The Department for Education is set to publicly intervene in a row between Ofsted and high-profile multi-academy trusts over the way new inspections judge schools' approach to GCSEs, Tes can reveal.
It is understood that a ministerial letter is being sent to the chief inspector Amanda Spielman following claims that Ofsted’s new framework is penalising schools for running GCSEs over three years and shortening key stage 3.
There has been ongoing controversy over Ofsted’s new framework placing greater emphasis on the curriculum and less weight on exam results than previous inspections
MAT leaders: Ofsted's new inspections are 'middle class'
Some sources have suggested that the DfE letter, which is expected to be made public, amounts to a slapdown of Ofsted by emphasising to Ms Spielman that exam results matter and that academies have freedoms to make their own decisions on curriculum stages.
However, it is also understood that Ofsted is happy that the letter recognises the need for inspectors to ensure pupils can access a broad and balanced curriculum – a key focus of its latest framework.
Ofsted's response to the DfE letter is expected to recognise that results still matter in school inspection and that this will be emphasised through inspector training.
However, Tes understands that the inspectorate does not regard this as a climbdown and believes this is about ironing out issues with the implementation of its new inspections rather than an issue with the framework itself.
Tes revealed last month that the department was trying to broker a peace deal between the schools watchdog and the Harris Federation, Outwood Grange Academies Trust and the Inspiration Trust after the MATs questioned what they see as the watchdog's clampdown on three-year GCSE courses.
Trust leaders have described Ofsted's new regime as a “middle-class framework” that would not work for disadvantaged pupils and would penalise schools for running a three year GCSEs and focusing on exam success.
The government intervention follows a report by the right-wing think tank Policy Exchange which said that Ofsted’s new inspection framework had created a "de facto preference" for schools to run key stage 3 over three years and should be changed.
The report, which was written by Iain Mansfield – who has just been appointed as a special adviser to education secretary Gavin Williamson – and called on Ofsted to rewrite its handbook.
Policy Exchange also Ofsted claimed had strayed beyond its brief and was now developing educational policy.
This report was backed by three high profile multi-academy trusts that have been critical of Ofsted’s new inspection regime.
Sir Dan Moynihan, Martyn Oliver, and Dame Rachel de Souza, the respective chief executives of Harris, Outwood Grange and the Inspiration Trust, backed its calls for the inspection handbook to be rewritten and said the inspections needed to change to maintain credibility.
The Policy Exchange report called for Ofsted to remove a section of its inspection handbook that says: “If a school has shortened key stage 3, inspectors will look to see that the school has made provision to ensure that pupils still have the opportunity to study a broad range of subjects, commensurate with the national curriculum, in Years 7 to 9.”
The think tank said this had meant the watchdog now has a de facto preference for schools to run key stage 3 over three years and GCSE over two.
Tes understands the DfE letter does not call on the inspectorate to make changes to its inspection handbook.