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Ofsted’s Draft Inspection Framework: Coronation or Consultation? #EIF2019

Ofsted has apparently already received 1000s of responses from Headteachers on the draft Education Inspection Framework.  As with most consultations, I’ve seen over the years, questions are written and presented in such a way as to maximise the number of “agree” or “strongly agree” responses.  The organisation can then state, post consultation, that 80% or 90% or whatever the figure is endorses what they are doing.  In essence, what is often sought is a confirmation and coronation rather than a far reaching consultation and debate.

It’s fascinating to compare the response to Ofsted’s Inspection Framework with the Department for Education’s Retention & Recruitment strategy.  The latter involved extensive, wide ranging discussions and the “signing off” of the strategy by many mainstream education players – teachers’ and leaders’ unions/professional associations, the Education Endowment Foundation, the Chartered College of Teaching, National Governors Association – the Inspection Framework had no such endorsements.  If one professional association had taken a different approach, aligned with the other professional associations and unions, then the draft Inspection Framework may well already be being re-written.

Photo Credit: Tim Green via Flickr

Here are some of the main questions in Ofsted’s consultation:

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposal to introduce a ‘quality of education’ judgement?

What’s not to like?  Surely the Quality of Education, like a mother’s love and apple pie, is just a good thing.  Well it depends how you define it; the detail is critically important.  The amorphous idea of curriculum intent, implementation and impact is open to so many subjective opinions by inspectors that whether “leaders adopt or construct a curriculum that is ambitious and designed to give all pupils … the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life” will be difficult to determine.  The age old debate over what succeeding in life may mean or look like added to what “knowledge and cultural capital” all pupils need will not be discernible – with any reliability or validity – on a four point grading system.  This grading obsession is the on-going and biggest issue for me.

The practical and philosophical problems continue with the stipulation, to be a good school you must aim “to have the EBacc at the heart of its curriculum”.  We’ve gone from judging the school’s curriculum to an Ofsted preferred curriculum at Key Stage 4; that is, a curriculum template for schools to follow unthinkingly.  Here is a great thread on the E-Bacc and how it came to be by Laura McInerney; it’s anything but educational or about social mobility.  For primary schools the same subject based approach to the curriculum seen in secondary schools is now the order of the day.

On this basis, it’s a strongly disagree for me.  It’s a shame in some ways as the curriculum matters hugely; far too much to be ceded to a cliff edged high stakes accountability process.  Get rid of the grading; get rid of the EBacc and then we can start to have a sensible conversation.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposed separation of inspection judgements about learners’ personal development and learners’ behaviour and attitudes?

There’s a part of me that just wants me to shrug my shoulders and give a *whatever*. The rationale for the change is weak and so I tend to think an organisation should stick with the status quo; change needs a more convincing reason.  For example, given the grade descriptors, personal development could just as easily be placed in the “Quality of Education” section.  And then there’s the problem of grading these aspects; with some seemingly arguable judgements by inspectors relating to individual schools/trusts already coming to light around “cohort change”I’d tend to press “disagree”; case not made.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposed focus of section 8 inspections of good schools and non-exempt outstanding schools and the proposal to increase the length of these inspections from the current one day to two days?

This is an absolute “strongly disagree”; I’ve seen nothing that would convince me that two days of an unreliable grading process is better than one day of an unreliable grading process.  I’m amazed that this is even in the proposals given the current financial pressures Ofsted is under; it’s a no to increasing their budget; any extra money is needed by schools.  It’s a move in the wrong direction.

Given the 80% of secondary schools that are good or better and 90% of primaries we should be moving in the other direction.  How about if a school is graded good by Ofsted on two consecutive occasions it is exempt from further inspection unless a transparent, reliable and valid risk assessment process determines otherwise.

To do this we need to move Safeguarding from an inspection process to its rightful place as part of an audit and improve process.  As ever the really big questions that needed to be asked about inspection don’t appear in the consultation.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposed introduction of on-site preparation for all section 5 inspections, and for section 8 inspections of good schools, on the afternoon prior to the inspection?

This is another totally and “strongly disagree”.  This is a no notice inspection process however Ofsted try to dress it up.  I think it was Nick Brook (NAHT Deputy General Secretary) who said “If it looks like a duck, waddles and quacks then it’s a duck”.

The detail is an 11:00 am call to the school with the inspector being there at 1:00 pm and expecting the headteacher to be also.  I’m caught between the fury of this is Ofsted showing their total contempt for school leaders or the more conciliatory, “They just don’t understand what the job entails”.

If Ofsted really thinks extending inspection to two and a half days is affordable and desirable, from their point of view; why not phone the day before and say the first half day of the inspection will be tomorrow afternoon and we can put the various administrative arrangements in place then?  Why the same day; it’s totally unnecessary and very disruptive?

To what extent do you agree or disagree with our proposal not to look at non-statutory internal progress and attainment data and our reasons why?

When asked like that you’d be itching to press the “strongly agree” button.  Except and here’s the big except; what is it being replaced with?  Work scrutiny, that’s book looks, and you suddenly think, “you’re having a laugh”.  If learning is about changes to long term memory and most work in books is contemporaneous then there is a mismatch.  If it is to look at the structure and sequencing of the curriculum then schemes of learning might be a better proxy.  Either way, the reliability and validity of non-specialist in subject or phase looking at curriculum is beyond problematic; the massive increase in workload for teachers and leaders making sure books are Ofsted ready; it’s frankly bonkers.  On balance I’d probably go for disagree.

These are my initial thoughts; I’ll be responding as an individual but then also working with members of Headteachers’ Roundtable to formulate a group response which we will also submit.

The HTRT Summit 2019 is at the ICC, Birmingham on the 29th March 2019. More details here; please join us. Working together we can thrive.

Please give your response a great deal of thought – particularly to what extent you agree or disagree as the text submitted will be too voluminous to report fully and without bias – the consultation is available here.  Deadline is the 5th April 2019.



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