Schools prepare for January consultation over Ofsted plans

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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The chief inspector has set out plans for a proposed new ‘quality of education’ judgement, marking a shift in focus away from headline data and towards curriculum breadth and quality. A consultation is planned for launch in January. Pete Henshaw reports

Ofsted’s plan to focus less on raw exam results and more on “the substance of education and a broad curriculum” has been given a cautious welcome by the profession.

However, concerns remain about whether the inspectorate can deliver such a substantial change effectively and within the current timescale. Ofsted’s new Common Inspection Framework is due to come into effect in September 2019 and detailed plans will be published for consultation in January – just two terms before implementation.

Chief inspector Amanda Spielman set out the headline proposals in a speech to the SCHOOLS NorthEast Summit in Newcastle last week (see below). She signalled a move away from “headline data” and a new focus on “how schools are achieving these results and whether they are offering a curriculum that is broad, rich and deep, or simply teaching to the test”.

She set out four new inspection judgements, including plans to scrap “student outcomes” as a standalone judgement and introduce a “quality of education” judgement.

Common Inspection Framework: Ofsted’s proposals for September 2019

In her speech to the SCHOOLS NorthEast Summit, Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman confirmed that there will be four new inspection judgements, with a move away from headline data and more involvement for classroom teachers during inspection.
The new Common Inspection Framework will come into force from September 2019 and a draft is to be published for consultation in January. The proposals will see four core judgements:
• Quality of education.
• Personal development.
• Behaviour & attitudes.
• Leadership & management.
The big change is the plan to introduce the quality of education judgement to replace the current “outcomes for pupils” and “teaching, learning and assessment”. Ms Spielman said that the new judgement “should include curriculum alongside teaching, learning and assessment, and will also reflect outcomes”.
She continued: “Under quality of education, we intend to look at three distinct aspects. First the intent – what is it that schools want for all their children? Then the implementation – how is teaching and assessment fulfilling the intent? Finally, the impact – that is the results and wider outcomes that children achieve and the destinations that they go on to.
“At the same time, Ofsted will challenge those schools where too much time is spent on preparation for tests at the expense of teaching, where pupils’ choices are narrowed or where children are pushed into less rigorous qualifications mainly to boost league table positions.”
Ofsted also proposes splitting the current judgement of personal development, behaviour and welfare into two separate judgements. Ms Spielman added: “We believe that the tough business of behaviour and the attitudes pupils bring to learning and a school’s approach to things like attendance, bullying and exclusions are best considered separately from the question of pupils’ wider personal development, such as the opportunities they have to learn about being active, healthy and engaged citizens.”

Ms Spielman took over as chief inspector in January 2017, since when Ofsted has had a clear focus on the curriculum, including conducting in-depth research into the kinds of curriculum being delivered by schools. Ms Spielman has regularly voiced concern about the “depth and breadth of the curriculum being eroded” – especially the shortening of key stage 3 to focus on GCSE preparation.

Speaking in Newcastle last week she warned that schools which focus too much on exam results can end up damaging their curriculum.

She said: “For a long time, our inspections have looked hardest at outcomes, placing too much weight on test and exam results. The cumulative impact of performance tables and inspections, and the consequences that are hung on them, has increased the pressure on school leaders, teachers and indirectly on pupils to deliver perfect data above all else.

“We know that focusing too narrowly on test and exam results can often leave little time or energy for hard thinking about the curriculum, and in fact can sometimes end up making a casualty of it. We must make sure that we, as an inspectorate, complement rather than intensify performance data.”

Ms Spielman said that the new framework would “bring the inspection conversation back to the substance of young people’s learning”.

She also acknowledged that the current inspection model has contributed to excessive workload in some schools: “I am firmly of the view that a focus on substance will help to tackle excessive workload. It will move inspection more towards being a conversation about what actually happens in schools. Those who are bold and ambitious and run their schools with integrity will be rewarded as a result.”

The proposals have received welcome from education unions, although some concerns remain. Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers – who writes on the theme of accountability in SecEd this week (see page 2) – said: “What concerns us is that Ofsted’s new framework is due to be implemented in less than 12 months’ time and it has not left itself enough time to introduce change of the magnitude that’s being suggested. There’s a real risk that not all schools will understand it and not all inspectors will apply it consistently.”

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “While a change in focus is welcome, we remain acutely concerned about the ability of Ofsted to deliver this change. We will await further detail as to how Ofsted will find the time to inspect a school’s curriculum in a one or two-day visit. We question how inspectors can make a fair judgement on the curriculum in this timescale and with the very variable quality of Ofsted inspectors.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added: “(The changes have) the potential to liberate schools, teachers and pupils from the drudgery of data and give them greater confidence to focus on the important stuff of education – teaching, learning, knowledge and skills. Exams and tests will always play an important role but they have become too all-consuming in recent years, and we need a more balanced approach.

“There is still a long way to go. We have yet to see the detail of exactly how these new inspections will work in practice. But the direction of travel is the right one and will be widely supported by school leaders.”

Responding to the concerns about the timescale of delivery, Ms Spielman said she was confident that the new framework will be the “most researched, evidence-based and tested framework in Ofsted’s history”.

She also emphasised that the new framework would not result in an “Ofsted-approved approach” to the curriculum. She added: “Our curriculum research showed quite clearly that it’s possible to acknowledge a range of successful curricular approaches.”

  • For more on Ofsted’s thinking and research about the curriculum, see SecEd’s previous coverage at

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