In this series of articles about “good” schools (according to the Ofsted), we’ll be looking at Ofsted inspectors’ comments regarding high prior attaining pupils.

School Inspection Handbook

Paragraph 195 of the most recent Ofsted School Inspection Handbook (September 2018) includes:

Inspectors will pay particular attention to whether the most able pupils are making progress towards attaining the highest standards and achieving as well as they should across the curriculum.

They will also consider whether the most able pupils are receiving the support they need to reach their full potential.

However, as we have previously seen (Greater Depth/High Score Standards), Ofsted’s comments regarding the higher standard inclined towards schools being below the National Average. So what do the same inspectors say about the most able pupils.

Achieving results

Away from the attainment statistics, Ofsted inspectors are more appreciative of the ability of high prior attainers and, when matched up with appropriate expectations, they achieving the results expected for them:

The most able pupils are typically able to write and talk confidently about their reasoning.

Most-able pupils make good progress. Since the last inspection, there has been a focused effort to ensure these pupils are well challenged. They are given the chance to access more-complex activities…

The most able pupils make good progress, due to teaching which challenges them and extends their learning.

Most-able pupils, especially in Years 5 and 6, are increasingly demonstrating deeper levels of understanding and ability to solve problems than those expected for their age.

The most able pupils make good progress because their work is increasingly challenging…

Higher attainers are generally well challenged. As a result, many are making swift progress. Therefore, they now attain standards that are much closer to those they should, given their capabilities.

Lack of challenge

However, there is a constant question about whether they are challenged sufficiently, with the underlying implication of that being the reason they are not getting the results they deserve:

However, the most able pupils are not consistently challenged to build on their prior knowledge and skills. This means that their progress is not as strong as it could be.

Nevertheless, they are not always challenged enough, especially in writing and mathematics. This means that sometimes they are provided with work that does not allow them to challenge their thinking or deepen their knowledge in different subjects.

However, in some classes, the most able pupils sometimes complete work which is not well matched to their abilities and as a result do not achieve as well as they could.

However, leaders know that more needs to be done to ensure that pupils’ progress improves, including the progress of most-able pupils.

…more needs to be done to ensure that most-able pupils are suitably stretched by their work.

However, the most able pupils do not have frequent enough opportunities to work at greater depth…

Progress is slower for some of the most able pupils because teachers’ expectations of what they can achieve is too low, particularly in mathematics.

Other inspectors look at the work that the high prior attaining pupil can or cannot do:

However, some pupils do not apply their vocabulary knowledge effectively in their written work, particularly the most able.

However, some pupils, particularly the most able, do not write with confidence at length or for different purposes and audiences.

These pupils can apply their mathematical knowledge to solve complex problems. For example, in Year 1, pupils were confidently able to explain and prove why a mathematical statement might be true or false.

Older, most-able pupils tend to choose to read books that entertain them rather than being ‘challenging reads’.

The most able writers produce rich, and sometimes quite sophisticated, pieces of extended writing, generally technically sound and often notably advanced.

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Inspectors can highlight the positives as well as the negatives at the same time. These inspectors says that those pupils who are given the opportunity do well, but…

Generally, the most able pupils are appropriately challenged in mathematics, and are given ample opportunities to write at length in key stage 2. They can use an impressive range of sentence structures, vocabulary and writing styles in their written work. In mathematics their problem-solving and reasoning skills are being developed well. However, teachers and leaders recognise that too few of the most able are achieving the higher standards of achievement. Leaders, rightly, have set this as a target for improvement.

The achievement of the most able pupils is mostly good. However, at times, their progress is hindered because teaching does not consistently provide an appropriate level of challenge.

The most able pupils make strong progress when teaching is well matched to their needs. However, this is not consistent across the school.

So, in conclusion, Ofsted is looking in “good” schools for there to be an appropriate alignment of difficulty for higher prior attaining pupils. In none of these Ofsted judgements did inspectors make statements that the level of work was too hard for the most able pupils.


We hope that you have enjoyed this article.

It was based on Ofsted’s Inspection reports from 80 “good” schools published in November 2018.

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

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