UKGovcamp 2012 – The Ofsted Project

It’s UKGovcamp time again and this year is a little different. It runs over 2 days, with the Friday being the traditional unconference. The Saturday event is a hackday of sorts. And the organisers are looking for suggestions of projects to be developed. And I have a good idea.

There has been loads of opendata published in the schools arena in recent years with the initial Edubase data release being a key part of the data.gov.uk launch. And last year the DfE released a new school comparison site (together with all the comparison data !!!) that does a really good job.

This means we now have 3 government sponsored schools data sites, Edubase, the comparison site and the DirectGov site. And there is one thing that’s missing from all of them. The judgement of the Ofsted inspectors during their last visit. The reason why that is missing is worth discussing but not right now.

Suffice to say I think it would be useful for prospective parents (and others) to see at a glance how Ofsted view each school especially in relation to its neighbours. So I propose that we build one on Saturday.

And it’s not as if the information isn’t available. All of the sites mentioned above provide links from each school’s page to an Ofsted home page for that school, listing the inspections of that school. But to find out the judgement of the inspectors – a very important piece of metadata – you need to open a pdf file and read through the report. If you are not familiar with Ofsted reports this is not an easy task. But Ofsted do actually store this metadata somewhere in their internal databases, but they don’t expose it on their website. It is published in a series of Excel files which Ofsted publish on a regular basis and have pointed to in response to a number of FoI requests.

The problem with these spreadsheets are twofold:

  1. the spreadsheets are poorly structured for data access
  2. they have a termly lag-time i.e. they are published termly in arrears

And this leads to the full proposal ….

The Pitch

I want us to build a prototype web service that will allow 3rd party sites (including .gov.uk sites) to grab some very useful Ofsted information in format(s) suitable for web use and display it on their site. The information to include:

  • the date of the last Ofted inspection
  • the overall judgement of the inspector(s) on the school at that date
  • a link to the schools Ofsted homepage, in order to provide context to the user if the want/need it

The second part of this project is for the non-geeks. It’s a policy/engagement issue. I’d really like to get some talking heads to put together some ideas for how we can engage with Ofsted and persuade them to do some or all of the following:

  • take over the hosting and publishing of the service
  • reduce the latency of the published data by included ALL recent inspections in the service
  • publish the source data in more open and accessible formats rather than the current cumbersome Excel files

There’s something there for everyone – developers, data bods, policy wonks, as well as the persuaders. I look forward to seeing you there.

Postscript

I’ve hacked the spreadsheets previously and cobbled together a combined datasheet of all the relevant inspections from 2000-2009 and uploaded them to my public dropbox folder. That can be used as the source data for a prototype.

If also had a couple of thoughts on data structure and I guess I’m thinking that the returned data should probably be available in xml, json and perhaps (x)html.

An XML snippet might be something like:

<inspection urn="123456">
     <date>2012-01-20</date>
     <judgement_grade>2</judgement_grade>
     <judgement>Good</judgement>
     <comment>This information should be interpreted in the context of the full report which is available from the Ofsted page below</comment>
     <ofsted_uri>http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/inspection-reports/find-inspection-report/provider/ELS/123456</ofsted_uri>
</inspection>

Continue reading

Tech development in school

It is generally agreed that there is a real need to move forward with coding4kids agenda now. We’ve done the talking, now is time for action. So my action pledge is to develop an idea for structural change at the top of educational foodchain.

My idea is to require that in every English school (the devolved governments can make their own structural change), one of the performance management (PM) targets for the headteacher, will have a technological focus. Every year.

The governing body of each maintained school appoints 2 or 3 of it’s members as the PM committee whose role is

  • to set 3 PM targets for the Head for the current year
  • monitor and evaluate the Head’s progress towards those targets
  • make recommendations to the GB at the end of the year about salary uplift for the ead

If we can get government to recognise the tech deficit, then surely an overall programme of tech awareness, understanding and adeptness will begin to pay dividends. And our schools can be the cradle for this innovation, just like they were when that first BBC Micro arrived at the school reception 30 years ago. But we will need some subtle pressure and oversight to ensure it happens. So the Heads PM rules need to be tweaked to give our headteachers one of the lead roles in driving the country forward.

