A case study of Ofsted's EIF in action

Written by: Suzanne O'Connell | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Greenmount Primary School was one of the first schools to be visited under Ofsted’s new Education Inspection Framework. Headteacher David Griffith speaks with Suzanne O’Connell and shares his experiences of the Section 8 inspection before offering his advice to other schools

It was four and a half years since Greenmount Primary School had had their last Ofsted inspection. Headteacher David Griffith and the governing body of the 250-entry school in Bury were more than aware that it was pending.

And even though they were expecting a Section 8 inspection rather than a Section 5, there is always some anxiety when a new inspection framework is being introduced.

The fear is that recently trained inspectors keen to follow the rule-book and still finding their feet themselves can, on occasions, come down particularly hard on the first schools they inspect. Greenmount was inspected over two days – October 15 and 16 – and was the very first in the Bury local authority area to receive a visit.

Mr Griffith is positive about the experience: “The inspector didn’t come in with an agenda and I was pleasantly surprised at the level of partnership working,” he told Headteacher Update. Greenmount had been judged good at the previous inspection in May 2015 and had prepared carefully for the new inspection. Subject leaders and the headteacher had had opportunity to hear experiences from schools involved in the pilots and felt confident that they were prepared.

“We received the call at 11am on the Monday morning and there were two discussions with the inspector over the phone,” Mr Griffith said. “The first phone call was a similar experience as we’ve had before but the second phone call included more discussion about curriculum intent and this was perhaps a little more difficult over the phone.”

The deep dives

It was clear from the beginning that the curriculum would be a focal point of any discussion. The initial telephone conversation was carefully followed up by the inspector in discussion with curriculum leaders.

Mr Griffith explained: “The emphasis was very much on the curriculum and teaching and learning. She was evidently testing out that our intent was embedded across the school.”

The deep dives centred on three subjects. Reading is a focus for every inspection and alongside this Mr Griffith and the inspector agreed on geography and maths: “Maths because it was an area that we had been working on and we wanted to showcase the improvements we’d made; it would provide external verification. Geography was chosen as a well-established subject with an experienced curriculum leader. It was also being taught at the time which meant that the inspector could see for herself.”

As per the Ofsted methodology (Ofsted, 2019a) the deep dives include an evaluation of senior leaders’ intent for the curriculum in the subjects, as well as their understanding of implementation and impact. It also includes evaluation of curriculum leaders’ long and medium-term thinking and planning, including the rationale for content choices and curriculum sequencing.

Although there has been much concern raised about the deep dives in primary schools (see our report on this issue here), Mr Griffith and his staff did not find them to be unmanageable.

He explained: “I asked for the curriculum leaders to go in together. This wasn’t as daunting for them and if one ran out of things to say then the other could pick up on it. They were able to support each other, prompting and remembering things that they might have omitted to mention otherwise.”

The curriculum leaders had had opportunity to talk with others who had taken part in the pilots so they knew something of what to expect.

Alongside the discussions the inspector visited classrooms, looked at work and talked with pupils about the subjects.

The lesson visits

The deep dive approach also includes visits to a “deliberately and explicitly connected sample of lessons”, work scrutiny of books or other kinds of work, discussion with teachers “to understand how the curriculum informs their choices about content and sequencing to support effective learning” and discussions with a group of pupils from the lessons observed (Ofsted, 2019a).

At Greenmount, the lesson visits had been timetabled beforehand so there were no surprises for the staff. Teachers knew who and when the inspector would be visiting.

Mr Griffith had submitted a draft timetable and this had been the basis for the discussion. He explained: “We all needed to be flexible to make sure that the visits suited the inspector as well as the staff.” Each visit lasted around 15 minutes and Mr Griffith took part in them all.

It is interesting to note that on the most recent publication of the Ofsted School Inspection Handbook (it was last updated in November 2019), the references to “observe” have been replaced by “visit”. An indication that it is no longer the individual teacher who is being assessed but how the curriculum is being implemented (Ofsted, 2019b).

For example, it states: “ Inspectors will visit lessons, talk to individual teachers and pupils, and look at pupils’ work (in its widest sense) together with curriculum leaders to see whether it matches leaders’ intentions. Inspectors will then draw all this evidence together from different pupils, classes and year groups.”

And: “Lesson visits are not about evaluating individual teachers or their teaching; there will be no grading of the teaching observed by inspectors. Instead, inspectors will view lessons across a faculty, department, subject, key stage or year group and then aggregate insights as to how what is going on in lessons contributes to the school’s curriculum intentions. This will then provide part of the evidence for an overall view of quality of education or behaviour and attitudes.”

One aspect of the inspection that Mr Griffith felt had changed was the acknowledgement that there are times when content has to be revisited and this consolidation was viewed by the inspector in a positive light.

He explained: “On previous inspections, lessons where children were revisiting previously taught content were not encouraged. There was a shift this time and teachers were told by the inspector that she appreciated that children needed to revisit content to ensure deep learning.”

What have you learnt?

Alongside the increased emphasis on the curriculum, the new EIF inspects retention and long-term memory. It is not sufficient for pupils to come out of the lesson remembering what they have learnt during the last hour, they should also be able to remember their learning from previous topics and even previous years.

Inspectors are briefed to discuss with pupils what they have remembered about the content they have studied. At Greenmount the inspector spoke to pupils after every class and asked not only about what they had just learnt but also what they had learnt last year.

“This was a thread throughout the two days of inspection,” Mr Griffith continued.

“The inspector wanted to know how everything built on what had gone before. Schools need to make sure that their curriculum is really tight and that you can articulate where the learning in that subject will progress next.”

Advice for other schools

Since the inspection, Mr Griffith has been asked to speak at heads’ meetings about his experiences. He advises headteachers to ask the inspector if curriculum leaders can be interviewed together. This was a request he made himself and the inspector was more than happy to agree.

“I also advise working closely with the governing body prior to inspection,” he added. “Make sure that they are familiar with the changes to inspection as well as your own curriculum. Preparation is so important. Check that you are familiar with everything in the handbook and take steps to prepare your staff. Get all your documents ready so there is as little as possible to do at the last minute. Most of these documents don’t change over time.”

Although the curriculum was already in place, Mr Griffith and his staff had looked closely at their curriculum intent: “We knew ourselves what this was but we hadn’t documented it in detail and we needed to make the intent more explicit. We put this information on the website.”

The school had provided as much information as possible online and Mr Griffith feels that this reduced the number of questions the inspector needed to ask.

He was also anticipating questions about gaming and off-rolling. “There was little reference to these,” he continued. “But I had already supplied the inspector with a list of pupils who had left the school during the previous years and the reasons why they had left.” Once more, pre-empting the questions and providing the information seemed to make the inspection go more smoothly.

The inspection resulted in the school retaining its good rating. The report states: “Leaders have designed an ambitious curriculum that ignites pupils’ curiosity. Leaders have identified what they want pupils to know in each year group. The curriculum plans set out clearly what pupils should be taught and when.

“Teachers receive training to ensure that they have the skills and knowledge to support pupils effectively. Assessment information is used well to identify the next steps in pupils’ learning.”

Mr Griffith added: “Of the three inspections I have been involved with as a headteacher, this was the most positive one I’ve experienced.” A comment that will be welcome news for any school anticipating inspection themselves.

  • Suzanne O’Connell is a freelance education writer and a former primary school headteacher.

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