This series of articles analyses Ofsted inspectors’ comments in their judgements about “good” schools. This article looks at the role of examining pupils’ books.

The new Ofsted Inspection framework

In the School Inspection update of January 2019, Ofsted said that, under the new Ofsted framework,

53. …In doing so, inspectors will not review a school’s internal performance data for current pupils.

61. Inspectors will not consider schools’ internal performance data for current pupils during an inspection. … This is because:

internal data for current pupils has its limitations for us…

inspectors will have meaningful discussions with leaders about how they know that the curriculum is having an impact

inspectors will gather first-hand evidence of the quality of education in schools.

The first-hand evidence sources including:

54. …Inspectors will listen to pupils read and look at examples of pupils’ work for evidence of progression in knowledge, understanding and skills towards defined endpoints

So what does pupils’ works show under the current framework?

Works in books

Under the current framework, Inspectors confirm the internal performance data with the work in books, although this will not be happening from September:

This is reflected in the school’s assessments of their progress over time, in their books and in their learning in lessons.

This is reflected in books and the schools’ assessment information.

Assessment information, supported by the work seen in pupils’ books, indicates that the progress of current pupils is good and improving.

Furthermore, school assessment information and inspection evidence, such as work seen in pupils’ books…

In none of these “good” schools do inspectors comment that the work in books did not reflect the internal performance data, which may be one reason why Ofsted will soon not be using it.

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Outside of comparisons with internal performance data, some inspectors use this evidence as examples of good results:

In mathematics, pupils’ work demonstrates that they typically develop confidence in tackling calculations using a range of methods.

Work in pupils’ books highlights the good progress that they make in science.

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.

Inspectors’ scrutiny of pupils’ work shows that disadvantaged pupils across the school are making similar progress to their peers in the school.

Pupils’ books show that the recent strategies to improve the teaching of writing and mathematics are beginning to be successful.

There are signs in pupils’ books that teachers are providing more opportunities for pupils to use and apply their mathematical knowledge to solve problems, and this is helping to raise standards in many classes.

Pupils are taught the skills to write creatively and expressively. For example, one Year 6 pupil wrote, ‘Birds soared across the jet black sky making a whoosh, as if they were thieves of the night.’

and sometimes more varied results, even in “good” schools:

The work in pupils’ books and visits to lessons showed that there is some variation in the progress made by lower-attaining pupils.

Books show that they make limited progress when tasks are not planned to enable them to reach the next stage in their learning.

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.

The work in books shows that pupils do not have a good enough understanding of grammar, punctuation and spelling.

Work seen in the books of current pupils across the curriculum does not consistently reflect the highest quality and success.

Currently, pupils in Year 1 and some across Years 4, 5 and 6 present their work neatly and show good handwriting skills for their age. A majority of other pupils, however, have yet to fully develop their handwriting and spelling skills and this constrains their ability to write more fluently and confidently.

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Other evidence of pupils’ work

Inspectors also highlight good results from talking to pupils:

Pupils’ oral responses also show their good understanding in carefully considered explanations of their work. This was seen, for example, in one group in Year 6, where pupils could explain why a character in a story reacted the way they did.

And inspectors also noted pupils’ work outside of their books:

There are vivid displays of pupils’ artwork displayed around the school. For example, pupils in Year 3 learned about the work of an Inuit artist, Kenojuak Ashevak, and recreated her paintings.

This was evident in Year 6, for example, where pupils’ thoughtful responses to the teacher’s questions showed their good understanding of fractions and decimal fractions.

Pupils’ work on displays and in workbooks shows that they typically make good progress in subjects other than English and mathematics. This is the case in many subjects such as science, geography, and design and technology.


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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