The tweaking needs to ensure that at least one of the PM targets for every Head will have a tech development focus. But that doesn’t require us to turn every Headteacher into a geek. On the contrary, many schools will probably need to look at their own tech infrastructure and resources – including human resources – rather than at the tech curriculum. At least in the first instance.

So let’s outline some examples of possible targets as a starting point:

  • To undertake a tech skills and resources baseline assessment of the entire school community (pupils, staff, parents, local community, at school, at home, in public buildings) and to publish the results back to the whole community in a 21st century format within the current academic year
  • To partner with local businesses and community to start a Computer or Coding Club and ensure it appeals to a wide cross section of pupils, parents and staff before the spring half-term
  • To take school website maintenance in-house and reduce the cost of maintaining a web presence by 70% in the next financial year

Each of these examples are SMART. I’m sure the dev and activist communities can produce another 10 example SMART targets within 24 hours.

If the government can commit to making this change to the PM rules, then the quid pro quo from us would be to create a free support and advisory infrastructure for Heads and Governing Bodies to enable them to make this work. A starting point would be some simple wiki pages, but that will need to expand into a database of local geeks able and willing to lend a hand in devising appropriate targets and in measuring success. But the will exists to do that now, so lets harness it now.

The Revenue Balances FAQ

It’s always fun to see the silly Revenue Balances argument raising it’s ugly head again. The DCSF are obsessed with what they see as a huge wastage in devolved funding, where schools don’t spend every brass farthing that is devolved to them. Some schools have, over the years, managed to underspend the money that the government allocate to them, via the loacl authorities. And because the ministers are under pressure from the treasury to reduce spending, they find all sorts of red herrings and excuses to maintain their argument for ever larger budgets.

So I decided it was necessary to explode some of the myths, and put everyone straight. These FAQs are the result. Enjoy.

What’s a Revenue Balance when it’s at home?

Good first question, but unfortunately it’s at the heart of the myths around the subject. There seems to be a modicum of disagreement about the definitive definition. In general terms, a Revenue Balance (in English schools terminology) is the amount left over in a school’s budget at the end of a financial year.

What is so complicated about that?

Well, lets look at an example. Suppose an average sized primary school receives £500,000 for its annual budget, and during the year spends £500,000, what would be it’s Revenue Balance?

Thats easy. It’s £0 isn’t it?

You would think so wouldn’t you. Actually, it depends on how much they started with. Suppose they carried forward a balance of £50,000 from the previous year, then the Revenue Balance would be £50,000.

That doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?

You’re quick, you are. And that’s not the only thing that doesn’t make sense. What the DCSF are getting stressed about is not that schools are not spending the money devolved to them each year. They’re also peeved if schools don’t spend everything left over from last year. And that’s the economics of the madhouse.

The economics of the madhouse? What on earth do you mean?

Let’s look at what has been going on with the total Revenue Balance figures per year (see table below). In his ministerial statement, Vernon Coaker suggest that about £500 million of that is excessive.

2000 £740,691,354
2001 £1,085,602,004
2002 £1,256,776,093
2003 £1,192,864,397
2004 £1,325,397,369
2005 £1,532,855,786
2006 £1,570,348,360
2007 £1,670,198,878
2008 £1,918,768,630
2009 £1,781,973,700

But surely Vernon and his colleagues really don’t know how that balance got there in the first place. Looking at those annual figures, most of it could be leftover from previous years. If we go back to our average school (School A) above, with a budget of £500K, assuming they are a primary school, they are allowed 8% (£40K) as abalance before it becomes excessive. Let’s also assume that there is a neighbouring school – School B – which has exactly the same budget, the same staffing structure, the same pupil profile, and that coincidentally it is identical to School A in every respect except one.

Lets suppose School A has a very nice parent who has 3 businesses; one which does grounds maintenance, another which does boiler maintenance and the last which does ICT support. And this parent gives the school a really good deal in those 3 areas, saving them £10,000 per annum. In 5 years School A will have an’ excessive’ balance, at least in DCSF terms, because they have a kind and helpful parent.

