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>

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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.

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