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Ofsted’s New Framework and Why It Won’t Work

Amanda Spielman HMCI delivered a speech to the SCHOOLS NorthEast summit which expanded on the forthcoming new Inspection Framework.  Whilst there is actually much to be commended about what is being proposed; they are mainly school matters and will be damaged by high stakes, cliff edged inspections.  It is on this fundamental basis that they will fail to achieve what is being claimed.  

As you read the proposals below, for the new inspection process , it is worth remembering that these will happen during a one or two day visit every four years; that’s how inspection works.  Inspectors spending extra time on site will be minimal; that’s assuming Ofsted’s budget isn’t further cut and it can actually retain its inspectors.  Add in Safeguarding and the time is squeezed even more.

In the speech, there was much talk of conversations with teachers as well as leaders but these will inevitably be limited with cliff edge judgments made on questionable evidence.    It is always best to be honest; when I heard in June 2018, Ofsted would be retaining its four point grading process I knew the whole much lauded venture would be doomed; conversations are part of a narrative not a scoring system.

A new Quality of Education judgement will subsume the current quality of teaching, learning & assessment and outcomes judgments and be extended to include curriculum

The curriculum element has already been widely signalled with a three stage process: intent – what is it that schools want for all their children?  Implementationhow is teaching and assessment fulfilling the intent?  Impactresults and wider outcomes that children achieve and their destinations.

Grading the intent, implementation and impact of the curriculum is hugely problematic in terms of reliability unless you focus on the impact (results element).  The better alternative is to lose the grading system and instead develop a narrative based report.  This could add to the development of the curriculum as part of an on-going low stakes continuous improvement process predominantly owned by the school.

The flaw in thinking is the retention of the two distinct elements of inspection: “as a simple means to gather the necessary information to make a judgement about a school” and “as a means to help schools to do their job to the very best of their capabilities”.  Teachers know formative and summative elements of assessment don’t work well together; the grading always trumps the feedback.

A further issue is that the preferred Ofsted curriculum will emerge through the inspection schedule, inspection reports and beliefs of school leaders and teachers.  The next HMCI may well be faced with the curriculum equivalent of the Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted has no preferred teaching style. The E-Bacc is already topping the list of Ofsted requirements.

The current personal development, behaviour and welfare judgement will be split into two separate judgements: behaviour & attitudes and a separate personal development judgement

The behaviour and welfare judgement will focus on the “tough business” of behaviour and the attitudes pupils bring to learning plus attendance, bullying and exclusions.  Whereas the personal development judgement will look at opportunities pupils have “to learn about being active, healthy and engaged citizens”.

The Leadership & Management Judgement will Remain

Interestingly, without any apology for the havoc reeked by Ofsted on schools serving the most disadvantaged communities, particularly white working class, we are being told how the new inspection framework will be “particularly helpful for schools and colleges and other providers that serve more disadvantaged areas”.

There was nothing in terms of substance to support the assertion; “shifting our (Ofsted’s) focus away from outcomes in isolation, we should empower schools to put the child first and make teaching in high disadvantage schools even more rewarding” alongside “that doesn’t mean there will be no link between what we find about the quality of education, and what the published data says. They are, one hopes, somewhat correlated.”  It left me thinking there is a deep knowledge and understanding vacuum in Ofsted about the reality of serving disadvantaged communities.

Ofsted’s senior leaders are on record about how standards, based on examination results, will equally apply to all pupils.  Schools working in disadvantaged areas have a massively high bar to get over whereas those in more advantaged areas have limited challenge.  This makes the suggestion about how disadvantaged areas will benefit from the new inspection framework unrealistic or will we see senior leaders at Ofsted fundamentally rethinking their views on contextualisation.

Workload featured heavily, in the speech, as did recruitment and retention of teachers.  Some of the claims about how the new framework would address these problems seemed more wishful thinking than realistic solutions to the difficulties the profession is facing,“With teacher workload and retention such pressing issues, I am firmly of the view that a focus on substance will help to tackle excessive workload.”

Something Much More Radical is Required

There was much talk about the problems caused by the current inspection framework but little realisation that each framework brings its own problems; this one will be no different.  Some of us have been through multiple framework iterations as Ofsted continually reinvents itself.

A blank piece of paper to fundamentally think whether and what a regulator can contribute to the school improvement process is now required.  It will need an independent and far reaching piece of work.  Only then will we really address the issues of workload, retention and recruitment of teachers and raising the standards of education across the country.



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