Exclusive: Sharp rise in DfE and Ofsted tension over new inspection plans

Spielman prepared to go back to 'spitting blood' days to defend new school inspection framework

John Roberts

John Roberts

Need to know: Ofsted's new inspection framework

Tensions are ratcheting up between the Department for Education and Ofsted over the watchdog’s plans for a new school inspection framework, Tes can reveal.

It is understood that there are fears within the DfE that the overhaul could prove a distraction or even a hindrance to education secretary Damian Hinds’ key goal of reducing teacher workload to ease recruitment and retention problems.

But Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman has made it clear that delivering a new school inspection framework next year is her top priority.

Ofsted's boss is said to be determined to “fiercely resist any efforts to undermine the inspectorate's independence on how it judges schools”. 

The new inspection regime is expected to give more weight to how broad a school’s curriculum is and place less value on exam results.

The changes are set to include creating a new quality of education grade which will replace both teaching and learning and the pupil outcomes grades which schools are currently judged on.

But the DfE sounded less than supportive in its immediate reaction to the plan.  

And Mr Hinds repeatedly declined to give his backing to Ofsted’s plans for a new framework when interviewed on Thursday.

Ms Spielman, appointed last year, has so far been much less openly combative than her predecessor Sir Michael Wilshaw, who at one point let it be known that he was “spitting blood” at the DfE.

But she has made it clear she is prepared to be just as robust with the Department in defence of the new inspection framework.

Ms Spielman chose to commission research into how schools implement the curriculum as her first priority after taking the job on. 

Its initial findings were that the intensity of exam preparation was getting in the way of pupils receiving the subject knowledge they need.

Ofsted is set to consult on its new inspection framework in the new year.

Reducing teacher workloads has been a major focus for the DfE this year. 

Addressing school leaders at this year’s Association of School and College Leaders annual conference in March, Hinds pledged to strip away work that does not add value to the classroom.

Hinds has also previously said that the sector needs "a period of less change" after a wave of recent exam reforms.

Senior leaders at Ofsted believe any attempt to reduce workload in schools will fail without an overhaul of the inspection framework.

They think Ofsted’s plans will result in a reduction in teaching to the test and data-tracking as inspectors' focus move from outcomes to curriculum.

They are also said to be determined to recognise schools that might not be recording the best results but that are nonetheless providing a broad and balanced education for their students.

Tes revealed earlier this week that Ofsted is planning to ditch the teaching and learning grade for schools as part of moves to create a quality of education grade.

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