Ofsted ‘calls time’ on teaching to the test and off-rolling pupils

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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Ofsted signals its plans to crackdown on narrow curricula and teaching to the test. However, as the consultation over the new inspection framework opens, concerns remain over how reliable inspectors’ judgements will be. Pete Henshaw reports

Ofsted has said its proposals for a new-look inspection framework, which were published for consultation last week, will “call time” on the culture of teaching to the test, narrow curriculums, and the increasing trend for off-rolling students.

As expected, the plans include a new “quality of education” judgement alongside judgements on “behaviour and attitudes”, “personal development” and “leadership and management”.

The new framework is scheduled to be implemented from September this year, despite concern from education unions about the tight timetable. The consultation is to run until April 5 and Ofsted has said that the final framework and inspection handbooks are to be published in “summer 2019”.

Launching the consultation, chief inspector Amanda Spielman summed up the new framework with two words – “substance and integrity”.

She continued: “The substance that has all children and young people exposed to the best that has been thought and said, achieve highly and set up to succeed. And the integrity that makes sure every child and young person is treated as an individual with potential to be unlocked, and staff as experts in their subject or field, not just as data gatherers and process managers. And above all that you are rewarded for doing the right thing.”

The new quality of education judgement is split into three areas – intent, implementation and impact – and aims to ensure that schools are offering as broad a curriculum as possible. Specific reference is made to “cultural capital” as well as “knowledge”.

Among the priorities for inspectors will be the extent to which: “Learners study the full curriculum. Providers ensure this by teaching a full range of subjects for as long as possible, ‘specialising’ only when necessary.”

The draft framework also looks for learners who “read widely and often, with fluency and comprehension” and wants to see “learners develop detailed knowledge and skills across the curriculum”.

A statement from Ofsted after launching the consultation said: “Instead of taking exam results and test data at face value, Ofsted will look at how a nursery, school, college or other providers’ results have been achieved – whether they are the result of broad and rich learning, or gaming and cramming.

“Ofsted’s research has found that some children are having their teaching narrowed in schools in order to boost performance table points.”

Among the practices it wants to stamp out, Ofsted says it has seen "many primary schools, rather than reading a wide range of books, some children are instead spending their time repeating reading comprehension tests".

And secondary schools where pupils are “being forced to pick exam subjects a year or more early, meaning many lose out on the arts, languages and music” and where at GCSE “pupils are being pushed away from studying EBacc subjects such as history, geography, French and German, and towards qualifications deemed to be ‘easier’”.

Headteacher Update has previously reported on the most recent outcomes of Ofsted's curriculum research. Phase 3 of the research, published in December, set out how the inspectorate plans to judge the varied curriculum approaches found in schools today. For more on this, see our article here.

There is also a clear focus on reducing teacher workload in the draft framework, with references to how schools approach assessment and to how lesson resources and materials are created.

In addition, Ofsted has said that it will no longer using schools’ internal performance data as inspection evidence in a bid to drive down inspection-related work for teachers.

And under the leadership and management judgement there is a clear focus on teacher wellbeing. It states that a priority for inspectors will be the extent to which “leaders engage with their staff and are aware and take account of the main pressures on them. They are realistic and constructive in the way they manage staff including their workload”.

Also under leadership and management, Ofsted specifically mentions the practice of off-rolling, which it warns is a “form of gaming”.

It says that inspectors will evaluate the extent to which: “Leaders aim to ensure that all learners complete their programmes of study. They provide the support for staff to make this possible and do not allow gaming or off-rolling.”

Ofsted defines “off-rolling” as “the practice of removing a learner from the provider’s roll without a formal, permanent exclusion or by encouraging a parent to remove their child, when the removal is primarily in the interests of the provider rather than in the best interests of the learner.”

Off-rolling has hit the headlines due to increases in recent years in the number of pupils being permanently or temporarily excluded. And exclusion rates for certain children and some ages remain much higher – for example, more than half of permanent or fixed term exclusions happen in year 9 or above and boys are over three times more likely to receive a permanent exclusion.

Elsewhere, the new framework will extend on-site time for short inspections of good schools to two days, “to ensure inspectors have sufficient opportunity to gather evidence that a school remains good”.

Ms Spielman added: “The new quality of education judgement will look at how providers are deciding what to teach and why, how well they are doing it and whether it is leading to strong outcomes for young people. This will reward those who are ambitious and make sure that young people accumulate rich, well connected knowledge and develop strong skills using this knowledge.

“This is all about raising true standards. Nothing is more pernicious to these than a culture of curriculum narrowing and teaching to the test.”

Reacting to the consultation, the National Education Union (NEU)and National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), among others, voiced concerns about the reliability of judgements.

NEU joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “The uncomfortable truth for Ofsted is that the practices it deplores – the narrowing of the school curriculum and teaching to the test – have been the results of its own enforcement, through inspection, of a range of narrow measures to judge school quality. None of these narrow accountability measures are being abolished. Schools will still be measured on the percentage of their pupils following the EBacc, GCSE results, Progress 8 and Attainment 8.

“Added to these quantitative measures, Ofsted intends to make qualitative judgements on the curriculum. Ofsted’s own research shows that those HMI doing the trial inspections asked how they could make curriculum judgements in the time available for inspection. How complex, detailed, value-laden judgements will be made consistently across England’s 20,000 schools is the fundamental question – and one that Ofsted cannot answer.”

NAHT deputy general secretary Nick Brook added: “Some of the things Ofsted are now heavily criticising schools for are of their own creation. It would be wrong for Ofsted to present themselves as blameless, but it would be equally wrong for us to object too strongly to their attempts to put this right now.

“It is welcome that the chief inspector plans to end Ofsted’s obsession with data and instead focus inspectors on what is taught and why. But as so much of what is proposed is open to interpretation, schools may be left second guessing what they are supposed to do to be seen as successful.

“Not only that, there is a very real risk that subjective views of inspectors will lead to inconsistent judgements. This makes it difficult for parents who want to be confident that the information that they are using to make important decisions about their children’s future is fair and comparable.”

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