes the bizarre situation in which inspectors judge lessons but cannot advise on how to improve them. It means Ofsted can’t recommend to schools the excellent advice in its own publications such as Moving English forward It is a strange situation when the Government body charged with raising standards in schools is not allowed to advise schools how to do this. Perhaps the new Chief Inspector will recognise the opportunity given by Progress 8 to rectify this.

[1] Approx indicates a narrow range of scores where schools can be categorised as Above average or Average (or Average / Below average) depending on the confidence interval of the school’s score. This is a statistical calculation explained at Progress 8 and Attainment 8, pages 21/22 and Annex D.

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