Will Ofsted Drive Curriculum Reform In Our Schools?

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Will Swaithes

Will trained as a secondary school Physical Education teacher in 2001. Since then he has enjoyed a number of roles at a variety of schools in Nottinghamshire to include Advanced Skills Teacher, Lead Practitioner and Assistant Head for Teaching and Learning. Most recently, he spent...
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What changes are Ofsted proposing?

Ofsted has launched their anticipated and much talked about consultation on the proposed changes to their inspection framework for September 2019. It will take them over 5 years to inspect every school … but the key question is, will it actually lead to whole school improvement?

We have heard a lot about this over the past year, from Amanda Spielman and many others projecting what it may mean for teachers and education as a whole. I, like many others, am excited by the potential to redress the balance of school judgement in favour of broader educational experience and move away from the accountability-driven model placed upon schools.

Whether this actually happens will be the true test.

Four-part judgement

A summary of the proposed inspection judgement areas:

  1. Quality of education – intent, implementation and impact
  2. Behaviour and attitudes – high expectations, culture and commitment to learn
  3. Personal development – holistic, character and future preparedness
  4. Leadership and management – vision, staff development, inclusive provision, community (including parental) engagement, responsible policy, practice and safeguarding.

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Quality of education

The headline feature is a proposed new “quality of education” judgment which will consider the curriculum, teaching and assessment. The intention is to pitch the criteria to ensure this key area, that has been largely ignored during inspections for the last decade, is scrutinised but not stifled. Diversity and innovation is encouraged to meet the needs of learners in the specific context and autonomy will remain with school leaders to make the right decision.

Staff workload and the pressure points in each phase of education are a concern and reassurances have been made to suggest that significant change in all schools is not needed. The national curriculum and recently reformed examination specifications “carry much of the load” but school leaders are encouraged to really invest time in “the spirit as well as the letter of the national curriculum”. Again, I welcomed previous reforms that moved the attention away from how the teacher taught a lesson towards what learning gains were made by students regardless of the teaching style and curriculum research published recognises that different models can be effective.

What remains to be seen, is how Ofsted Inspectors interpret and implement this guidance! This has always been the problem with all past frameworks; the susceptibility to subjectivity by each inspector.

What does Ofsted mean by ‘the curriculum’?

It is important to capture the 3I’s that make up the working definition of what the curriculum is, as defined by Ofsted:

  • intent: the framework for setting out the aims of a programme of education, including the knowledge and skills to be gained at each stage
  • implementation: the translation of that framework over time into a structure and narrative, within an institutional context
  • impact/achievement: the evaluation of what knowledge and skills learners have gained against expectations.

One can start to understand how this is different from pedagogy (how it is taught) and assessment (what is evaluated), but it is felt the three combined create a closed loop. Learning and progress are explored in terms of knowing and remembering more, a change to the long-term memory and hence further reinforcement of a move away from the expectation of ‘rapid progress’ within a snapshot of a lesson … again, I know this will be welcomed by the profession.

How inspectors will assess ‘learning and a change in long-term memory’, I have no idea.

Of importance, “knowledge and skills are closely interconnected. Ofsted considers a skill to be the capacity to perform complex operations, whether cognitively or physically, drawing on what is known.” Schools need to develop knowledge, skills and I would suggest dispositions (individual qualities of mind and character) to truly offer a well-rounded education. Certainly, human flourishing in a technologically-advanced future will require that.

Will teacher workload really be improved?

The first point is, Ofsted are keen to reduce workload for inspectors?!

The proposed new framework also aims to reduce the pressures on the profession, especially those concerned with an inspection. It is recognised that accountability measures place too much pressure on performance data and its scrutiny has monopolised Ofsted visits of late. Whilst the removal of a standalone judgment on “outcomes” may help with this, I remain unconvinced as to the extent to which inspection conversations will change more towards “the substance of education”. Inspectors will be expected to focus on what is taught and how rather than data-driven conversations. It is hoped this will have the knock-on effect of removing some of the unnecessary assessment and tracking of data to empower teachers to invest more time into inspiring learning, enabling early success and facilitating SMART next steps in learning.

I have no idea how this will be achieved in a two-day inspection.

Personal development is not the same as behaviour

Student development beyond the academic, vocational or technical curriculum must be provided to improve life chances and unlock potential in each individual. This is an area I am really passionate about and believe has really suffered in the last decade or so. Providing memorable experiences, inspiring and equipping every young person with the tools to “prosper, lead successful lives and make meaningful contributions to society” are probably the drivers for most teachers getting out of bed every morning. I welcome a heightened awareness and value of this. Perhaps schools will find a way to reward and recognise those staff who invest in the enrichment and wider development of young people beyond the typical lesson to help realise this?

No more one-day inspections

The proposal also seeks to increase the time lead inspectors are on site for section 8 “short inspections” of good schools from one to two days. This will give an opportunity to gather sufficient evidence and makes sense to me; to consider more the ‘fabric of education’ provision rather than the colour of spreadsheets. Hooray! Both section 8 and full section 5 inspections are also proposed to start with an afternoon on-site for more collaborative pre-inspection preparatory work between the inspection team and leaders, rather than a blind remote review. This certainly makes sense in a move away from the “done-to” model of inspection that is criticised, but will the reality be an extension to the stress and interruption of inspection?

Interestingly, there is no plan to change the current four-point grading scale (outstanding to inadequate), even though only 19 per cent of parents who read a full inspection report and countless organisations profiting from endless banner-printing for school gates. This is despite recent speculation opinion to suggest the pressures and impact on student recruitment of achieving a 1 or 2 are unhelpful locally.

What do you think?

Significant research evidence has been gathered by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector to underpin the proposed new framework, but has this insight been drawn from a large and wide enough sample of schools?

A total of 11 aspects of the proposed new inspection framework are open to consultation, including more time for Requires Improvement schools to turn-around, specific considerations for independent schools and further education – I would strongly encourage anyone involved in education to have your say and complete the consultation by 5th April 2019.

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