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Our Letter to Ofsted and the Inspectorate’s Response

In June 2019, Headteachers’ Roundtable and WorthLess? submitted a joint letter to Amanda Spielman HMCI with a series of questions crowd sourced from thousands of headteachers and school leaders..

The response, made on her behalf, by Sean Harford HMI is below:

Thank you for your letter of 6 June 2019 to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman. I have been asked to respond in my capacity as National Director, Education.

Ofsted is pleased that your groups welcome our new emphasis on the curriculum. You ask a number of important questions, and I have taken the time to answer them point-by-point below. Some of your questions are about Ofsted’s ability to deliver inspection effectively under the new framework, and others call into question Ofsted’s overall approach. Let me therefore start by saying that the new education inspection framework is the framework most firmly grounded in research and inspection evidence that Ofsted has ever produced.

Over the past two years, while developing the framework, we have considered carefully the questions you raise, and I am confident that its main impact will be to focus minds on the real substance of education, the curriculum. In doing so, I believe that the new inspection framework will be a force for improvement in England’s schools.

I will now respond to your concerns in the order in which you have raised them.

Does the inspectorate believe that there is any connection between a schools funding levels and its capacity to offer high quality education provision? With each report, will Ofsted publish the per pupil funding received by an individual school and set it against other relevant contextual information?

 Our research, published last October, found that while there is some limited evidence that funding can have an impact on outcomes, it is not conclusive and what seems to matter more is how money is spent.

Our focus on the impact of the curriculum will make it easier to recognise and reward good work done by schools in areas of high disadvantage. Analysing school funding in each and every school inspection report is not within our gift.

Does Ofsted’s recent review of school funding identify the severe and hugely variable financial constraints schools are operating under? If it does, what will be the advice issued to inspectors and the mechanism used to ensure schools facing financial constraints are fairly and accurately judged?

Our research found that:

‘Overall funding for schools has significantly increased over the last 20 years. The percentage of GDP spent on UK schools by government has risen from 2.8% in 2000 to 3.8% in 2015’


‘Schools are facing increasing pressures on their budgets, both from inflation and higher pupil numbers, which has largely been paid for through increasing funding, but also from other pressures that have not.’

It is, therefore, a complex picture. Our focus, as stated above, is the curriculum and more broadly the quality of education; we will look at how the school uses its resources to ensure its pupils receive the benefits of an effective curriculum.

If headteachers were unable to offer the curriculum breadth that may arise due to a lack of funding or a lack of specialist teachers in areas such as Computer Science, Maths and English, would they be penalised during an inspection?

As set out in the new ‘School inspection handbook’ which will come into effect from September 2019, inspectors will give school leaders the opportunity to explain their school’ specific context and challenges. They will view, and make their judgement about, the school’s performance in this context. For example, inspectors will consider whether the curriculum reflects the school’s local context by addressing typical gaps in pupils’ knowledge and skills.

We will, however, expect every school to offer a broad and rich curriculum, using the national curriculum as a benchmark. Maintained schools are required to offer the national curriculum by law; academies are required to offer a curriculum of equal or greater breadth and ambition. Ofsted works on behalf of parents and pupils, and this means that the same high expectations will underpin our inspection of the quality of education in all schools.

The continued retention of grades is deeply problematic. If Ofsted wishes to enter into a dialogue with the profession, is it prepared to release all evidence on which judgements will be made, unredacted and in real time, during the inspection process?

Ofsted has recently published a report that sets out the arguments and evidence for keeping Ofsted’s existing 4-point grading system.

Due to data protection considerations, we will not release all the evidence collected during an inspection visit. The lead inspector is responsible for writing the inspection report and submitting the evidence to Ofsted shortly after the inspection ends. The text of the report will explain the judgements and reflect the evidence. The evidence base for the inspection will be retained in line with Ofsted’s retention and disposal policy.

Given the Russell Group’s call for the EBacc to be reconsidered and its new Informed Choices website, will Ofsted now remove all references to the EBacc qualifications and targets from its framework?

In secondary schools, we regard the EBacc subjects as the. academic foundation of a broad, rich curriculum. It is important that pupils do not miss out on the opportunity to study EBacc subjects. Inspectors will therefore continue to ask school leaders during inspection whether they are aware of the EBacc ambition and what they are doing to work towards it. It is Government policy to encourage schools to enter their pupils for the subjects making up the EBacc at GCSE level. This ambition has been set out by the Department for Education (DfE).

The DfE has been clear publicly that the EBacc is a national ambition rather than a target for individual schools. We share this understanding; therefore, we have amended the maintained schools and academies handbook to reflect this.

As an independent body, why is Ofsted drawing on the DfE’s definition of cultural capital?

Our definition of cultural capital is consistent with the national curriculum but is drawn from our own research and inspection work. It is in line with Ofsted’s renewed focus on the curriculum.

Cultural capital is the essential knowledge that pupils need to be educated citizens, introducing them to the best that has been thought and said and helping to engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement. It is about how well the curriculum that a provider uses or creates, enhances the experiences and opportunities available to children, particularly the most disadvantaged.

