Ofsted inspection of education settings: six key measures

Ofsted's new inspection system introduces a raft of changes to how education settings will be assessed. Jo Stephenson outlines six key measures and what they mean for schools, colleges and childcare providers.

Ofsted's proposals for a new education inspection framework promise a fundamental shift in the way nurseries, schools and colleges are judged. Whether or not the draft framework - currently out for consultation - lives up to that promise is a hot topic for debate, with organisations like teachers' union NAHT arguing it is not the "game changer" many had hoped (see box).

According to Ofsted, the framework will help shift the focus from exam and test results to the quality of education and care children and young people receive, with more emphasis on providing a stimulating curriculum and positive learning experience.

The new regime promises to reduce the burden of inspection and there is also an onus on leaders to manage pressures on staff including workload and bullying.

Under the proposals, settings will continue to receive an overall rating of outstanding, good, requires improvement or inadequate. However, significant changes include new inspection judgment categories as well as practical changes to the format and timing of inspections. The consultation runs until 5 April. Here are the key proposals and what they mean.

1. New "quality of education" judgment

The new framework will no longer include a standalone "outcomes" judgment. Instead of taking exam and test results at face value, Ofsted has said it will look at how a nursery, school or college's results have been achieved - whether they stem from a rich learning experience or are the result of "gaming" such as teaching to the test, pushing pupils towards "easier" subjects and "off-rolling" where some pupils are deliberately moved on.

Central to this is the curriculum on offer. When assessing the "quality of education", inspectors will look at the intent, implementation and impact and will be looking for a curriculum "that is ambitious and designed to give all learners, particularly the most disadvantaged, the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life". Meanwhile, staff will be expected to "use assessment well" and leaders must ensure it is not used in way that "creates unnecessary burdens for staff or learners". When looking at impact, inspectors will want to see children and young people are "ready for the next stage of education, employment and training".

2. Separate judgments for behaviour and personal development

Since September 2015, settings have been judged on "personal development, behaviour and welfare". However, the wide range of issues covered within this has sometimes made it hard for inspectors to rate provision in a meaningful way. The new framework proposes two separate judgments for "behaviour and attitudes" and "personal development".

When assessing behaviour and attitudes in schools, inspectors will look at whether there is a "calm and orderly environment" where pupils feel safe, a strong focus on attendance and punctuality and "positive attitudes to learning".

In early years settings, inspectors will look at how young children demonstrate their behaviour and attitudes through the "key characteristics of effective learning" - playing and exploring, active learning, and creating and thinking critically. Although attendance is not mandatory, inspectors will explore how well providers work with parents to promote children's attendance with a particular focus on children eligible for the early years pupil premium. Children at an "outstanding" setting will demonstrate "high levels of confidence in social situations" and have "high levels of self-control and consistently keep on trying hard, even if they encounter difficulties".

In looking at personal development, inspectors will want to see the curriculum goes beyond the purely academic, technical or vocational and enables children and young people to "develop and discover their talents and interests" and helps "develop their character" including building resilience, confidence and independence.

3. Appropriate inspection for early years

One criticism of the existing Common Inspection Framework is it is not always relevant to early years settings. Ofsted has pledged to ensure judgments are appropriate to the range of early years settings. Settings on the Early Years Register will continue to be assessed against the principles and requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework, but there will be greater emphasis on curriculum and how well it supports children's progress in the EYFS seven areas of learning.

To be judged "outstanding", settings must show "the impact of the curriculum on what children know, can remember and do is strong". Leaders and practitioners will be expected to evaluate impact by checking what children know and can do, but Ofsted has also made it clear new inspections will put more emphasis on quality of education and children's experiences alongside assessments. "What children learn is too often coming second to the delivery of assessment information," says the regulator.

4. Longer "short" inspections of schools with inspectors arriving sooner

Under the framework, the time inspectors spend on-site during "section 8" inspections of good schools will increase from one day to two. Meanwhile, the framework also proposes inspectors visit sooner. Currently, inspectors prepare for school inspections remotely on the day before a visit. The new framework proposes that from September this year onwards this preparation should take place at the school on the afternoon before the visit "enabling inspectors and leaders to carry out preparation collaboratively wherever possible".

5. Less focus on schools' own performance data

Inspectors will look at how schools assess pupils' progress and use that information but they will no longer look at internal assessment data. However, inspectors will still look at national data collated through Ofsted's Inspection Data Summary Report. This includes exam results and other measures of success such as the percentage of pupils taking the EBacc suite of subjects, and "progress 8" and "attainment 8" measures, which look at pupils' progress and achievement across eight different subjects. They will also look at national data on what happens to pupils when they leave school.

Inspectors will balance results of national assessment with first-hand evidence gathered during inspection. In primary schools they will listen to pupils to find out what they remember about what they have been studying.

6. Changes to the format of inspections for further education providers

Under the Common Inspection Framework, Ofsted grades and reports on six different types of education and training offered by further education providers including "provision for learners with high needs". The new framework will see this reduced to three broader categories - education programmes for young people, apprenticeships and adult learning programmes. Education and training for people with special educational needs or high needs will be looked at within these categories.

Ofsted is piloting a new, standardised approach to inspections of "good" further education providers. As with schools, it is proposing that lead inspectors arrive the day before inspections to do planning on-site.


  • Mary Bousted, joint general secretary, National Education Union
    "The narrowing of the school curriculum and teaching to the test have been the result of its own enforcement, through inspection, of a range of narrow measures to judge school quality. None of these measures are being abolished. Added to these quantitative measures, Ofsted intends to make qualitative judgments on the curriculum. How complex, detailed, value-laden judgments will be made consistently across 20,000 schools is the fundamental question."
  • Geoff Barton, general secretary, Association of School and College Leaders
    "Ofsted's proposal to judge leaders on how they manage teacher workload is laudable but inspectors will need to recognise that workload is often driven by external pressures such as government reforms to exams and the curriculum, and a funding crisis which is driving up class sizes."
  • Purnima Tanuku, chief executive, National Day Nurseries Association
    "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 that children learn differently in early years."
  • Michael Freeston, director of quality improvement, Pre-school Learning Alliance
    "Ofsted's stance appears to be aligning with the view that early years education should prepare children for a life-long love of learning. Unfortunately, the review of the Early Learning Goals and the proposed re-introduction of the baseline assessment make it clear the government is at odds with this. There's a danger that providers will be caught between being inspected on how children learn and delivering against an increasingly narrow understanding of what should be taught."


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