In June of 2015 I wrote a blog about the New Ofsted Framework. Re-reading it I’d say Ofsted have come a long way in four years. There is certainly a sense that engagement with the profession is a positive ‘work in progress’ and though some grumble I do feel that ‘listening’ to the profession is something that has moved on in leaps and bounds. Ofsted no longer present as a shady den of autocrats garnering volumes of conspiracy theories with a ‘we’ll do it anyway’ attitude. The leadership of the organisation have done much to open up and invite the profession in. That respect has grown over time – though as I will reflect on, there are still major issues that need to be addressed. Evolution not revolution will never tackle some of the fundamental issues that teachers and school leaders have with Ofsted.
Before I address the many positives in the new framework I need to reflect on my major issues within the accountability system we have in our country. As thousands of schools sit through SATs week hoping that the children they teach have taken on enough to get through these ‘one off’ tests. As school ministers, politicians and high profile business people wade in on why SATs must exist because TAX payers need assurance that their money is well spent; we see the first real test Ofsted faces. IF Ofsted is the professional body with the skills and knowledge to judge school effectiveness and they say that schools are far more than the sum of their National Test parts – accountability becomes bloated and the impact a school is having is open to blurred lines. In my opinion an Ofsted inspection should be the chief accountability mechanism in place because it is the only one that can see what is really happening in a school:
Page 10 – Learners develop detailed knowledge and skills across the curriculum and, as a result, achieve well. Where relevant, this is reflected in results from national tests and examinations that meet government expectations, or in the qualification obtained.
Blurred lines have always been Ofsted’s Achilles heel. I feel that every school leader would want Sean Harford leading their inspection team because he is clear about common sense, myths and the practicalities of running a school and teaching children. I am quite sure he’d be systematic, challenging and rigorous but, I also believe that he would be looking at the bigger picture rather than narrow data fields. That is not my experience or the experiences of many of the head teachers I have worked with over the years though. Ofsted’s framework is only as good as the training and quality of people delivering it and one bad apple upsets the apple cart. This has not been helped by Ofsted’s rather daunting complaints procedure which (at a time of huge stress) is akin to climbing Mount Everest in a vest – cold, lonely, terrifying and very likely to end badly.
Another issue is the fear of taking away judgement. I have no idea why they are still with us. Why are we so obsessed in giving a judgement for something that is so open to interpretation? Surely it’s got more substance than the cost of house prices in certain areas? One thing I know about education (after 24 years) is it is full of people with radically different views about what works (and radically different approaches DO work) – spend a weekend on twitter to see what I mean. Therefore, and I have witnessed this in many Ofsted inspections – inspectors will follow up lines of inquiry and unless you are strong, determined and able to evidence it – they will reach conclusions that are based on 20 minutes of lesson evidence, or one off conversations. Another Ofsted barrier is they have so much to do in such a limited space and I always get a sense that they are desperately trying to reach conclusions so that they can prove that they have been effective.
I still believe that doing away with judgement grades would be trans-formative and move Ofsted one step closer to working to improve schools rather than label them.
Give factual improvements – absolutely; Celebrate successes – of course… but then put it in to a category of judgement that is so open to interpretation? There are only TWO judgments – A school is a good school within its context and community doing XY and Z or a school is not a good school and needs to do XY and Z to improve.
OK – sorry Ofsted. There goes my inspector career (I’ll add that to my lost knighthood and all round nice guy award). Without ‘fear or favour’ an all that!
But, direction of travel is important in this new framework and here are the highlights I am looking forward to seeing develop over the next few years:
Quality of education
SEND writ large in the first two areas of intent. So pleased to see this and it’s clear that this will be something that inspectors will spend more time on. Good! This has the potential to change the direction in which too many schools are going regarding inclusion and provision. Much of this section is not controversial and makes beautiful common sense.
Key words I note in this section are:
Cultural capital – controversial, can see a thousand twitter ‘debates’ about what this means
Future learning – the core to build on progression – mentioned a lot in this section
Teaching to remember in the long term and to integrate knowledge into larger concepts – Schema – assimilation and accommodation anyone? Can see @ClareSealy blogs doing well again.
Ready for the next stage of education – again… open to a range of opinions but a noble purpose.
I will await the evidence in inspection reports about the role National Tests still play in how curriculum’s are judged. This comes from a school where 15% of their Year 6 cohort have not been entered for SATs due to high end SEND. I really hope that the inspectors at my next inspection (instead of saying ‘we are almost outstanding but knowing results are too low’ are able to say it without fear that our National Test results aren’t great). When we start to see truly inclusive schools with OK results becoming outstanding examples of our school system – then we know that Ofsted has really changed – Though, I’d still prefer no judgement beyond good or not good enough.
Behaviour and attitudes
Again – great move giving this an area of its own. What we know about Ofsted (right or wrong) is when they turn their spotlight on something – it changes attitudes within the profession. It shouldn’t – nothing in the framework is new – but it does. No other organisation has the power to do this like Ofsted. I like the fact that ‘resilient to setbacks’ is in there as well.
Will need clarity on what ‘high attendance’ is.
Love lots of this – especially – ‘curriculum extends beyond the academic, technical or vocational.’ I can now start to see the fleshing out of that pathetic ‘broad and balanced’ statement. We are beginning to see the ambition for a curriculum that would (once again) be the envy of others.
Resilience (again), confidence and independence – this almost harks back to Mick Waters days leading on the curriculum. It’s very welcome. There’s still too much ambiguity over what we mean by British Values but there’s no confusion on what it means in terms of developing a positive outlook and attitude towards others.
Leadership and management
Clear and ambitious – and there’s that magic word again ‘inclusive’. I learnt very early in my headships that understanding the framework was an import step in surviving school leadership. That’s not about doing what you think Ofsted want (or more likely what others tell you Ofsted wants) – but it is about understanding what you ARE doing and how this fits in to Ofsted’s framework. That’s why schools need to lead on this – not external providers offering IT solutions and expensive-accountability-free advice. Leaders need to be strong when drawing up their ‘battle plan’ for an inspection – especially when they have clear weaknesses (and it is a battle plan – a strategy). When others seem to give us solutions and placebos we lessen ourselves and therefore expose cracks and flaws within our schools. Know this framework and go in to it fully armed.
This section asks much of school leaders- no surprises there really. We need vision, pedagogical plans, fair play (gaming and off-rolling mentioned. YES!), effective community wide engagement, an understanding of teacher pressures, to be realistic and constructive, we need to protect our staff, ensure that resources are well managed and that safeguarding is effective… And we need to be doing this at a time when leading a school has never been more fraught and challenging. No problem…
This Framework is certainly a step – an evolution – in the right direction. I cannot see many not applauding its principles and focus. It will live and die on its application though – as a system not as individual testimonies about an inspection. Depending on the mind-set of inspectors this could be a positive improvement focused framework that highlights the strengths within our system and allows for growth and progression. But, there are potential stumbling blocks in this framework – expectations have changed, direction has moved and schools better understand what is going to be asked of them when they get that call.