19/03/2013 at 16:09 #494
These two page summaries of school headline data are now available online (http://dashboard.ofsted.gov.uk/) and aim to provide a tool which, in the words of Sir Michael Wilshaw, was “designed to support governors to hold their schools to account” so that “there will be ‘no excuses’ for governors who don’t understand and challenge their school robustly”. The dashboards are obviously also available to parents and any other interested parties.
The secondary dashboards cover four areas:
· Attainment – the percentage of 5+ A*-C passes including English and mathematics and the percentages gaining A*-C in each of English, mathematics and science
· Progress – the percentage making at least expected progress in English and mathematics
· The gap in expected progress in English and mathematics between pupils on free school meals or those in care and their peers (in other words those pupils who attract the pupil premium).
In each case, data is provided for each of the last three years and there are also comparisons with “similar schools” and “all schools”. In each of these categories, the school is placed in one of five quintile groupings, labelled “Highest” to “Lowest”. The “similar schools” comparison is based on schools with a similar level of prior attainment at KS2. For each of the key indicators, colour-coded graphics allow the user to get an instant visual check of where the school sits using both comparisons. There are also graphs for each measure which plot the school’s performance against national averages.
It is therefore very easy to form a ready impression of a school’s performance. Unfortunately, if Pope was right to warn that “a little learning is a dangerous thing”, a little data can be even more perilous.
Firstly, attainment is measured solely by four threshold measures. By their very nature, these are binary measures – students are either included or they’re not, depending on whether or not they get past the particular threshold. The figures do not show how many of them got A*s, As and Bs (and who perhaps should have done so) nor those who almost reached the threshold after perhaps making enormous progress in order to do so. Average point scores, on the other hand, are inclusive measures – the performance of all students at all levels contributes to them and they do differentiate on both sides of the grade C barrier. The use of APS is being proposed under the DfE’s accountability consultation to replace the 5 ACEM measure to remove the “perverse incentives [which] can distort teaching and narrow the curriculum” – but they’re not in the dashboard.
Secondly, the sole progress measure shown is “expected progress”. There are two issues here. The comparison with the national average takes no account of the prior attainment profile of the school’s students. We know that only 49% of students made expected progress in English in 2012 from a Level 4c at KS2 yet 98% of Level 5a students did so. The judgement on the school, however, is made against an overall national average of 67%, potentially penalising schools with prior attainment profiles at the lower end (and, similarly, inflating the progress of schools with high prior attainment). Additionally, there is no use made of value-added progress measures. Whereas “expected” progress is a purely theoretical measure which dates back to the days when the National Curriculum was first drafted, “value-added” progress compares the progress of a school’s pupils every year with all those nationally with similar starting points at KS2. Again, value-added is being proposed for the reforms due for 2017 but it hasn’t found its way into the dashboard.
Ofsted have issued “School Data Dashboard Guidance” (http://dashboard.ofsted.gov.uk/sdd_guidance.pdf). Unfortunately, it is a technical guide rather than a source of support for governors to help them understand and use their school’s dashboard. If governors are looking for a document which will enable them to “hold their school to account”, the data dashboard, by itself, isn’t and can’t be it. Effective governing bodies need to have a grasp of more than a few headline measures; they need to be equipped to be able to ask senior leaders the right questions so that they can develop an accurate understanding of what the school is doing well and where it needs to improve.
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