I guess Vernon Coaker’s response would be that the school should have a set of optional priorities in it’s School Development Plan to spend the money on, and he’s right. Unfortunately he doesn’t have a copy of the SDP and doesn’t know what the school’s priorities are. But here is a group of people who do. They are the school’s governors. I’ll bet they know what the £50K is being kept for.

How can you be so sure?

I can’t, but I’m willing to bet my own money that in most schools I’d be right. And anyway, if the governors don’t know what the money is being saved for, then they should. It’s an indication that this school is not being managed/governed very well. But that’s a different problem, and the answer to it is not clawing back some of the excess. Instead it’s about taking back the whole delegated budget. But (un)fortunately that’s unlikely to happen.

Why?

Because that’s a response usually reserved for failing schools that tend to overspend.

Are you suggesting that there is a link between revenue balances and school performance?

Yes I am. Because I was sick and tired of hearing this uninformed nonsense coming from the DCSF, I decided this year to see if I could make a link. And I suceeded.
Using the Revenue Balance figures recently released, and all the Ofsted Inspection judgements for the last 5 years, I was able to correlate the overall Ofsted judgement against the revenue balance of the school that year.

But first I Xtabulated school phase against school type and averaged the Revenue Balance %age. Interesting to see that it is foundation schools – most of them old GM schools – which retains the lowest percentage. But there is not much in that analysis.

Phase Community Foundation VA VC Average
Middle deemed primary 7.26% 6.43% 6.52% 5.77% 6.99%
Middle deemed Secondary 5.02% 5.32% 5.00% 4.92% 5.03%
Primary 7.28% 7.48% 7.52% 8.32% 7.49%
Secondary 3.40% 3.98% 3.46% 2.75% 3.51%
Grand Total 6.70% 5.34% 7.03% 8.10% 6.88%

So then I added the Ofsted Inspection judgements to the mix and I Xtabulated Ofsted grade against school type and averaged the Revenue Balance %age. This was much more interesting. While there is not much difference between and amongst Outsanding, Good and Satisfactory schools, those schools deemed Unsatisfactory by Ofsted tend to have much lower Revenue Balances.

Outstanding Good Satisfactory Unsatisfactory Grand Total
Community 6.80% 6.82% 6.53% 5.55% 6.64%
Foundation 5.07% 4.78% 5.18% 3.23% 4.84%
Voluntary aided 7.16% 7.07% 6.33% 4.50% 6.79%
Voluntary controlled 7.88% 7.86% 7.41% 5.79% 7.66%
Grand Total 6.92% 6.98% 6.59% 5.29% 6.76%

Are you saying that those schools which retain the least are the worst schools?

No I am not. What I am saying is that there is a statistical correlation between unsatisfactory Ofsted judgements and low retained balances. And it seems a bit silly to me for the DCSF to be encouraging schools to make their retained balances lower.

Please feel free to disagree or dispute any of this. I’m not a professional statistician. Prove me wrong and let me know when you have.

Ed Ball’s letter to governors regarding the SATS boycott

Ed Balls has written (belatedly in my humble opinion) to school governors regarding the NAHT boycott of the SATS. Unfortunately the pdf of the letter on the governornet site is a scan, and the text of the letter isn’t available anywhere. I think the actual text needs to be indexed and made available, so I have included it below.

Dear Colleague

You will be aware of the NAHT and NUT decision to take industrial action to frustrate the administration of this year’s Key Stage 2 National Curriculum Tests. We are deeply disappointed that they are pursuing this action when the clear majority of heads and deputy heads do not back this action – over two-thirds of union members did not vote to support disrupting the tests.

The unions have been clear they have no problem with testing, but they do not want to see the results being made public. While we have proposed different ways in which information about school performance is made public in the future, including the report card, we believe it is unacceptable to deny parents a full picture of the progress their child is making and information about their local schools. Schools should be fully accountable to the public and communities they serve.

We are also introducing changes to KS2 tests following discussions with NAHT in order to place more emphasis on teachers’ own assessments of pupils’ progress, which is an objective we know heads and teachers share. From this year, teachers’ assessments of pupils’ progress will be published alongside KS2 test data and we will introduce locally based, light touch moderation from 2011 to ensure that standards are applied consistently. But we know that the great majority of parents value the information currently provided by the tests and that Governors of both primary and secondary schools, and local authorities use externally validated test data for planning and accountability purposes.

