Ofsted call their new inspection framework an evolution not a revolution. They have developed it based not only on their 26 years of inspection experience, but on extensive research, over 250 pilot inspections and the responses to a consultation from over 15,000 people and organisations.
The Royal Society itself submitted an extensive response based on the views of policymakers, its Education Committee and teachers from the Royal Society Schools Network.
The new framework was initiated following recognition that an accountability system that is over-dependent on performance data is a barrier to further improvement. It can, and frequently does, divert schools from the real substance of education. In some schools, curriculums have been narrowed and a culture of teaching to the test has trumped real learning. This has the greatest negative effect on the most disadvantaged children. And in turn, it has affected workloads. Far too much time, work and energy has been spent on preparing everything that Ofsted might possibly expect to see. But inspection needs to capture the things that data can’t.
When implementing changes to the framework, Ofsted considered the interests of children first and foremost, their parents, and of course of schools and the wider education sector. And that order – children first, parents, providers – is important. It reminds us not only why Ofsted exists, but of the many purposes that inspections must serve.
Will teachers view the arrival of inspectors with any less trepidation? Time will tell. Ofsted knows that a cultural change will only occur as teachers develop more confidence in school inspections.
So what are the changes that teachers can expect to see?
The new quality of education judgement will put the real substance of education, the curriculum, at the heart of inspection. Inspectors will still look at teaching, assessment, attainment and progress but these considerations will contribute to a single quality of education judgement, viewed in the context of a school’s curriculum.
Ofsted remains very interested in children and learners’ wider personal development, including the attitudes and behaviours they bring to the classroom. Schools’ and providers’ leadership and management will remain a key area of consideration.
Inspectors will have a connected, educationally-focused conversation, and propose to take a holistic approach to considering the quality of education rather than artificially separating the leadership of the curriculum from teaching, and separating teaching and the use of assessment from the impact this has on the outcomes that learners achieve. This will de-intensify the inspection focus on performance data and place more emphasis on the substance of education and what matters most to learners and practitioners.
What if schools are in the process of changing the school’s curriculum?
There isn’t an ‘Ofsted curriculum’ and schools taking different approaches to the curriculum will be judged fairly. The inspectorate recognises the importance of schools’ autonomy to choose their own curriculum approaches. If leaders are able to show that they have thought carefully, that they have built a curriculum with appropriate coverage, content, structure and sequencing and are able to show that it has been implemented effectively, then inspectors will assess a school’s curriculum favourably. There will also be a transition period – for most schools, curriculum development is a dynamic process. Some schools are further down the road than others and Ofsted knows this.
Should schools get advice from a consultant or buy in specific products?
Absolutely not. The quality of education is about schools and trusts thinking about the curriculum carefully for themselves, though the national curriculum will do much of the heavy lifting. Leaders from across the country have been reporting that their inboxes are full of offers from consultants promising to take them through the new Ofsted education inspection framework (EIF). This was even before the public consultation began on the proposed new framework!
Some of this training or consultancy work has been about improving results in the shortest possible time. The new framework moves away from data-driven accountability, which can distort children’s long-term learning.
Forming a view of the quality of education.
The main focus of inspection will be on the education pupils are actually receiving day-by-day in classes, rather than being about the ambitions or intentions of senior leaders. Inspectors will want to see the ‘action taken’. This is the core of the ‘deep dive’ approach. Its aim is to allow inspectors to gather the evidence necessary to form an accurate evaluation of how education flows from intention to implementation to impact within a school. Without this, it would be impossible to form a valid judgement of the quality of the education that a school provides.
What will be included in a deep dive?
The deep dive includes the following elements:
- Evaluation of senior leaders’ intent for the curriculum in this subject or area, and their understanding of its implementation and impact.
- Evaluation of curriculum leaders’ long- and medium-term thinking and planning, including the rationale for content choices and curriculum sequencing.
- Visits to a deliberately and explicitly connected sample of lessons.
- Work scrutiny of books or other kinds of work produced by pupils who are part of classes that have also been (or will also be) observed by inspectors. This sample should be for at least two year groups in the same subject, topic or theme. Where possible, this work scrutiny is conducted jointly with teachers or senior leaders.
- Discussion with teachers to understand how the curriculum informs their choices about content and sequencing to support effective learning.
- Discussions with a group of pupils from the lessons observed.
If you are interested in reading more about this, Ofsted have published a note, inspecting the curriculum, that sets out how this will work in full.
Inspectors will not look at non-statutory internal progress and attainment data
Ofsted have recognised that school leaders draw on a variety of sources when considering pupil performance, including internal assessment information, and that’s fine. Inspectors will consider what actions schools have taken in response to whatever internal assessment information they have. They’ll review the impact of those actions without reviewing the assessment information itself.
Have you had a new inspection?
Inspectors know it may take time to convince teachers that the new framework is intended to be supportive and recognise their professionalism in providing good quality education for all students. There is some scepticism about whether the new inspections will ‘feel’ any different.
Teachers listen to other teachers and as more schools start to experience these new inspections we should see a shift in the way Ofsted is perceived. We are keen to hear from any schools who have had an inspection since September 2019 to share their experiences.