Why is there no requirement for the curriculum at KS3 to be balanced? When requiring the KS3 curriculum to be ‘broad and rich’ what does ‘rich’ mean in curriculum terms; where is there a published objective definition of the term that can be assessed on a scale of 1 (outstanding) to 4 (inadequate)?

The School inspection handbook sets out that inspectors will expect to see a broad, rich curriculum at all levels of secondary education. In fact, inspectors will be particularly alert to signs of narrowing in the key stage 3 curriculum. If a school has shortened key stage 3, inspectors will look to see that the school has made provision to ensure that pupils still have the opportunity to study a broad range of subjects, commensurate with the national curriculum, in years 7 to 9. Our handbook sets out clearly what we would expect to see in an outstanding school, a good school and what would lead us to judge a school inadequate. The EIF does not set out to grade the curriculum itself on a 1 to 4 scale.

What evidence and assurances can school leaders be given that the behaviour judgement will not be flawed due to a lack of reliability in evidence collected, involving a limited number of conversations; over a very limited time period {30 hours); at one point in a school year?

The ‘Behaviour and attitudes’ judgement considers how leaders and staff create a safe, calm, orderly and positive environment in the school and the impact this has on the behaviour and attitudes of pupils. The judgement focuses on the factors that research and inspection evidence indicates contribute most strongly to pupils’ positive behaviour and attitudes, thereby giving them the greatest possible opportunity to achieve positive outcomes.

Our evidence for the importance of each of these factors comes from our inspection experience, areas of agreement in academic research and our own research. A full note of how the criteria relate to the available research can be found in our research commentary.

Inspection will last two days in all but the smallest schools, and our experience over many years tells us that this is sufficient time to draw valid conclusions about behaviour in a school. Inspectors will carry out an agreed set of evidence-gathering activities to enable this. The sources of evidence that inspectors will use in relation to pupils’ behaviour and attitudes are set out in paragraphs 206-210 of the school inspection handbook.

As schools are going to be judged on the destinations that their students gain at the end of their school journey, will the absence of external careers support be taken into account?

Ofsted inspects the education provided by schools, and in schools rather than externally. Within the ‘Personal development’ judgement, inspectors will look at whether a school provides an effective careers programme in line with the government’s statutory guidance on careers advice.

How will Ofsted judge the ability and capacity of schools to deliver safeguarding matters if their school is located in a LA where children’s services are judged to be inadequate or RI? How will Ofsted contextualise these circumstances for those schools?

As part of their preparation for inspection, inspectors will read the most recent inspection report on the relevant local authority’s children’s services. They will therefore understand the local context when they inspect. Moreover, schools will have the opportunity to explain their specific context and challenges, and inspectors will make their judgement considering these contextual circumstances. Nevertheless, all schools should have a culture of safeguarding that is independent of the grade of local children’s services.

Inspectors will always make a written judgement under ‘Leadership and management’ in the report about whether the arrangements for safeguarding children and pupils are effective within the school. Inspectors will consider what safeguarding checks leaders have made and continue to make sure that the provision is a safe place for their pupils to attend.

Against a background of severe LA funding cuts and variable funding for SEND issues, how will Ofsted judge provision for children with high needs and special education needs in a consistent way across 154 LAs and boroughs?

The framework is intended to be a force for improvement for all children and young people. The framework and remit-specific criteria are clear that the expectation is that all learners will receive a high-quality, ambitious education. Our ambition is particularly high for pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND). The criteria for a good quality of education set out our expectation that:

– the curriculum is successfully adapted, designed or developed to be ambitious and meet the needs of pupils with SEND, developing their knowledge, skills and abilities to apply what they know and can do with increasing fluency and independence; and

– pupils with SEND achieve the best possible outcomes.

Contextual information gathered by inspectors will be considered when making a judgement about whether the school has a curriculum that is ambitious and designed to give all learners the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life, particularly the most disadvantaged and those with SEND or high needs.

How will the inspectorate ensure that schools who have disproportionately high number of pupils with SEND or disadvantaged backgrounds will be fairly and accurately judged?

The new ‘Quality of education’ judgement will make it easier for Ofsted to recognise and reward the good work done by schools in areas of high disadvantage, or with disproportionate numbers of pupils with SEND, by tackling the perverse incentives that we know can undermine schools.

Rebalancing inspection so that it complements performance tables – rather than intensifying pressure on them – means we can really look at how schools achieve their outcomes. Good results should flow from strong education for all children. This will empower schools to put children first always and actively discourage negative practices like ‘off-rolling’, teaching to the test, and narrowing the curriculum.

Our curriculum research highlighted examples of schools that were doing excellent work despite challenges. These schools did not put disadvantaged pupils onto a stripped-back curriculum. Instead, most of them made strong links between reading and curriculum access and enriched their schools’ quality of education with well-planned activities, tightly linked to their curriculum. However, our research also found that, in a few schools, the local context appeared to lead to low expectations about what leaders believed their pupils could achieve. It resulted in narrowing the curriculum, which is not in the best interests of children.



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