Ofsted publishes final EIF and offers schools a grace period for curriculum reviews

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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More in-depth pre-inspection phone calls, a phasing in of the curriculum intent grade descriptor and a focus on reducing unnecessary workload. Just 22 days after the consultation over Ofsted’s new inspection framework closed, the final documents have been published, with implementation due for September. Pete Henshaw reports

Ofsted is moving ahead with its plans to refocus school inspections on the quality of the curriculum, but has confirmed it will give schools a grace period to review their offering for students.

The final version of the new Education Inspection Framework (EIF) was published by Ofsted on Tuesday (May 14) after a three-month consultation.

It confirms that from September Ofsted will introduce its planned four inspection judgements: quality of education, behaviour and attitudes, personal development, and leadership and management.

Under the quality of education judgement, inspectors are to look at the “intent, implementation and impact” of a school’s curriculum and will in particular be looking for schools that shun practices of teaching to the test and instead offer a “broad and rich” curriculum.

Among the practices it wants to stamp out, Ofsted has seen some schools where pupils are “being forced to pick exam subjects a year or more early, meaning many lose out on the arts, languages and music” and where at GCSE “pupils are being pushed away from studying EBacc subjects such as history, geography, French and German, and towards qualifications deemed to be ‘easier’”.

An Ofsted statement on Tuesday said: “Ofsted inspectors will spend less time looking at exam results and test data, and more time considering how a nursery, school, college or other education provider has achieved their results. That is, whether they are the outcome of a broad, rich curriculum and real learning, or of teaching to the test and exam cramming.

“Schools will be empowered to always put the child first and be actively discouraged from negative practices, such as ‘off-rolling’, where schools remove pupils in their own best interests, rather than that of the pupils. Such schools are likely to find their ‘leadership and management’ judged inadequate under the new framework.”

The changes follow a three-month public consultation, which prompted more than 15,000 responses – the highest number Ofsted has ever received. Plans for a quality of education judgement were supported by three-quarters of the respondents.

However, Ofsted has acknowledged respondents’ concerns about the timescale for schools looking to review their curriculum in light of Ofsted’s new approach. As such, it has said that inspectors’ use of the “intent” grade descriptors will be “phased in”.

The consultation findings stated: “We are clear that education providers do not need to do specific work to prepare for the EIF. The new framework and the quality of education judgement are intended to respond to what we found through carrying out research on the curriculum. Our findings showed that, in recent times, the curriculum has too often come second to achieving test and examination results at the expense of all else. For this reason, we recognise that the shift in focus may mean that some providers want to review their curriculum.

“We recognise that this takes time and careful consideration. This is why we plan to phase in how we use the ‘intent’ grade descriptors in the ‘quality of education’ judgement.

“While we are phasing it in, the judgement will not be negatively affected if it is clear to an inspector that leaders have a plan for updating the curriculum and are taking genuine action to do so. We will review this transitional phase in the summer of 2020.”

Three-quarters of respondents to the consultation also supported plans to introduce two new judgements, evaluating learners’ “behaviour and attitudes” separately from their “personal development”.

Ofsted said: “The ‘behaviour and attitudes’ judgement will assess whether leaders are creating a calm and orderly environment, where bullying is tackled effectively by leaders when it occurs. While the ‘personal development’ judgement will recognise the work early years providers, schools and colleges do to build young people’s resilience and confidence in later life, including through participation in sport, music and extra-curricular activities.”

Plans for “pre-inspection visits” on site in schools a day before the actual inspection have been dropped by Ofsted after opposition. Under the proposals, schools would receive a phone call at around 10am to notify them that the lead inspector will arrive on-site no earlier than 12:30pm.

Instead Ofsted has said it will enhance inspectors’ off-site preparation: “The piloting we have carried out of new inspection arrangements has convinced us that we can enhance the way that inspectors prepare for inspection.

“All preparation will be carried out off-site and notice of inspection will remain at half a day. However, inspectors will increase considerably the amount of time they spend speaking to leaders about the education provided by the school during the normal pre-inspection telephone call.”

School leaders have cautiously welcomed the plans for a grace period for curriculum review but are still worried about the burden of the inspection changes.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We are pleased that Ofsted has indicated that it will give schools time to make changes to the curriculum without being negatively judged. However, we are not convinced that its intention to review this transitional phase in the summer of 2020 is long enough to make and embed changes to the curriculum, and we think this period may need to be extended.

“Ofsted’s new approach to school inspections is a step in the right direction, but it is not a panacea for all the problems with the inspection system and there is plenty more work to do in the future. In particular, it cannot be fair or sensible to continue with the blunt instrument of graded judgements which stigmatise schools with the greatest challenges, making it harder for them to recruit teachers and leaders and to secure sustainable improvement.”

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), meanwhile, is worried that judging the wide range of curriculum approaches in schools is an “impossible task”.

Deputy general secretary Nick brook said: “It is right that Ofsted looks at the ‘quality of education’ on offer in schools – one would not expect them to look at anything else. But Ofsted has given its inspectors an impossible task to perform.”

He added: “Only 22 days have passed since the consultation period ended, so we are extremely concerned that Ofsted has not processed all 15,000 responses thoroughly enough, and that as a result, many important views have been missed or ignored.”

The EIF also includes a clear focus on staff workload and wellbeing, with leaders expected to ensure that assessment practices, or the way resources and learning materials are created, for example, do not create “unnecessary burdens” for staff.

Under the leadership and management judgement, leaders are expected to “engage with their staff and (be) aware and take account of the main pressures on them – they are realistic and constructive in the way that they manage staff, including their workload”. Inspections will look for “the extent to which leaders take into account the workload and wellbeing of their staff”.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, welcomed this focus: “The NASUWT has always been clear that poor working conditions and a disregard for the wellbeing of staff are not only bad for teachers but also undermine the quality of educational provision. It is, therefore, right that no school will be identified as outstanding unless it can demonstrate that it takes these matters seriously.”

Elsewhere in the EIF, plans to extend Section 8 inspections of good and non-exempt outstanding schools to two days will go ahead and will focus particular on the quality of education judgement and safeguarding. However, Ofsted has said that for small schools, these inspections will remain at one day.

Ofsted has already confirmed that it is to keep the four-point grading system of outstanding, good, requires improvement and inadequate. Meanwhile, it has said that inspection reports are to be “redesigned and shortened” to help parents get the “information they need to know about a school and a sense of how it feels to be a pupil there”.

Chief inspector Amanda Spielman said: “The new framework puts the real substance of education at the heart of inspection and supports leaders and teachers who act with integrity. We hope early years, schools and college leaders will no longer feel the need to generate and analyse masses of internal data for inspection. Instead, we want them to spend their time teaching and making a real difference to children’s lives, which is why they entered the profession in the first place.”

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