Ofsted inspections to focus on 'quality of education' over performance data

By Gabriella Jozwiak

| 15 January 2019

Early years and school settings are set to be judged on the quality of education they provide rather than performance data, if a proposed overhaul by Ofsted goes ahead.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted's chief inspector, says the proposed inspection criteria would represent "substance and integrity"

The education watchdog has published proposals to change the way it inspects early years settings, schools and further education and skills providers.

This includes introducing a "quality of education" judgment, and lowering the emphasis on schools' internal performance data as inspection evidence.

Ofsted is consulting on the proposals, which also sets out plans to introduce separate judgments about learners' "personal development".

These would recognise how education settings build young people's resilience and confidence through activities such as cadet forces, the National Citizenship Service, sports, drama or debating teams.

A new "behaviour and attitudes" judgment will assess whether schools are creating a calm, well-managed environment free from bullying.

These judgments will continue to be graded on the current four-point scale of "outstanding", "good", "requires improvement" or "inadequate", with the overall effectiveness judgment of a setting also remaining.

Ofsted will also carry on awarding a grade for "leadership and management", which will include looking at how leaders develop teachers and staff, while considering their workload and wellbeing.

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman, said the new inspection criteria would represent "substance and integrity".

"Substance" related to exposing "all children and young people" to the "best that has been thought and said", so that they could "achieve highly" and would be "set up to succeed".

"Integrity" would ensure "every child and young person is treated as an individual with potential to be unlocked".

Staff would be treated "as experts in their subject or field, not just as data gatherers and process managers".

Spielman added: "The new quality of education judgment will look at how providers are deciding what to teach and why, how well they are doing it and whether it is leading to strong outcomes for young people.

"This will reward those who are ambitious and make sure that young people accumulate rich, well-connected knowledge and develop strong skills using this knowledge. 

"This is all about raising true standards. Nothing is more pernicious to these than a culture of curriculum narrowing and teaching to the test."

Ofsted said the changes to the framework were needed because some schools were offering less variety in their curriculum in order to boost performance in league tables.

Such approaches included primary schools that made children repeat reading comprehension tests rather than reading a wide selection of books.

And secondary schools that forced pupils to choose exam subjects a year early, meaning children missed out on studying arts, languages and music.

Ofsted said it had found cases of pupils are being pushed away from studying EBacc subjects such as history, geography, French and German, in place of qualifications deemed to be "easier".

While in early education, Ofsted said early years practitioners were feeling under pressure to produce copious documentation about children's development, rather than having time to read or play with them.

Ofsted intends the new framework to also end the practice of "off-rolling", where schools find ways to manage-out more challenging pupils.

National Association of Head Teachers deputy general secretary Nick Brook said the proposals would cause widespread concern among school leaders.

"There's nothing here that will reduce stress and increase the reliability of judgments, which many say is sorely needed," he said.

"This is not the game-changer that many have hoped for and some had predicted."

Brook said he welcomed plans to end Ofsted's focus on data, but warned that the proposals were open to interpretation and could lead to subjective views from inspectors and inconsistent judgments.

"Schools may be left second guessing what they are supposed to do to be seen as successful," he said.

Brook suggested Ofsted needed to instead focus school inspections on how much progress pupils made, regardless of their circumstances. 

"A child's background, or family or postcode should not make a difference," he said. 

"We know that pupils who need the most help to succeed, get more from experienced and highly skilled professionals.

"But it is a fact that teachers and leaders are put off teaching in schools serving disadvantaged communities because they simply do not believe that they will be treated fairly by the inspectorate.

"Despite the desire of the chief inspector to address this we see little to suggest that these proposals go far enough to remove the disincentive to work in the most challenging schools." 

National Education Union joint general secretary Mary Bousted was equally concerned about the plans, saying her organisation was "deeply sceptical" if Ofsted would realise its ambitions.

"Schools will still be measured on the percentage of their pupils following the EBacc, GCSE results, progress 8 and attainment 8," she said. 

"Added to these quantitative measures, Ofsted intends to make qualitative judgments on the curriculum.

"Ofsted's own research shows that those HMI doing the trial inspections asked how they could make curriculum judgments in the time available for inspection.

"How complex, detailed, value-laden judgments will be made consistently across England's 20,000 schools is the fundamental question - and one that Ofsted cannot answer."

But Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years chief executive Liz Bayram said the proposals were a "welcome improvement".

"Childminders, nurseries and pre-schools should be heartened by Ofsted's commitment to reduce workload and place greater focus on how practitioners are implementing the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum and the impact this is having on the children in their care," said Bayram. 

"There is a clear message to all providers that Ofsted doesn't want its inspectors to be presented with reams of assessment and progress records. 

"This is a laudable goal but can only be achieved if the approach is consistently communicated by every Ofsted inspector; if providers are given the information and training that ensures they are confident to reduce the time they spend on recording progress, safe in the knowledge their expertise and understanding of the children they look after will be all that Ofsted needs."

Michael Freeston, the Pre-school Learning Alliance's director of quality improvement, welcomed the proposals as a "real positive step in the right direction" for early years.

"While the current Common Inspection Framework has plenty of value in it, it relies on some concepts and terms from school provision that never made sense in an early years setting," said Freeston. This new framework not only rectifies that, but also shifts the focus on to the overall importance of the child's educational experience in the provision, while emphasising practitioners' ability to demonstrate this to the inspector over to the production of records and data.

"We also welcome the stronger reference to the 'Characteristics of Effective Learning' as something inspectors should consider when they look at children's attitudes and behaviours, as this demonstrates Ofsted's recognition that ‘how' children learn is as important as ‘what' they learn."

He highlighted his view that Ofsted's stance "appears to be aligning with the views of many academics, parents and practitioners" that the early years should provide a broad education that prepares children for a life-long love of learning, rather than a narrow focus on numeracy and literacy.

However, he said that a government review of the "Early Learning Goals" and the proposed re-introduction the baseline assessment, demonstrated that "government policy is at odds with this position".

"Our concern is that, until those differences are reconciled, there's a real danger that providers will be caught between being inspected on how their children learn and delivering against an increasingly narrow understanding of what should be taught," added Freeston.

NDNA chief executive Purnima Tanuku, urged the early years sector to seize this "crucial opportunity" to shape the future direction of inspections, by responding to the consultation.

Tanuku broadly welcomed the shift towards teaching quality, but warned that with managers rather than early years teachers carrying out observations, the teaching qualification could be devalued - "if we are not careful".

"The judgements are different too and inspectors will want to look at records of behaviour which is developmentally not appropriate in an early years setting," she added.

"Ofsted is proposing a lot of changes, with early years moving towards a model that more closely aligns with the school model.

"This would be concerning and we would want this framework to recognise and respect that children learn differently in early years.

"We will look closely at Ofsted's proposals over the coming weeks, working with the sector to help inform the debate so that practitioners, managers and others can contribute."

Tanuku said Ofsted representatives will be attending the NDNA's five member events in the north of England this spring, to explain the proposed changes.

The consultation closes on 4 April.

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