It is not simply that heads have a legal duty to oversee the tests: even more importantly, they have a professional and moral duty to pupils and parents. Pupils and teachers have been working hard all year, have been preparing for the tests and pupils are now expecting to sit them. They should all be given the opportunity to demonstrate their achievements in tests which are set and marked properly. It would be very unfair if some children were prevented from doing so at the last minute. Parents will also be concerned about the effect of any test boycott on the information that secondary schools will be expecting to receive for their children this year. We hope that those head teachers who voted for action will think hard before disrupting children’s learning, confusing and inconveniencing parents, and damaging the profession’s reputation. We believe that it is vital that this year’s tests take place as planned between the 10th to 13th May, as children and parents are expecting.

Advice to Governors

As you will know, alongside the head teacher’s statutory duty to administer the tests, Governing Bodies have a statutory duty to ensure that the tests take place. We recognise that you will be placed in a very difficult position if your head wishes to frustrate the administration of the tests and this advice is designed to help you.

Firstly, you should of course find out whether the head teacher intends to administer the tests. If a head does not intend to do so, you should remind them of their statutory duty to administer the tests.

If a head teacher still does not intend to administer the tests themselves, it would be wrong for them to frustrate another competent person from administering the tests, and you should establish that they would not do so.

When you have established this, we recommend that you speak to your local authority and/or diocesan authority about next steps. If necessary, you may consider whether to instruct the head teacher to remain absent from school at times when the tests are due to take place, while another person administers the tests.

You should be aware that staff belonging to other trade unions and those members of NUT who are not in leadership positions are not part of the industrial action, and should be carrying out their duties normally, including in relation to supervising tests or handling test papers. However, those staff cannot be expected to take on any duties which heads are specifically responsible for but are refusing to take on.

In addition to ensuring that parents understand whether the tests will be taking place, Governing bodies should ensure that the QCDA’s National Curriculum assessments help line on 0300 303 3013 is informed of any instances where it is known that tests will not be administered.

Further advice, including Frequently Asked Questions can be found on the GovernorNet website: http://www.governornet.co.uk and you can also speak to
Governorline, the national governor helpline on 08000 722 181.

Where to now?

This is an amazing turn up. Ed Balls has admitted that what these teaching unions want is to turn back the clock.Gorbals Mick Brookes ‘Gorbals’ Mick Brookes is making the same mistake as his namesake did as speaker. Ed Balls has candidly admitted – for the first time as far as I’m aware – that the NAHT are okay about the tests themselves. They just want the results hidden from the public which pays for them. This recidivist attitude just won’t wash in the 21st century, no matter how much lobbying Mick Brookes and Co. does over beer and sandwiches at Great Smith Street. Has Mick never heard of Freedom of Information or the Information Commissioner? Ed Balls recognises that parents want this information.  He hasn’t talked about parents’ right to information, although undoubtedly they have serious rights.

If Mick Brookes isn’t careful, he’ll find his members don’t have time to administer SATS for answering FoI requests from parents for things like the SEF, SDP, SIP Reports, etc, all of which ARE public documents and should be available to all as public documents.

Mike Bostock tries to kill CVA

He nearly succeeds as well.

But not quite …

Well worth a read though
http://mikebostock.wordpress.com/judging-good-schools/

data.gov.uk – missing datasets

The recent launch of data.gov.uk has shown that there is much demand for raw data out there. But despite there being a fascinating array of educational data released, there are a couple of missing datasets.

A recent FoI Request of mine released the information that Ofsted have for many years been publishing the data from their inspections. This information seems not to be widely known, but is very welcome. The published format (Excel files) and presentation is not necessarily to my liking, but at least its available.

The second missing dataset is an odd one. The School Revenue Balances data is published annually by the DCSF and purports to show how much money is being hoarded by naughty headteachers and school governors, instead of being spent on the pupils. It doesn’t, at least not in the way presented. But that argument is for another post. It’s still a very useful dataset and a still bit of reverse engineering can give data such as individual school budgets going back to the millenium.

