This series of articles examines Ofsted Inspectors’ comments, as published in their Inspection Reports, in relation to “Outstanding” schools.

In this article, we will have a look at work in pupils’ books.

Work in Books

In the 2018 Ofsted School inspection handbook, which was the current one at the time of these inspections, Ofsted said that (my emphasis added):

188. Inspectors will gather evidence about the progress of current pupils through:
• observations in lessons
• discussions with pupils about their understanding of things they have been learning about
• scrutiny of pupils’ acquisition of knowledge, understanding and skills over time as shown in their work, including that in their books
the school’s own information, taking account of the quality and rigour of the assessment on which it is based.

However, in the draft 2019 handbook, Ofsted are proposing to essentially remove the last bullet point. They say:

178. While they will consider the school’s use of assessment (see paras 170 to 173 above), inspectors will not consider schools’ internal assessment data during an inspection. This is because:
• internal data has its limitations and may not be an accurate representation of the education of pupils at the school. The time pressure of inspection does not allow for inspectors to validate the accuracy of the data as presented by leaders…

So the use by Ofsted Inspectors of pupils’ books will continue into the new Ofsted Inspection Handbook. So what insight do Ofsted inspectors get currently from pupils’ books?

Pupils’ books can give impressions of progress in various subjects which, for outstanding schools, is usually strong:

Across a wide range of subjects, pupils make very strong progress in developing their knowledge, skills and understanding. Pupils’ books show that they make sustained and substantial progress over time.

In key stage 2, pupils’ work in Years 3 and 4 shows rates of progress that are accelerating year-on-year.

Strong progress over time is clearly evidenced, in particular through the writing that is routinely displayed on classroom walls and in books.

This is endorsed by the impressive work seen in pupils’ books.

This can help Inspectors make conclusions about why progress is being made:

Leaders have identified that pupils make increasing gains in attainment the longer they have been in the school.

The high standard of work displayed around the school and in pupils’ class topic books demonstrates the plentiful opportunities they have to apply their literacy and mathematical skills across a range of subjects, which enhances their learning even further.

A range of intensive support is provided to enable this group of pupils [new to the school] to improve rapidly and this is clearly evidenced in their writing books.

This can also help inspectors make conclusions about progress in subjects where Progress is not formally measured.

Improvements are evident in pupils’ books in their grammar, punctuation and spelling skills.

Topic books show that pupils make very good progress in history, geography, science and in the creative arts.

Work in current pupils’ books shows that all groups of pupils make sustained progress, including in Spanish, history, geography and science.

They also make extremely strong progress across the wider curriculum, for example in science, humanities and religious education. Work seen in pupils’ books confirms this.

And it doesn’t need to be from pupils’ “books” that Inspectors can draw conclusions about pupils’ work:

Work in ‘topic books’ and displays around the school show the breadth of subjects taught.

The effect of the high-quality teaching of art is evident in pupils’ work on display.

Work in pupils’ books, lessons and on display show that high-quality learning takes place in subjects beyond the core. Pupils’ artwork, for example, is of a high standard. Pupils know a wealth of artists whose style of work they are simulating with increasingly adroit techniques.

For example, in Year 5 art, pupils prepared for the creation of a ‘skyscape’ through an animated discussion about the colours and techniques they may use and were skilfully guided by the teacher. The work in their art ‘portfolios’ provides a compelling overview of how pupils develop increasing skill and attention to detail in art as they progress through the school.

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Under the 2018 Ofsted Inspection Handbook, inspectors can tie assessment information with pupils’ books:

The school’s own assessment information, work in books and discussions with pupils about their learning underpin the trends of improvement that inspectors noted during the inspection.

The unvalidated information from the 2018 national assessments strongly reflects the quality of work seen in pupils. books and the school’s assessment information. These indicate that standards are improving further and that all groups of pupils are making strong progress in all classes and in a range of subjects.

It is also because of the well-devised systems for checking pupils’ progress and the way leaders thoroughly analyse assessment information and work in books.

Work in books, the school’s own performance information and moderation reports by the local authority monitoring show that pupils currently in Year 2 have made excellent progress.

One school had an interesting approach with when to start a new pupil book:

Leaders have found that continuing pupils’ work books into the new academic year, rather than starting a fresh book in September, has helped to improve progress further. They say that this has given teachers and pupils an accurate baseline to start the new year from and avoids pupils ‘slipping back’ after the long summer holiday.

Finally, one school was particularly glad that there is a de-emphasis in marking:

For example, through Ofsted’s online survey, staff commented that streamlining the school’s approach to marking pupils’ work has ‘freed us up to plan more effective and engaging lessons’.


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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