A shake-up chez Ofsted is often met with a chorus of groans in the staffroom – and no wonder, as preparation for Ofsted is a key factor in excessive workload for teachers – “perceived pressures of Ofsted” was cited as the main driver in the burden on teachers in the DfE’s Workload Challenge report.
But rather than the usual groans, there were genuine whoops of joy in the Learning Ladders office when we read Amanda Speilman’s recent speech announcing big changes to the school inspection framework – which will come into force in September 2019. We are genuinely excited about the potential of the proposed changes to help drive real improvement in our schools, and give children a broader education leading to better life chances. So what exactly is changing? And why should we be excited?
The rationale behind the removal of outcomes as a standalone judgement is to address the culture of ‘teaching to the test’ that has been prevalent over the past decade. Furthermore, the aim is to reduce the workload created by excessive data gathering for Ofsted “just in case” and to focus on the curriculum and how it meets the needs of each child.
This means schools can finally ditch their old tracking systems, confident that what Ofsted wants to see is better provided by newer tools like Learning Ladders that support teaching and learning.
“I want to make sure that at Ofsted, we focus on the ‘how’ and the ‘what’: the essence of what performance tables cannot capture… focus on performance data is coming at the expense of what is taught in schools. A new focus on substance should change that, bringing the inspection conversation back to the substance of young people’s learning and treating teachers like the experts in their field, not just data managers.” – Amanda Speilman, Ofsted Chief Inspector
This is especially good news for teachers and school leaders working in areas with high numbers of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds – because Ofsted will no longer be looking at outcomes in isolation, schools will not be under pressure to deliver unrealistic results and should be more empowered to meet the needs of individual pupils through a broader curriculum.
This judgement replaces the current ‘quality of teaching, learning and assessment’ and will be split between three distinct aspects:
This means that Ofsted will now be looking to recognise schools for doing what is best for their pupils, not simply to improve results to serve league tables:
“We believe that this new judgement will allow Ofsted to recognise primary schools that, for example, prioritise phonics and the transition into early reading, and which encourage older pupils to read widely and deeply. And it will make it easier for secondary schools to do the right thing, offering children a broad range of subjects and encouraging the take-up of core EBacc subjects such as the humanities and languages at GCSE, alongside the arts and creative subjects.” – Amanda Speilman, Ofsted Chief Inspector
This is one of the changes we are most excited about at Learning Ladders – we see fantastic work being done by the schools and teachers we work with to enable assessment to lead teaching, rather than the other way around – and so we were absolutely thrilled to read this will now not only be recognised but actively encouraged.
“Ofsted will challenge those schools where too much time is spent on preparation for tests at the expense of teaching, where pupils’ choices are narrowed or, as mentioned above, where children are pushed into less rigorous qualifications mainly to boost league table positions.” – Amanda Speilman, Ofsted Chief Inspector
This was music to our ears – this new framework will enable schools to be curriculum-led, and reward them for making continuous improvements. Learning Ladders is the only system built specifically so you can improve your curriculum each academic year. It's showing the improvement that's critical, not that you can get it right once as a one-off.
Splitting the current judgement for personal development, behaviour and welfare into two new, separate judgements: ‘behaviour and attitudes’ and ‘personal development’ is a move we wholeheartedly applaud.
“The tough business of behaviour and the attitudes pupils bring to learning and a school’s approach to things like attendance, bullying and exclusions are best considered separately from the question of pupils’ wider personal development, such as the opportunities they have to learn about being active, healthy and engaged citizens.” – Amanda Speilman, Ofsted Chief Inspector
Of course, behaviour and personal development are linked, but with these two separate judgements, your school can now be recognised for how the curriculum provides opportunities for personal development independently of the way you deal with behaviour and pupil attitudes to learning.
As well as the promise of freedom from the sharp focus on results that comes with the new framework, we were delighted to learn that Ofsted is interested in conversations about learning – and in “bringing the inspection conversation back to the substance of young people’s learning and treating teachers like the experts in their field, not just data managers.”
Matt is the CEO of Learning Ladders and a former school teacher.