Ofsted’s new inspection framework
From September 2019, Ofsted will implement a new inspection framework.
We recently attended the Westminster Education Forum keynote seminar on the impact of the new inspection framework. The seminar focussed on how the proposed new inspection framework will impact on schools – areas of focus included the curriculum, short inspections, on-site preparation, and the separated ‘behaviour and attitudes’ and ‘personal development’ judgements.
Speakers at the seminar included representatives from the PSHE Association, Parentkind, the NAHT, and various schools and MATs. Matthew Purves, Ofsted’s deputy director of schools, also gave a keynote speech.
This article outlines the key points we took from the seminar, detailing what you can expect from the new inspection framework. We have also included a number of FAQs regarding Ofsted’s framework, to help you prepare for its implementation.
The curriculum is a key focus
Most of the discussion throughout the seminar related to the curriculum – it is clear it is going to be a hugely prevalent issue under the new inspection framework, especially with the introduction of the ‘quality of education’ judgement. Matthew Purves said this new judgement and a heightened focus on the curriculum is a “loud message” coming from Ofsted. He said that schools should expect all inspections to start with a discussion about the curriculum, where leaders will be asked what pupils are being taught, which then flows into looking at how they are being taught in the classroom.
Inspectors will focus on the intent of the curriculum, how it is implemented and its impact. Inspectors will have more conversations with teachers about how their teaching and the curriculum impacts pupils. Pupils will also be engaged more by inspectors – they will be asked about what they have learnt.
We should not forget about behaviour, attitudes and personal development
While the quality of education judgement and the curriculum will be important under the new framework, Matthew Purves said that sometimes people just hear the top line message from Ofsted. He urged people not to forget about the separation of the judgements for ‘behaviour and attitudes’ and ‘personal development’.
Some of the speakers at the seminar felt that these judgements are too subjective and that there needs to be more clarity from Ofsted on how behaviour and attitudes and personal development will be judged.
Addressing these concerns, Matthew Purves highlighted that Ofsted inspections are always subjective to some extent; however, he did confirm that inspectors will be given training and clear criteria to ensure judgements in these areas are consistent.
A welcome move from emphasis on outcomes and data
All the speakers and attendees overwhelmingly supported Ofsted’s move away from emphasis on school outcomes and data to the quality of what schools are offering.
Under the new framework, inspectors will not ask to look at internal school data; however, they will still use published data (e.g. performance tables) as a starting point for conversations with leaders.
Concerns were raised over how schools would be able to evidence any progress they have made since the latest published data was released, if inspectors will not ask to see internal data. Matthew Purves said that schools can still use internal data to highlight progress, but inspectors would rather leaders explain what the data tells inspectors about pupils and about what the school is doing, than give inspectors a large file of data to look through.
New inspections are more of a ‘discussion’
Matthew Purves said inspectors will spend less time analysing data and more time having conversations with leaders, teachers and pupils.
Hugh Greenway, chief executive at The Elliot Foundation Academies Trust, backed up this idea. A number of academies in the trust have received pilot inspections using the new framework – his feedback was largely positive. Mr Greenway said he felt a lot more time was spent with teachers and pupils than in previous inspections, and that inspectors asked more questions about what the school is actually doing, especially in relation to the curriculum.
Overwhelming opposition to on-site preparation
One of the biggest proposals made in the new framework is to introduce on-site preparation – where inspectors will notify a school of an inspection in the morning and then arrive on site to prepare on the same day.
The idea behind on-site preparation is that it is more efficient than having phone calls back and forth between the headteacher and lead inspector the day before an inspection. Feedback to this proposal has been overwhelmingly negative, both in the consultation responses Ofsted has received and at the seminar. Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the NAHT, said that on-site preparation is essentially an early start to an inspection – which was a thought held by most attendees.
Matthew Purves did say that around half of schools that have had pilot inspections who were initially opposed to on-site preparation, then went onto say they liked the approach. It was clear that Ofsted is going to continue to push this proposal and sell the benefits of it because they strongly support this change to the inspection process.
Mixed feelings about extending ‘short’ inspections
Another contentious proposal for the new framework is to extend section 8 inspections from one to two days. The reasoning behind this, according to Ofsted, is that there is not enough time to get around a school in one day to confirm that it remains ‘good’.
Matthew Purves did say the inspectorate is thinking about the implications of extending section 8 inspection for some schools, e.g. small primary schools, and will decide if the model is appropriate for all schools.
Concerns were raised by Nick Brook, who thought the change would lead to confusion, especially from parents, about the difference between section 5 and section 8 inspections.
Inconsistent messages from Ofsted and the DfE
There was a general feeling at the seminar that while Ofsted was moving away from judging schools based on attainment outcomes, DfE and government policy was still focussed on this. Many attendees asked questions about how the two systems would align; however, no clear answer was given.
There will likely be some changes to the finalised framework
As the framework is still subject to a consultation, some changes may be made to the finalised framework based on feedback from respondents.
