I recently posted about how the new Teacher’s Standards are open to manipulation, (New Teacher’s Standards – how they can be manipulated) and I’ve looked at the Ofsted grade descriptors here in a similar light. Over the next few weeks I’m going to go through the generic aspects of the documents found at the link at the bottom of this post, and show you exactly how they can be manipulated to serve someone’s personal agenda, starting this week with the grade descriptors for achievement. There’s quite a bit to get through so I’ll just get onto it.
1. Grade Descriptors: achievement of pupils
Outstanding: Almost all pupils, including, where applicable, disabled pupils and those with special educational needs, are making rapid and sustained progress in the subject over time given their starting points.
Good: Pupils are making better progress than all pupils nationally in the subject given their starting points. Groups of pupils, including disabled pupils and those with special educational needs, are also making better progress than similar groups of pupils nationally.
Satisfactory: Pupils are progressing at least as well in the subject as all pupils nationally given their starting points. Groups of pupils, including disabled pupils and those with special educational needs, are also making progress in line with similar groups of pupils nationally.
Inadequate: Pupils’ learning and progress, or the learning and progress of particular groups, is consistently below those of all pupils nationally given their starting point. Learning and progress in any key stage, including the sixth form, lead to underachievement. The learning, quality of work and progress of disabled pupils and those with special educational needs show that this group is underachieving.
To me, this is completely illogical. It’s well known that satisfactory is officially no longer satisfactory any more, and that’s been the case unofficially for a while. Here, in order to be satisfactory, your students need to be doing as well as ‘all pupils nationally’. So, in order to be good, which is where you need to be to avoid being in trouble, then your students need to be making better progress than average.
So all the teachers are expected to be good, and have students above average, which makes above average the new average, which causes teachers to have to raise their game again in order to achieve good and so on and so on… It’s just not possible for all teachers to achieve the required grade of good, and they are therefore being set up to fail.
Outstanding: They learn exceptionally well and as a result acquire knowledge quickly and in depth, including in the sixth form and areas of learning in the Early Years Foundation Stage.
Good: Pupils acquire knowledge quickly and are secure in their understanding of the subject.
Satisfactory: Pupils generally learn well in the subject, with no major weaknesses.
In this particular section, there is far too much leeway in terms of interpretation. In particular the phrase ‘pupils generally learn well’ is so open to individual manipulation: can you really form evidence for grading something as inadequate on the basis that there was a general lack of not learning very well? Anyone could say that about anything.
Also, I think the emphasis on ‘acquiring knowledge quickly’ presumes that all students have the ability to do this. A teacher with a class full of slow learners cannot achieve the ‘good’ grade that is required of them, and may even have been given such a class on purpose.
Outstanding: They develop and apply a wide range of skills to great effect, including reading, writing, communication and mathematical skills that will ensure they are exceptionally well prepared for the next stage in their education, training or employment.
Good: They develop and apply a range of skills well, including reading, writing, communication and mathematical skills that will ensure they are well prepared for the next stage in their education, training or employment.
Satisfactory: They acquire the knowledge, understanding and skills, including those in reading, writing, communication and mathematics that will ensure they are prepared adequately for the next stage in their education, training or employment.
Inadequate: Pupils’ communication skills, including in reading and writing and proficiency in mathematics overall, or those of particular groups, are not sufficient for the next stage of education or training.
I acknowledge that requiring students to be ready for the next stage in their education is nice and specific, which is exactly what is needed to avoid manipulation. Here you could argue against an observer who is trying to grade you as inadequate when you are not by showing results and requirements of possible progression routes. That’s exactly what the entirety of these grade descriptors should consist of.
However, developing ‘a wide range of skills to great effect’ is possible to be graded on tacit evidence only. You could argue that it is my opinion that they did not develop them to great effect (outstanding), they only acquired them (satisfactory). It’s possible another person might have a completely different opinion. How can you prove one or the other?
Outstanding: The standards of attainment of almost all groups of pupils are likely to be at least in line with national averages for all pupils with many above average. In exceptional circumstances, where standards of attainment of any group of pupils are below those of all pupils nationally, the gap is closing dramatically over a period of time.
Good: The standards of attainment of the large majority of groups of pupils are likely to be at least in line with national averages for all pupils. Where standards of any group of pupils are below those of all pupils nationally, the gaps are closing. In exceptional circumstances, where attainment is low overall, it is improving at a faster rate than nationally over a sustained period.
Satisfactory: The standards of attainment of the majority of groups of pupils are likely to be in line with national averages for all pupils. Where standards of groups of pupils are below those of all pupils nationally, the gaps are closing overall. In exceptional circumstances, where attainment is low overall, it is improving over a sustained period.
Inadequate: Attainment is consistently low showing little, fragile or inconsistent improvement, or is in decline. There are wide gaps in attainment and in learning and progress between different groups of pupils and of all pupils nationally that are showing little sign of closing or are widening.
Here the grades are skewed in comparison to the first section. There, in order to be good you had to have students that were above average. Yet this section requires them to be average in order to achieve good. Which one is it? I showed that the first one was a logical impossibility, so this one is much more likely. But which one will your observer decide to judge you against? It’s up to them entirely.
I also find the requirement of bringing below average students up to scratch odd. So that if you have a less able class, you need to work even harder to ‘close the gaps’ between them and an average student in order to reach the required standard of good. They are required to improve at a faster than average rate in order to achieve good as well, leaving us in that loophole again of needing to be better than average to achieve good, where all teachers are required to be good, which then makes that above average standard the average…
If you want to read the full Ofsted grade descriptors they can be found at this link.
Can you see any other problems with the above grading criteria that you’d like to share? Do you feel like you’ve been assessed under these descriptors and had your result manipulated downwards? Please comment below.