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Ofsted's use of Artificial Intelligence: how smart is it to automate risk assessments?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital9 February 2018

Melanie Ehren.
Ofsted has come under attack for its collaboration with the Behavioural Insights Team for using machine learning to identify failing schools. According to several sources (BBC and Matthew Reynolds), BIT has been trialling machine learning models that can crunch through publicly available data to help automate Ofsted’s decisions on whether a school is potentially performing inadequately. The algorithms use information on number of children on free school meals, how much teachers are paid, the number of teachers for each subject, and particular words and sentiments in reviews of schools submitted by parents on the Ofsted-run website Parent View.
As Ofsted’s head of risk assessment (Paul Moore) explains: (more…)

Schools: how did ‘accountability’ become a synonym for punishment and control? And can we change its meaning?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital15 November 2017

Melanie Ehren. 
Educational accountability, as defined in scholarly work, simply means the extent to which schools or other institutions are held accountable for their behaviour and performance by others. Answerability for performance is at the core of this relationship, where specific processes and measures such as high stakes testing or school inspections inform the way in which people or organizations are held to account.
This understanding of educational accountability is relatively ‘value-free’ and allows for a range of outcomes. Most systems aim for school improvement, but ‘capacity-building’ or ensuring schools adhere to legislation are also common outcomes. Ofsted’s new corporate strategy says that it aims ‘to be a force for improvement through intelligent, responsible and focused inspection and regulation’. Similarly, the Irish Inspectorate explains in its quality framework how it sees external inspections and internal evaluation as complementary contributors to school improvement and capacity building. An external perspective (more…)

Growth of Multi-Academy Trusts: do we need to put the brakes on?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital1 March 2017

Melanie Ehren
Yesterday, the House of Commons Education Committee issued its report on Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) with the key headline of: MPs concerned about performance, accountability and expansion of multi-academy trusts’.
The report issues a number of recommendations, all of which are aimed at supporting  further growth in the number of academies and Multi-Academy Trusts. As the report states (p.6) ‘the Government expects that in five to six a years a “tipping point” will be reached where most schools have converted and joined a MAT’. Given the current numbers of academies in MATs, this would see a total of 15,767 state-funded schools convert to academy status and become part of a MAT over the next couple of years. Another 1,618 academies that are currently operating on a stand-alone basis would also need to become part of a MAT*. The numbers are impressive and given the difficulties in too rapid expansion of existing MATs, it is no surprise that the Education Committee is calling on the Government to ‘only promote expansion of MATs that prioritizes (more…)

Word problems in standardised maths tests: how fair are the Key Stage 2 SATs?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital25 October 2016

Melanie Ehren
Word problems feature strongly on many high stakes standardised maths tests. We found these kinds of test items in research in the United States in 2010 (on the New York State and Massachusetts grades 3-5 tests for children aged 8-11). The two reasoning papers on England’s new Mathematics Key Stage 2 test, sat by 10 to 11-year-olds in May 2016, also include a range of word problems. The item below is an example from the sample 2016 test:
mathsat
Word problems require children to translate the words of the question into a workable maths problem and decide which operations to carry out. They may include a range of (more…)

As 'Show Your Working' test replaces mental maths at 11, what kind of learning are we valuing?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital29 September 2016

Melanie Ehren.
This year the Key Stage 2 mathematics test has undergone some big changes to reflect the new National Curriculum. One was the removal of the Mental Mathematics paper, given for the last time in 2015. It involved a 10-minute assessment, administered by playing a CD, in which 11-year-old pupils were expected to carry out 20 calculations in their heads, given 5 seconds, 10 seconds or 15 seconds for each one, and asked to write down the answer to each question, without access to paper to make jottings for working out.
Instead, last May, in addition to two papers testing reasoning, children sat an Arithmetic paper lasting 30 minutes. It asked 36 questions covering context-free calculations for all four operations, including the use of fractions, percentages and decimals. Squared paper was provided in the answer area, for children to show their working. ‘Working out’ is (more…)

Life after levels: is the new Year 6 maths test changing the way teachers teach?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital19 July 2016

Melanie Ehren
Earlier this month (5 July), the Department for Education published the results of the Key Stage 2 test for 10 and 11-year-olds. The publication was awaited with more anxiety than usual as this year’s test was the first one on the new national curriculum. One of the major changes in the test is the removal of the ‘old’ national curriculum levels 3, 4 and 5, where children were expected to reach at least a level 4. The level 6 paper for the most able children has also gone and results are now reported as ‘scaled scores[1]’. Each pupil now has to achieve at least a score of 100 to reach the expected standard. It seems like a minor change with little impact on how teachers teach mathematics and prepare children for the test, but recent findings from our Nuffield-funded study suggest otherwise.
We interviewed 30 Year 6 teachers in schools performing both below and above the floor standard in Mathematics. Interviews took place prior to the changes in the test in (more…)

Academisation: a cautionary tale from Holland

Blog Editor, IOE Digital18 March 2016

Toby Greany and Melanie Ehren.

The schools white paper brings together recent announcements from the budget and the funding consultation as well as the provisions in the Education and Adoption Act to set out the next phase of school reform. The strategy is undoubtedly ambitious – in particular the aim to make all schools into academies by 2022 and the move to a National Funding Formula by 2019-20 – but is broadly consistent with the direction of travel towards a ‘self-improving’ system since 2010.
Given that direction of travel, many of the specific proposals in the white paper are focused on trying to address some of the acknowledged weaknesses of the existing system: for example through a concerted focus on building capacity in areas where school-led approaches are currently weak, to clarify a very different but still meaningful oversight role for Local Authorities, and to remove some of the perverse incentives in the accountability system.
What is the evidence that making every school an academy will make a positive difference (more…)

Ask A Professor: is there an alternative to Ofsted?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital18 December 2015

Ask A Professor is an occasional blog by UCL IOE academics. From now on it will appear as part of the IOE London blog.
 
A teacher at the London Festival of Education this past Autumn asked about the Green Party’s plans to abolish Ofsted. What would replace it or could we do without an inspection system?
In this audio clip Dr Melanie Ehren describes the work of Ofsted and explains why some teachers have called for its abolition. She compares it to other quality assurance systems in Europe and elsewhere, and discusses the impact of Ofsted on national policy making and on parental decision making. She is enthusiastic about the increasing sophistication of inspection in understanding the contribution of school networks to excellence in education.
https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/ioe/files/2015/11/ehrenedit.mp3

Schools causing concern: proposals should focus on capacity to improve

Blog Editor, IOE Digital24 November 2015

Melanie Ehren.
The Department for Education (DfE) has launched a consultation on ways to intervene in failing, underperforming and coasting schools. The document puts forward a new set of interventions specifically for ‘coasting’ schools, which are defined as those where fewer than 85% of pupils achieve the floor standards across reading, writing and mathematics in three consecutive years, and where pupils make insufficient progress. These schools would face interventions such as support from teaching schools or national leaders of education, changes in their governance  (e.g. appointing additional governors, or replacing the governing body with an Interim Executive Board), or converting the school into a sponsored academy. (more…)