More details emerge ahead of new inspection framework

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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Curriculum, data, behaviour, school gradings – Ofsted's chief inspector this week revealed more details of her vision for the new-look inspection framework, due to come into effect in September 2019. Pete Henshaw takes a look

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman has rejected a move to a system of school inspection where schools “pass or fail”, saying she is not convinced of the case for change.
It means that Ofsted’s new inspection framework, due to come in for September 2019, will keep the current system of grades.

Speaking at the Festival of Education at Wellington College in Berkshire last week, Ms Spielman also revealed that the new framework will have a “clearer focus” on pupil behaviour – probably with a new behaviour and attitudes judgement.

Another priority is how inspections can “complement rather than reinforce performance data”, she said. And she also pledged that Ofsted’s on-going curriculum review work will not lead to an “Ofsted-approved curriculum”. However, it will see school leaders being asked to justify their curriculum decisions, she warned.

She said: “My starting point for (the work on the new framework) is that we have a good education system. Almost 90 per cent of schools are rated good or outstanding. I want the new framework to reflect that level of performance, allowing improvement support to be mainly directed at where it is most needed.

She added: “We will be airing more concrete proposals for consultation on the framework shortly. I should point out that it will be an evolution not a revolution. Schools rightly expect stability, and policy-makers need a degree of comparability to make informed intervention and policy decisions.”

Pass or fail?

On proposals for a system of pass or fail, she said: “I know that there are some who would like Ofsted to abandon grades altogether or to move to a pass/fail model. For me, that is a decision which must squarely be decided on the basis of whether the current grading system meets our mission of being a force for improvement.

“We will keep this under regular review. But we’ve concluded, on balance, that it is right to maintain the current grading system in the new framework and that is the basis of the discussion I’m having with ministers now as we engage with them on the new framework as a whole.”

Ms Spielman said that evidence from teacher polling suggests that the profession prefers the four-point grading system and that a move to “pass/fail” would make the system even more high-stakes. She also said that parents prefer the clarity of the four grades.

She added: “When it comes to the outstanding grade in particular, a number of school leaders and others from the sector have persuasively lobbied me, and others, to keep it. Their argument is that by losing outstanding we’d send the wrong message about aspiration and excellence in the system. For these reasons I am not yet convinced of the case for change.”

Data and inspection

Ms Spielman set out to reassure school leaders on the relationship between inspection outcomes and school data.

She said: “A second area of framework development is one you’ve heard me talk about before. How do we make our inspections and reports complement, rather than reinforce performance data? It would be entirely perverse if there were no correlation between what we find about the quality of education on inspection and what the data says about a school’s performance. They are, one hopes, inextricably related. But inspection asks a different question. We want to know how schools are achieving a good education, not just what the results are.”

Ms Spielman argued that a comparison of inspection judgements with Progress 8 outcomes “does disprove the charge that data is all”. She added: “It shows the significant overlap between the Progress 8 scores of good, outstanding and requires improvement schools. In the new framework, we’re thinking about how we can go further in dispelling this myth, demonstrating through our judgements that we are just as interested in why and what schools are teaching, along with the outcomes.”

Behaviour

On behaviour, the chief inspector said that Ofsted is currently considering how the findings from the government-commissioned review into behaviour – carried out by Tom Bennett last year – can be “incorporated” into the new framework (Behaviour in schools: The common factors behind success and failure, SecEd, March 2017: http://bit.ly/2oUfvhN).

She said: “Pupil behaviour is the number one concern that parents raise with us: the first question they want answered in a report is ‘what is the behaviour like?’, ‘is the school a safe environment?’ and ‘will they be protected from bullying?’ We also know that behaviour is a primary driver of low morale in the profession. My position is that I want to see behaviour get the attention it deserves in our inspections, probably through a separate behaviour and attitudes judgement.

“And when I talk about behaviour, I’m not just talking about serious disruption or bullying, important as these are. I want us to look just as hard at low-level disruption, which stops pupils learning and which can make the job of classroom management miserable.

“I fundamentally disagree with those who say that taking a tough stance on behaviour is unfair to children. Quite the opposite, there is nothing kind about letting a few pupils spoil school for everyone else. That is why we expect heads to put in place strong policies that support their staff in tackling poor behaviour. And I think it’s entirely appropriate to use sanctions, such as writing lines, ‘community service’ in the school grounds, such as picking up litter, and school detentions. And where they are part of a school’s behaviour policy, they’ll have our full support.”

Curriculum

Ms Spielman also spoke about Ofsted’s on-going curriculum work. It has already conducted a review of the primary and secondary curriculum, and this spring carried out workshops with schools that have invested in curriculum development.

Ms Spielman explained: “We’re now in the third stage of the project. This involves testing out really broad range of indicators, to see what they might tell us about the quality of a school’s curriculum. Based on the results of that testing, through visits this summer, we will narrow down to a workable basket of curriculum indicators and shape the inspection practice and evidence collection methods that will sit alongside them.”

A key focus, she said, would be on early reading and the teaching of phonics in primary schools. She also said that this focus on curriculum will help to tackle “excessive and unsustainable workload”.

She added: “For me, a curricular focus moves inspection more towards being a conversation about what actually happens in the day-to-day life of schools. As opposed to school leaders feeling that they must justify their actions with endless progress and performance metrics. To that end, inspecting the curriculum will help to undo the ‘Pixlification’ of education in recent years, and make irrelevant the dreaded Mocksted consultants. Those who are bold and ambitious for their pupils will be rewarded as a result.

“I want to reassure you that there will not be an Ofsted-approved curriculum. Instead, we are interested in why you make the decisions, whether your decisions are translating into practice, and how you know they are having the intended effect. The starting point for many schools is the national curriculum. For those using academy freedoms to go beyond it, we’ll want to talk about what that looks like.

“There will be practices we will want you to justify in that conversation. We will want, for example, to know why you’ve shortened key stage 3, what has been lost as well as what has been gained, and whether that trade-off is really justified for all children. We will want you to tell us why you’re entering so many pupils for ECDL, or whatever new qualification has risen from the grave to replace it.

“Where there is settled evidence that a practice is bad, we won’t hesitate to point that out, but none of this is the same as an ideological preference. I cannot stress enough, what we want is a dialogue to understand your thinking and how you’re making sure that the curriculum gives every child a full, deep, rich education.”

The comments echo what delegates at SecEd’s Ninth National Pupil Premium and Ofsted Conference were told earlier this year.
Keynote speaker Peter Humphries – Ofsted’s senior HMI for schools in the West Midlands region – said the new framework would have a “real focus on the curriculum” and how well it meets the needs of disadvantaged groups.

He said: “(Ms Spielman) feels that schools are too focused on how the curriculum prepares children and young people for SATs and GCSEs. From a disadvantaged pupil’s point of view, if all you get is teaching to the test and a focus on examinations, you can see how that might affect you and disengage you.”

He added: “School leaders will have to make clear the intent of the curriculum, the implementation of the curriculum and the impact – for different groups. Be assured that if you are bold and courageous to adapt your curriculum and do exciting things you will get credit for it.” (Be ‘bold and courageous’ with your curriculum, SecEd, April 2018: http://bit.ly/2KhTSiG).


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