There are a couple of small problems with this data as presented. Firstly, schools are not identified by their URN, a primary key used in most other educational datasets. Instead it uses a 2 field key of LocalAuthority-EstablishmentNumber. This is the way schools were previously identified, but has been superceded by the URN, for quite some time now. The other issue is that it is not normalised. This is a database design term relating to how data is structured. But this is inherent in the data format (excel) and presentational requirements.

But that does mean that any meaningful queries of the data need to be preceded by some in depth hardcore data manipulation.

Both datasets are valuable and deserve inclusion on data.gov.uk. I’m working on improving the format and presentation and I’ll blog thatand make it available here when I’m done.

Republish: The Importance of ICT – Oftsed

Republishing as HTML

The following is the Executive Summary from the report published by Ofsted concerning the state of ICT Teaching and Learning in English Schools.

Executive summary

This report draws on evidence from the inspection of information and communication technology (ICT) in more than 177 schools between 2005 and 2008. The schools selected represented the range of schools nationally and included small, large, rural and urban schools from across England.

Part A reports on the quality of provision of ICT in primary and secondary schools and its impact on achievement and standards. Part B explores four important areas that are central to developing ICT education in England: assessment; ICT qualifications and progression routes; direct access to ICT provision in classrooms; and value for money.

The evidence from the visits to primary schools suggests a picture of improvement with rising achievement and standards, particularly at Key Stage 1. The pupils1 observed generally used ICT effectively to communicate their ideas and to present their work, but they were less skilled in collecting and handling data and in controlling events using ICT. Most of the primary schools ensured pupils received their full entitlement to the National Curriculum for ICT, although commonly the curriculum was not well balanced. Teachers tended to give more attention to those aspects of ICT where they themselves felt confident. At best, teachers integrated ICT carefully into the curriculum and it was helping to raise standards in other subjects. Good leadership and management made developing ICT a priority in these schools. Effective use of self-evaluation to inform investment in resources and training was driving the improvements which were seen.

In the secondary schools, students’ 1 achievement was good or better in 41 of the 92 schools visited, satisfactory in another 41 schools and inadequate in 10. There was a suggestion of improvement in the final year of the survey. The Key Stage 4 curriculum was inadequate in around one fifth of the schools visited; assessment was unsatisfactory in a similar proportion, and many students were following qualifications of doubtful value. Although students used ICT well to present their work, communicate their ideas and, increasingly, to manipulate and use a variety of digital media, standards in using spreadsheets, databases and programming remained low. Furthermore, teachers gave too much emphasis to teaching students to use particular software applications rather than helping them to acquire genuinely transferable skills. There was widespread use of more reliable resources but in some schools responses to some serious, long-entrenched failings were stubbornly slow.

In a minority of the primary and secondary schools visited, higher-attaining pupils underachieved. This was particularly marked at Key Stage 4 where accreditation of vocational qualifications is based mostly on the assessment of coursework. Students were spending considerable time demonstrating proficiency in what they could already do in order to meet the assessment criteria, rather than being introduced to new and more challenging material and skills. Most students who chose not to pursue an ICT qualification at Key Stage 4 did not receive their statutory entitlement to the National Curriculum for ICT.

Teachers’ subject knowledge was mostly good and they used ICT effectively to improve their teaching. However, weaknesses existed in specific aspects – especially assessment, which was the weakest aspect in primary and secondary schools and was inadequate in one school in five.

Schools have invested heavily in ICT. The gains reported here are due to the commitment of school leaders to improving ICT provision, with more resources and better use of them. However, only around half of the schools visited showed that they were systematically evaluating the impact of ICT resources on improving learning. Part B considers how far the four principles of best value (challenge, compare, consult and competition) have been applied.

The past few years have seen a sharp increase in the number of students taking Key Stage 4 vocational qualifications instead of GCSE ICT. Although these vocational courses are the equivalent of up to four GCSEs in other subjects, they offer limited challenge in ICT. Part B of the report discusses how this has contributed to the low numbers of students choosing to study computing post-16. This is especially serious given that students say they enjoy ICT and recognise its contribution to their personal development and future economic well-being. Although vocational qualifications and the national Computer Clubs for Girls (CC4G) initiative have been successful in engaging girls in ICT, they have not reversed the long-term decline in take-up by girls: the number of girls choosing to study computing post-16 has fallen to an all-time low.

