Ofsted and our wellbeing

Written by: Philippa Stobbs | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Consultation over the draft Education Inspection Framework will close soon. Philippa Stobbs looks at the potential within the proposals to foster better teacher and pupil wellbeing

Should we welcome the proposed changes to Ofsted’s Education Inspection Framework (EIF), even if we add a caveat about what it will look like and feel like in practice? Or should we hope for further changes as a result of the consultation period?

Probably most of us have welcomed the general direction of travel that Ofsted has indicated: with the headlines advertising a greater emphasis on the quality of education; a clearer focus on curriculum, held in a better balance with assessment activity; and a broad range of experiences at school contributing to the judgment on personal development. Beneath the headlines, there is evidence of concerns about both teacher and pupil wellbeing.

Published at the same time as the draft EIF are: draft inspection handbooks, a research overview which Ofsted uses to back up the changes they propose, and the School Inspection Update. The School Inspection Update provides a bit more of the narrative about what Ofsted wants to achieve with EIF 2019.

Here Ofsted seeks to disentangle the conundrum of wanting the best possible outcomes for children and young people at the same time as holding at bay the pressures of performance data and measures that provide the evidence of those outcomes.

It states: “Performance measures are not all we should look at and data should not be ‘king’. It should not be allowed to create an environment in schools that has them repeatedly and excessively measuring and recording pupil progress and attainment in ways that are not always valid, reliable or useful to teachers and pupils. Ofsted’s job is to focus on what matters educationally, looking at a wide range of evidence.”

Ofsted commits itself to looking at outcomes in context, and at whether outcomes are the result of a coherently planned curriculum, delivered well.

So does a focus on the quality of education and curriculum design, in particular, hold the potential for improved teacher and pupil wellbeing?

Most teachers are passionate about communicating their subject to their pupils – it is what most teachers went into teaching for, whether the curriculum is organised in topics or subjects. Aspects of the EIF that focus on the core skills of teachers could spark renewed debates about curriculum, pedagogy and knowledge. Such a focus on professional skills could re-kindle teachers’ professional pride.

At the same time, Ofsted’s own survey recognises the pressures on teachers and there are some efforts to address these. There is much in the research overview about the impact of the culture and climate of schools and the leadership and management judgement in the EIF will include a consideration of how leaders develop teachers and staff, while taking their workload and wellbeing into account.

The research indicates, unsurprisingly, that teacher wellbeing is a key factor in pupil wellbeing. So anything that improves teacher wellbeing should also have a knock-on effect on pupils.
There are other aspects of the EIF that are intended to improve pupil wellbeing: the personal development judgement seeks to increase pupil participation in a wide range of activities and Ofsted is setting out to challenge practices such as narrowing curricula, identified as more prevalent in key stage 2 and as affecting disadvantaged pupils and pupils with SEND disproportionately.

Ofsted is also setting out to challenge “inappropriate” practices that put pupil wellbeing at risk. “Off-rolling”, “gaming” and equity issues have been identified, and the leadership and management judgement will evaluate the extent to which leaders ensure these practices are not permitted: they deprive our most vulnerable pupils of their educational entitlement and generate additional pressures for other, more inclusive, local schools.

I welcome the general direction that Ofsted has set out, but will also be hoping for further developments before the EIF is finalised.

My first “ask” is about pupil voice. It’s in the inspection handbook that Ofsted will talk to and listen to pupils during an inspection. However such encounters can suffer from over-orchestration, or from a degree of randomness. In addition to listening to pupils during inspections, I would like Ofsted to look for the evidence of what schools do to gather the views of pupils more systematically, and what schools do with the information that pupils share with them.

Second, while I welcome the reference to inclusive education and to the Equality Act in the judgements, I would like to see a sharper focus on inclusion and equalities. The words are there but, as with pupil voice, I would like to see Ofsted checking schools’ own understanding and application. This would help to ensure that schools identify groups of pupils who may be at a disadvantage in the school; and take steps to address any disadvantage, whether that is through providing the full breadth of the curriculum or how well the school includes different groups of pupils in opportunities at the school.

By Ofsted’s own admission, any overview of the research is going to be selective. Has Ofsted been looking at the most relevant research? Has Ofsted come to the right conclusions? And could the EIF work better for both teachers and pupils? Now is the time to have your say. Speak now or forever hold your peace (at least until the next EIF consultation).

  • Philippa Stobbs is assistant director at the National Children’s Bureau.

Further information

  • Consultation: Education Inspection Framework 2019: Inspecting the substance of education, Ofsted, January 2019 (consultation closes April 5, 2019): http://bit.ly/2MrflYh
  • School Inspection Update: Academic year 2018 to 2019, Ofsted (updated January 2019): http://bit.ly/2BKZm35

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