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“One Cannot Leave It Undecided”: On the Dynamic Production of Scoring Decisions in the School Inspection Process



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This PhD thesis addresses how inspection scores are dynamically produced – especially the ways in which school inspection teams decide upon how to score the schools that they inspect. This research thereby fills a gap between research focussing on inspection policy and research focussing on the outcome of inspection. While most human judgement and decision-making as well as rater research focusses on the cognition of individuals, this study looks at scoring as a local and socially situated phenomenon in a group setting. The social position and formal tasks of school inspection teams are analysed with theoretical approaches such as street-level bureaucracy and the analysis of official documents. Two contrasting school inspection systems were included – the German states Lower Saxony and Thuringia. In each system, three school inspection teams were shadowed during their on-site scoring work. In addition to observations, discussions among team members were sound recorded and analysed with tools from discussion analysis (Gesprächsanalyse). This study shows that the official two inspection systems framed the inspection process differently, but both cannot fully determine scoring practice. The implementation of official scoring guidelines is accompanied by irreducible uncertainty requiring professional discretion for its resolution. Inspection teams employ a flexible and pragmatic approach to finalise their scoring work. When scoring, they sometimes focus on details of procedure and evidence, while at other times they focus on anticipated outcomes. Selectivity is a constitutive feature of their scoring work. They do not only compare data to the scoring framework but also use many other points of reference. Whilst they must and do try to score efficiently, they also attempt to arrive at jointly shared and defensible score selections. Individual inspectors use discursive means to argue in favour for their preferred scores. One central feature of disagreement resolution was the negotiation of what constituted reasonable performance expectation and to highlight a school’s positive or negative deviation from it. Overall, this study shows the inspectors’ interpretative scoring work exerts a strong influence on what scores are eventually selected. Official scoring guidelines are in themselves insufficient to fully direct the practical scoring work. They are interpreted to become actionable at the front-line of school inspection.





Gronn, Peter
Gray, John
Wilson, Elaine


school inspection, evaluation, judgement and decision making, discretion, assessment moderation


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Cambridge European Trust (CET) Faculty of Education (FoE), University of Cambridge British Educational Research Association (BERA) Hughes Hall College, University of Cambridge