Key findings

  • Pupils’ achievement was good in over half of the primary schools visited, but in less than half of the secondary schools – albeit with a higher proportion of schools judged good or outstanding in the final year of the survey. In both phases, higher-attaining pupils and students were insufficiently challenged, often spending time consolidating what they could already do rather than acquiring higher-level skills, particularly in some vocational courses at Key Stage 4. Over-reliance on a standard ‘office’ application and operating system restricted their opportunities to develop generic and transferable skills.
  • The leadership of ICT had improved during the period of the survey and the schools visited had made ICT a high priority for development. Leaders were providing a vision for the place of ICT in learning and were investing significantly in infrastructure, resources and staff training.
  • Investment in resources had improved teaching, but had still not made ICT a part of everyday learning. Many schools were seeking to make ICT resources more readily available to pupils and students in classrooms. Some of the schools visited did not apply the four principles of best value to their purchasing and did not obtain good value for money from their investment. Only around half of the schools showed evidence that they were systematically evaluating the impact of ICT in improving learning and raising standards across the curriculum.
  • Using ICT was contributing positively to the personal development and future economic well-being of pupils and students. It developed their skills of working independently and cooperatively and was in most cases motivating and engaging.
  • Support for pupils with learning difficulties was mostly good, enabling them to make at least the progress expected. Appropriate modifications were made to hardware to ensure good access to learning for disabled pupils.
  • The very great majority of the schools visited taught their pupils and students about the risks associated with using the internet. However, very few of the schools evaluated the effectiveness of this teaching and very few had recorded the incidents they had dealt with where students’ safety had been compromised.
  • Most of the teachers observed had good subject knowledge in some aspects of ICT and were confident and competent users of it. This was generally best where schools had audited the training needs of staff systematically and had begun to tackle any gaps. Teachers’ subject knowledge was weakest in data logging, manipulating data and programming.
  • Increasingly, teaching assistants were acquiring good subject knowledge, although the picture here was more inconsistent. Pupils with learning difficulties and/or disabilities made good progress where teaching assistants had the necessary subject knowledge and skills to support them effectively.
  • Assessment was the weakest aspect of teaching and was inadequate in one school in five. The schools visited rarely tracked the progress of individuals in ICT, established their attainment on entry to secondary school or took into account their achievement outside school. Although the use of ICT in other subjects was increasing in secondary schools, the skills were rarely assessed. As a result, ICT teachers rarely knew how well students applied their ICT skills elsewhere.
  • In one fifth of the secondary schools visited, students who chose not to pursue an ICT qualification at Key Stage 4 did not receive their statutory entitlement to the National Curriculum for ICT. The number of girls choosing to study computing in school sixth forms has fallen.

Recommendations

The Department for Children, Schools and Families should:

  • seek ways of reinforcing the importance of ICT as a subject and in its use across the curriculum
  • evaluate the degree of challenge posed by Key Stage 4 vocational qualifications in ICT
  • seek ways of encouraging more girls to choose computing qualifications post-16.

All schools should:

  • evaluate the effectiveness of their provision for teaching pupils and students how to keep themselves safe when online and record incidents where the safety of individuals may be compromised
  • ensure that they achieve value for money by implementing the principles of best value in evaluating, planning, procuring and using ICT provision
  • improve the assessment of ICT by establishing pupils’ and students’ attainment on entry and by tracking the progress of individual pupils, including their achievement when using ICT in other subjects
  • audit the training needs of teachers and teaching assistants and provide extra support to improve their subject knowledge and expertise, particularly in data logging, manipulating data and programming.

Secondary schools should:

  • provide the statutory National Curriculum for ICT for all students, especially at Key Stage 4, and give appropriate emphasis to all aspects
  • find ways of making ICT readily accessible to students in their classrooms so that it can be used to improve learning in other subjects.

1 a b Throughout the report, ‘pupils’ refers to children in primary schools, while ‘students’ is used for children and young people in secondary schools.

%d bloggers like this: