In a letter to the parliamentary public accounts committee, Ofsted’s chief inspector of schools, Amanda Spielman, outlined concerns about risks to the quality of education, proposing a new framework and renewing calls for greater powers for inspectors.
Proposed changes to the inspection framework
Though its current inspection framework is not designed to capture the effects of curriculum narrowing in schools that continue to meet statutory requirements, Ofsted has found evidence of the decline in the quality of education. This is highlighted in areas where the curriculum is becoming more limited, and data and performance results are being prioritised over the real substance of education.
The chief inspector believes the current data-driven accountability system is failing young people and has proposed a rebalance to the inspection framework – with an aim to ensure that Ofsted plays a proper role in complementing performance data, rather than intensifying it.
Under the new framework, Ofsted has proposed a new ‘quality of education’ judgement, which will include the following three aspects:
- Intent – what is it that schools want for all of their pupils?
- Implementation – how is teaching and assessment fulfilling the intent?
- Impact – the results and wider outcomes that pupils achieve, and the destinations they go on to
This new judgement will examine curriculum intent, depth and breadth, alongside the quality of teaching and pupils’ work and outcomes. This should result in schools refocussing their efforts on providing all pupils with a curriculum that is rich, broad and deep, and an improvement in the teacher recruitment crisis, by re-empowering teachers as experts in their subjects.
The proposed changes will also make it easier to recognise and reward the good work done by schools for all pupils. By shifting its focus away from performance measures, the inspectorate hopes to tackle illegal off-rolling (driven by a desire to boost results) as schools will become empowered to put their pupils first.
Further action and calls for change
With school leaders finding it harder to balance their budgets, they are having to make difficult decisions which can affect the broadness of the curriculum. Ofsted intends to continue monitoring the effects of curriculum narrowing and, following its literature review of evidence on school funding, has found further areas of research to explore, including, but not limited to:
- The pressures that schools are facing.
- How schools manage these pressures and use evidence to support decisions.
- What impact these decisions have.
- How effective pupil premium spending is.
As the ESFA has responsibility for providers’ finances, Ofsted also plans to work closely with the agency and regional schools commissioners (RSCs) to improve information sharing and help to hold providers to account.
This year, Ofsted looked at the characteristics of schools that have been judged as ‘requires improvement’, ‘satisfactory’, or ‘inadequate’ in every inspection they have had since 2005. With these schools being poor for so long, some children in certain areas do not get the opportunity to attend a ‘good’ school at any point in their education.
Next year, Ofsted will undertake an evaluation project on why the interventions designed to secure improvement have not been effective in some schools.
The inspectorate emphasises that outstanding schools lack oversight – since 2011, these schools have been exempt from routine inspections, meaning some schools have not been inspected in over 10 years.
While Ofsted can identify some issues through performance data alone, other areas of concern, such as curriculum narrowing and poor safeguarding practices, are harder to recognise without an inspection. If the outstanding grade is to remain a beacon of excellence, the chief inspector believes that the exemption must be removed, and Ofsted should be fully resourced to inspect these schools.
Presently, Ofsted does not have the ability to inspect MATs – it has called for more power to conduct such inspections to ensure they reach the levels at which decisions are made. This will also help Ofsted to provide the DfE, parents and parliament with a complete view of what is happening in schools.
Alternative provision (AP)
Concerns have been expressed regarding the number of children disappearing from mainstream education – this includes most AP, which do not always have to be registered and are not subject to independent scrutiny.
Ofsted has suggested that the system develops a registration process run by LAs, to ensure that the whereabouts and safety of children that are being home-educated or in AP is known and recorded. Ofsted’s unregistered schools taskforce is continuing to identify and investigate unregistered schools.
The inspectorate will also continue to call for a tighter definition of what constitutes a school, and for a lower hourly threshold for an institution to qualify, allowing it to ensure young people are being suitably educated. This should also help to tackle the narrowness of the curriculum being taught, threats of exposure to extremism, and the ability to hide child abuse.
- You can read Amanda Spielman’s full letter to the public accounts committee and the full literature review on school funding here.
- To find out more about Ofsted’s current inspection framework, and what areas inspectors are focussing on, read our article here.
Spielman. A. (2018) ‘Amanda Spielman letter to the Public Accounts Committee’
Ofsted (2018) ‘Ofsted literature review and research proposal on school funding’