In this series of articles, we are looking at Ofsted inspectors’ comments on schools which they have judged to be outstanding.

In this article, we’ll have a look at their comments regarding the “most able” pupils (typically pupils which a high Prior Attainment).

The attainment and progress of most able pupils

It is not surprising that in these schools the most able pupils are working above age-related expectations. However, it seems that these pupils exceed even the high attainment shown nationally for high prior attainers:

Teachers also ensure that the most able are regularly challenged to reach and exceed high targets.

The most able pupils made outstanding progress in reading, writing and mathematics.

The most able pupils in the school attain particularly well compared with similar pupils nationally.

It should be noted that, under the KS2 Progress calculation methodology, there is a lower cap on how much progress can be measured for high prior attainers compared to others. For example, a Level 3 student typically can have a maximum Progress score of under 10, whereas a Level 2b student can typically have a maximum Progress score of 17. For an inspector to say that most able pupils made “outstanding progress” is a compliment indeed.

There are often comments as to how this high level of progress has been achieved:

This is because teachers have an in-depth knowledge of each pupil’s learning and how to support them. It is also because of the well-devised systems for checking pupils’ progress and the way leaders thoroughly analyse the assessment information.

The school places particular emphasis on the achievement of its most-able pupils, including its most-able disadvantaged pupils. Ambitious targets are set for these pupils so that they fulfil their potential. Leaders make sure that these pupils are given the additional support needed to help them reach the higher standards.

The most able pupils are constantly pushed to dig deeper and apply a range of tools to extend their writing. As a result, they step up to the challenge, flourish and make excellent progress.

Teachers know their pupils extremely well and plan challenging and interesting learning activities.

Teachers ensure that there is appropriate challenge for the most able by the use of open-ended extension questions.

Ofsted inspectors also show some characteristics of these most able pupils:

The most able pupils confidently explain complex storylines and characters.

The most able are confident counting and ordering numbers beyond 20 [in Early Years].

The most able pupils read exceptionally confidently, often choosing texts that are very advanced for their age. They answer a range of questions on what they have read with ease.

For example, in humanities, pupils had to recap what they knew about the make-up of the British Isles. … and the most able completed the map fully accurately, including the Republic of Ireland, which was not a requirement, and wrote reams of facts about different features.

For example, inspectors observed the most able pupils in Year 6 write the opening to a horror story, demonstrating an exceptional focus on their language choices. Additionally, inspectors observed the most able pupils in Year 1 writing with strong, empathic understanding about a greedy animal.

Those most-able [Key Stage 1] pupils are fluent readers and can confidently make inferences about character, plot and storyline.

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Does every subject need to have high progress to get “Outstanding”?

However, it is not the case that, to get an Outstanding rating, a school needs their most able pupils to have high progress in every subject. In a few of these Outstanding schools, in occasional core subjects, and some other subjects, progress was slower:

In reading and writing, and other subjects such as science and humanities, the most able pupils are constantly given work that sparks their enthusiasm and stretches their intellect. This does not happen as consistently in mathematics.

Middle leaders have implemented strategies to meet the needs of the most able pupils in subjects other than English and mathematics. However, this is not fully embedded. …this is still at an early stage in some subjects.

The most able pupils continue to perform very well, due to the very strong teaching that consistently meets their needs. … They do not achieve as much depth in subjects other than English, mathematics and science.

The proportion of most-able pupils attaining at greater depth in writing, remains smaller than average.

or, indeed, consistently:

However, the most able are not always enabled to develop their independent learning skills.

Occasionally, in lessons, the most able pupils are not moved on quickly enough to more difficult work to challenge their thinking.


We hope that you have enjoyed this article.

It was based on the Ofsted Inspection Reports of 42 schools which were judged to be “Outstanding” between September 2018 and January 2019.

Related Articles

For the full set of articles on Ofsted Inspections – click HERE

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