Ofsted's Education Inspection Framework: Finally moving in the right direction?

Written by: Suzanne O'Connell | Published:
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The consultation over Ofsted’s draft Education Inspection Framework is almost at an end. With its new focus on curriculum breadth and balance and with the chief inspector speaking out against teaching to the test, the framework has been broadly welcomed. What are the key talking points?

Much of the proposed Ofsted framework was anticipated. A new focus on the curriculum, a clamp-down on off-rolling and reduction of teacher workload were already clear priorities. Now the draft has been published, what does it contain and how are school leaders reacting?

The consultation, accompanied by the draft handbook and framework, was launched in January. As expected, the outcomes judgement has gone, to be replaced by a judgement of the “quality of education”. Furthermore, “personal development” and “behaviour and attitudes” are now two distinct judgements.

It means that the proposed new Education Inspection Framework (EIF), which comes into force on September 2019, includes the four graded judgements of:

  • Quality of education.
  • Behaviour and attitudes.
  • Personal development.
  • Leadership and management.

There appears to be a genuine desire to block the worst side-effects of the inspection process and allow teachers to prioritise their pupils. It’s a vision for inspection that has been gaining momentum through chief inspector Amanda Spielman’s regular speeches.

A new broom

Ms Spielman didn’t get off to a good start. Here was a new HMCI without a background in education and seen as more likely to champion Ofsted as a desktop process. However, since her appointment, she has made a point of commenting on the impact that the current framework has had upon school practice and has spoken out often about teaching to the test.

Ms Spielman appears to have recognised the problems of an over-reliance on data and has injected a new interest into what is being taught in schools. She has criticised schools for gaming and off-rolling and has not been afraid to draw attention to aspects of education that have been perverted because of pressures from the inspection regime and the exam system. She wants to see that not only are children achieving what they should, but that the journey there is valuable too.

Process not method

The proposed new judgement on “quality of education” includes reference to “intent”, “implementation” and “impact”. The curriculum should be carefully planned and sequenced and must remain broad for as long as possible. Inspectors will be on the look-out for evidence of narrowing curricula in key stage 2.

Many have queried whether the quality of the curriculum can be successfully inspected without judging the teaching styles used.

Ofsted, after conducting an in-depth curriculum research programme, believes it can be and has guaranteed that there will be no prescribed model of curriculum delivery: “If leaders are able to show that they have thought carefully, that they have built a curriculum with appropriate coverage, content, structure and sequencing and are able to show that it has been implemented effectively, then inspectors will assess a school’s curriculum favourably.”

This curriculum should “give all learners, particularly the most disadvantaged, the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life”.

Jonathan Brookes, is now a trust partner at the Learners’ Trust in Sheffield and was previously headteacher at Inkersall Primary School in Derbyshire. He is positive about the shift in focus although he feels that the two factors – curriculum and outcomes – are inherently linked.

He told Headteacher Update: “It’s a reasonable assumption to say that high quality provision will lead to improved outcomes,” he explained. “It is possible, but rare, for a school to have historical high outcomes that don’t necessarily align with the quality of provision on offer.”

Roddy Fairclough, headteacher at Newbury Park Primary School in Ilford, sees the change of focus as a positive move: “It seems quite timely for us that Ofsted has recognised the ‘real’ importance of a broad and balanced curriculum.

“I believe it’s generally a move in the right direction in terms of curriculum and looking at quality of education rather than solely outcomes. I also like the idea of enabling schools to show provision for personal development through their wider curriculum.”

There will be those who are suspicious that beneath Ofsted’s insistence that different approaches to curriculum delivery will be welcome, there is a leaning towards a more formal classroom.
For example, the Ofsted report into the early years curriculum – Bold Beginnings (November 2017) – seemed to advocate a move away from play-based activities to a more formal system of direct teaching of reading, writing and maths. Will this be reflected in the views of inspectors on the ground?

Teacher workload

Teacher workload has been blamed for at least some of the difficulties in attracting and retaining teachers. Data collection and analysis is believed to be partly responsible for this. Reflecting this train of thought, the consultation indicates that internal assessment should be limited and that school leaders must not use it “in a way that creates unnecessary burdens for staff or learners”.

The Department for Education (DfE) Workload Advisory Group, in its recent report Making Data Work (November 2018), recommends that there should be no more than two or three data collection points across the academic year. Inspectors will want to see that teachers are being allowed the space and time to teach and that leaders are mindful of workload generated by internal assessment practices.

Mr Fairclough feels that this message from Ofsted supports the route they were already taking as a school: “Last year we streamlined what data we were going to use and analyse as we recognised how burdensome everything had become. Teachers will now focus on fewer documents in terms of data and spend more of their time on formative assessment activities.”

