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An update for secondary members on Ofsted, performance data, exams and assessment

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A message from NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman to members

As you will be aware from my previous emails, NAHT has been in intensive talks with the government throughout this term. We have been making members’ views clear on key issues, such as Ofsted, primary statutory assessment, secondary exams and accountability measures.

Today I can give you an important update about the progress we have made across a number of these key areas.

Below, I have outlined the package of measures that the government is announcing today. While these measures do not go as far as we would like, I hope you will see that they represent significant progress from where we were in September when the government’s message was that few changes would be made to exams and assessments, performance tables would go ahead as usual and Ofsted would be returning to routine inspection in January.

I hope that these measures could relieve a little of the intolerable pressure that school leaders are currently under. As a result of this news, the vast majority of you can now be assured that you will not be inspected next term, and the small percentage who could receive a visit from Ofsted should experience a process that is supportive, not punitive.

When it comes to exams, we at least now have some much-needed clarity about the approach the government intends to take. We know how important this is with time ticking away. We have strongly voiced your concerns throughout our significant engagement with both Ofqual and the government, and we will continue to work with them on mitigating the impact of differential learning.

I know that many of you may feel that the government needs to go further. I want to reassure you that we will now continue our work across all of these key issues. There are a number of specific areas where we will be seeking greater clarity (for example, we know that scrapping performance tables alone does not solve all the problems associated with exams and accountability). We will be pushing for the government to confirm that there will be no unhelpful or misleading use of data in either Analyse School Performance (ASP) or the Inspection Data Summary Report (IDSR).

I can also reassure you that we remain firmly focused on all the other more immediate challenges school leaders are currently facing. We are particularly concerned about the expectations on our members to support track and trace over the Christmas break; we have been continuing to actively pursue that, along with other issues, this week.

There will also be no let-up in our campaign to persuade the government to reimburse you fully for all of your covid-secure costs.

Here’s a breakdown of the measures in full.

Ofsted

Routine (section 5) inspections of all schools remain suspended for the whole of the spring term at least.

No further section 8 ‘interim visits’ will take place (as occurred in the autumn term).

From January 2021, Ofsted will only undertake section 8 monitoring inspections in some schools, such as the following:

  • Inadequate schools (schools in special measures or serious weaknesses)
  • Schools judged as ‘requires improvement’ at two consecutive section 5 inspections
  • A small number of schools judged as ‘requires improvement’ at their most recent section 5 inspection that are considered to be vulnerable.

We have been told that these monitoring visits will take account of the last inspection report. But the focus of the monitoring visits will be to support improvement to becoming a ‘good’ school, rather than making a judgement as to whether the school is taking effective action against the areas for improvement identified at the last inspection.

Ofsted may use its ‘no formal designation’ procedures to inspect under section 8 where there are serious concerns that there may be a breakdown in leadership and management and/or where pupils and staff may not be safe. The school may then be prioritised for a section 5 inspection when routine inspections restart.

Performance data

There will be no school-level data from tests, exams and assessments published on performance tables for key stage two, key stage four or key stage five.

Instead, school-level information will be published on destinations data for key stage four and key stage five, curriculum choices at key stage four and key stage five, and attendance for primary and secondary schools. The attendance data will be supported with contextual information and caveats, and the Department for Education (DfE) has committed to working with us on the details of this.

The DfE will publish some national and regional statistics for key stages two, four and five.

School-level data will be provided in ASP and IDSR. Following representations from NAHT, the DfE has committed to working with us on the caveats, training and presentation of this data, recognising that it will not be comparable to previous or future years and that school-to-school comparison would be highly problematic.

Secondary exams and assessments

The grading of qualifications in 2021 will match the generosity of the grading in 2020, although some of the inconsistency between subjects will be evened out.

The DfE will set up an expert group to advise the government on the issue of differential learning and make proposals to mitigate its impact.

Contingency arrangements will be put in place for potential disruption to students’ exams and assessments:

  • The current process of special considerations will be scaled up to allow students to be awarded a grade as long as they have completed at least 25% of their assessments in a subject
  • There will be contingency papers (one paper per subject) for students who miss all of their exams in a subject in the main series. This contingency series is likely to start in the week commencing 28 June 2021
  • The DfE will provide support to enable shielding and extremely clinically vulnerable students to take their exams. This may be by using an alternative venue or, in a very small number of cases, using home invigilation
  • For the predicted small number of students who miss all opportunities to complete their assessments in a subject, their grade will be awarded through a process of validated teacher assessment. More details of this will be provided in the new year, but this is the last resort contingency.

Adaptations will be made to assessments, and the awarding organisations are currently determining the details. These adaptations are expected to be published by the end of January 2021, and there are two elements:          

  • Provision of support materials (for example, formula sheets) to give students more confidence and reduce the amount of information they need to memorise
  • Advance notice of exam content.

There may be limitations of what is possible or appropriate for each subject, but the aim is that at least one of the above adaptations will apply in each subject.

  • We also expect the Exam Support Service set up this year to be scaled up and run through next summer providing advice, guidance and support.
Primary assessment

The government has also published its plans for primary statutory assessment for this year. You can read a summary of that here.

I know that members will now want to reflect on what this means for them and their schools, but I hope that you will see much of the detail above as positive developments. As I have already made clear, we will now continue our work across all of these areas.

First published 03 December 2020