Matthew Purves said that some feedback about the way bullying was referred to in the draft framework means it will be amended for the finalised version. Responses to the consultation have said the draft hints that bullying is infrequent in schools – which could create an incentive for schools to try and evidence that bullying does not happen that often. The finalised version will be changed to say that what Ofsted wants is for schools to say when bullying is happening and show inspectors what they are doing to tackle the problem.
Nick Brook felt that on-site preparation would not make it to the final draft due to the negative feedback; however, Matthew Purves continued to back this proposal. Dr Peter Matthews, from the UCL Institute of Education, who also wrote the first ever inspection framework, hoped Ofsted would iron out inconsistencies before they published the final draft.
The new framework hasn’t moved forward enough
Nick Brook said the proposals in the new framework were “certainly not without merit, but they are no game changer”.
Dr Peter Matthews went further to say that the new framework “hasn’t moved us on at all” – he highlighted Ofsted are using similar criteria to what was being used years ago. His final remark was that the draft framework “requires improvement”.
Below are a number of questions that have been asked about the new inspection framework, and Ofsted’s response.
Q. How will inspectors make judgements on schools with poor results, but a positive school environment and vice versa?
A. One of the aspects of the handbook currently used during inspections is that if a school is given a certain judgement in one area, the other judgements are typically similar.
In the new handbook, Ofsted has tried to ensure that all judgements are made separately – apart from the leadership and management judgement, which by nature is affected by other judgements.
Q. Will internal data be looked at by inspectors?
A. The aim of the proposed framework is to move away from a narrow view of a school based on data. Inspectors will not ask to see internal data – if it is provided and there is a valid and appropriate reason to look at it alongside other sources of evidence, then that would not be refused. Teachers and leaders will be recognised as experts in their field, not data managers.
Q. In the absence of internal data, what evidence could an improving school use to show their impact?
A. School leaders should use the initial conversation with inspectors to highlight progress that has been made. First-hand evidence of progress should be shown to inspectors through methods such as lesson observations, book scrutiny, and talking to leaders, teachers and pupils.
Q. What is the rationale behind on-site preparation and who will be expected to be involved?
A. On-site preparation has been proposed to enable more face-to-face time with the headteacher and for school leaders to build a professional relationship with the inspection team. The pre-inspection telephone call with the headteacher would be replaced by the pre-inspection meeting – school leaders can bring other staff into this meeting if they wish.
Q. Will inspectors arrive at the proposed pre-inspection meeting with a pre-conceived focus for the inspection?
A. No. Lines of enquiry would cease under the proposed framework. Inspectors would arrive at the pre-inspection meeting having looked at no information about the school at all.
Q. How do you stop the use of on-site preparation feeling like a three-day inspection?
A. It is anticipated that during the pre-inspection on-site planning, the first and last hour would be spent with the headteacher. The inspector would not be out and about around school.
Q. What activities will the inspector undertake during the pre-inspection on-site planning?
A. They will focus on gathering information and maybe look at the SCR.
Q. If a safeguarding activity such as checking the SCR will be part of on-site preparation, how can that not be the start of the inspection? What if the SCR is found to be non-compliant? Surely an inspector would consider that in the broader inspection of safeguarding?
A. Yes, it couldn’t be ignored. It would be flagged to the headteacher immediately for them to take action.
Q. What happens if a school is inspected when they are in the process of making curriculum changes?
A. Curriculums are often in transitional phases – senior leaders need to be aware of what is working and what is not and have a plan to make the necessary changes.
Q. The draft framework talks about a broad and balanced curriculum but gives the EBacc as an example – how does that fit with a broad and balanced curriculum?
A. The EBacc is a DfE priority focus. Ofsted has no targets for the number of EBacc qualifications a school has and will not judge a school’s curriculum based on the EBacc.
Q. How innovative can a curriculum be?
A. An inspector will want to know what the intent of the curriculum is, if expectations are high enough, how the curriculum is implemented, and the impact of the curriculum. The curriculum needs to be appropriate to set targets for pupils to achieve.
Q. Can you explain more about the proposed changes to section 8 inspections?
A. Under the proposed framework, the lead inspector would arrive on site no earlier than 12:30pm for pre-inspection planning. The lead inspector will be on site for two days, being joined by their inspection team on day one. On day two, only the lead inspector will remain on site to complete the inspection and ensure the school has provided all evidence and information it feels necessary. The second day may only need to be a half day.
Following initial feedback from headteachers, Ofsted is looking at the fairness of this proposal for small schools, e.g. schools with less than 150 pupils.
Q. Will there be any change to how governance is inspected?
A. It is proposed to include more explanation of the governing board’s strategic role in inspection reports.
Westminster Education Forum Keynote Seminar (2019) ‘What does the new Education Inspection Framework mean for schools?’ [Seminar attended: 19 March 2019]
GovMeet (2019) ‘Public meeting about the new inspection framework’ [Public meeting attended: 23 March 2019]