Behaviour on its own

Ofsted suggests that creating a separate “behaviour and attitudes” judgement is linked to parental demand for more information about behaviour management. The judgement will focus on the extent to which schools have clear and effective behaviour and attendance policies and schools will be expected to show that they follow up and support any fixed-term exclusions. Any internal exclusion policy will also be checked.

The “personal development” judgement acknowledges that the impact of the school’s work may not be assessable at the time of an inspection. For once, schools are not expected to be the answer to all society’s problems: “Schools cannot make children active, engaged citizens, but they can help pupils understand how to engage with society and provide them with plentiful opportunities to do so.”

This judgement covers areas such as British values, character building, resilience and mental health as well as incorporating “spiritual, moral, social and cultural development”.

Inclusion

The terms “off-rolling” and “gaming” are sadly now a firm part of the language of education. Both Ofsted and the children’s commissioner Anne Longfield have recently raised the issue of off-rolling, particularly as it applies to children with SEN and those with behavioural difficulties. The draft proposals are clear in that they would require inspectors to look closely at any trends of children disappearing from school rolls.

Under the “leadership and management” judgement the proposed framework requires that school leaders have high ambitions for all pupils, including those who are harder to reach. Inclusion is a priority and inspectors will look at rates of exclusion and what schools are doing to support those at risk.

It recognises that there can be difficulties in multi-agency work but exhorts school leaders to make “tenacious attempts to engage local support services”.

No notice

Although there might be optimism and general overall support for the new framework, one aspect of it has caused concern in some quarters.

The draft includes the proposal that inspectors might arrive on the afternoon of the day when contact is made. The idea is that inspectors do their preparatory work on-site in order that they can consult and discuss issues with the headteacher while still formulating the focus of the inspection.

Some school leaders are opposed to this, seeing it as the introduction of a no-notice inspection system with inspectors perhaps calling at 10am and arriving at 12.30pm.

Mr Fairclough believes that it is important to give schools some time to take a deep breath and gather their thoughts: “Once an inspector arrives on site, then really the inspection has begun, whether officially or not,” he said.

However, Mr Brookes is positive that the proposal could mean a more shared approach to inspection: “It reminds me of the old pre-inspection briefing papers. I believe it will be a useful way of jointly establishing the present position of the school.”

Ms Spielman has indicated that she is only consulting on this reform and that if there is a lot of opposition it will not continue to be part of the new framework. Her comments on this issue are hopefully an indication that this is not a consultation in name only – as so many similar exercises have often turned out to be.

In time for September?

Perhaps the biggest question is not centred on the content of the proposed new framework, but is whether Ofsted will have the capacity to deliver such a fundamental change in time.
There is a relatively small window in which to analyse the results of the consultation, produce the final documents before the summer and carry through implement the new framework for September 2019.

Even if Ofsted is ready to inspect according to the new handbook, will schools have had time to adjust? Any new Ofsted framework is accompanied by a flurry of preparation, at least for the schools anticipating an inspection. Again, there is little time to put any necessary changes into place.

The proposed framework does recognise this to some extent. There will be allowances made for schools that demonstrate that they have plans in place, even if they have not had chance to act on all of them. Comments against the school’s “intent” will allow for some recognition that not everything might be implemented.

Mr Brookes does not believe that there will be any need to make any drastic changes in the schools he works with: “We’ll seek to improve what we do through collaborative planning approaches with other schools within and outside our MAT. In the end we’ll do what’s in the best interests of the children. For us, at the moment, that will be tweaking our existing curriculum models.”

In a similar vein, Mr Fairclough is happy that his school is already on the right track: “The proposed changes won’t make too much difference to us. We already focus on improving quality of teaching, learning and assessment through professional development. Our curriculum is something we are always reviewing and evaluating. We are mindful of the outcomes agenda but try not to be driven by it.”

But is a two-day inspection enough time to come to a decision about the quality of a curriculum? Ofsted has made a bold commitment and is keen to convince schools and the public that two days is enough.

For many school leaders, like the two who spoke to Headteacher Update, it will be “how” the framework is applied that will determine its success.

Mr Brookes concluded: “Overall, I think the new framework for inspection has the potential to be valuable for the profession and help further improve the education children receive.
“I believe the interpretation and implementation of it by inspectors will be critical in determining the extent to which it is successful over time.”

Many of Ofsted’s proposals have been received with optimism. However, there are tensions associated with the timing and there are areas that need further clarification – not least the exact approach we can expect inspectors to take when judging our curricula.

We hope that some of the issues and questions raised will be addressed in the final documentation, but the real success of the new framework will be played out during inspections in the years to come. 

Further information

  • Consultation: Education Inspection Framework 2019: Inspecting the substance of education, Ofsted, January 2019 (consultation closes April 5, 2019): http://bit.ly/2MrflYh
  • Education Inspection Framework: Overview of research, Ofsted, January 2019: http://bit.ly/2Vgzt2z
  • Making Data Work, Department for Education Workload Advisory Group, November 2018: http://bit.ly/2QGbZCd


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