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Need to know: Ofsted's new inspection framework

Ofsted is planning to refocus its inspections on curriculum from next year – but its proposals have proved controversial

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman

Ofsted is planning to refocus its inspections on curriculum from next year – but its proposals have proved controversial

From next September, the way that Ofsted inspects schools could change fundamentally – with an increased focus on the curriculum.

But what does this mean for schools and teachers. Here is everything you need to know:

What are the changes that Ofsted is making?

The inspectorate says it wants to get to the core of education by promoting the importance of schools delivering a rich curriculum and giving less credit to schools that achieve exam success at the expense of a broad education.

To achieve this, Ofsted is proposing scrapping the judgements for outcomes and teaching and learning and assessment and creating a new broader quality of education judgement.

Ofsted is also planning to separate the current personal development, welfare and behaviour’ judgement into two separate categories: personal development and behaviour and attitudes. It says this will recognise the difference between behaviour and discipline in schools and pupils’ wider development and their “opportunities to grow as active, healthy citizens”.

What's staying the same?

Ofsted will still give schools an overall inspection grade. Tes revealed earlier this year that the inspectorate had considered removing this but decided that it was too important to parents and Parliament. There will also still be a separate judgement on a school’s leadership and management.

And Ofsted is not proposing to make any changes to the four grades that a school can receive, which are "outstanding"; "good"; "requires improvement" and "inadequate" – despite calls from heads for the "outstanding" grade to be scrapped.

Is Ofsted cracking down on gaming schools?

The proposed changes to the framework have been described as a crackdown on exam-factory schools and an attempt by the inspectorate to reverse a narrowing of the curriculum that it has identified at both the end of primary school and building up to GCSE as schools focus on maximising their results.

Chief schools inspector Amanda Spielman described the plans as a “warning shot across the bows” for schools that are getting good results through “something that no sane parent would want as an education for their child”,

“If a school is getting good results in the wrong way then I would like them to be thinking about that now and shifting it before any Ofsted inspector comes along to see them,” she said.

So will Ofsted inspect the curriculum?

That's the plan. But critics are questioning whether this can be done objectively and properly within the time that inspectors have available.

Ofsted has already faced criticism about how much it can discover about a school in a one- or two-day visit under its current framework, and how reliable its judgements are.

Will it be even harder to make reliable judgements on the more complex and nuanced question of how effective and appropriate a school’s curriculum is?

Russell Hobby, of the Teach First charity, is among the voices who has questioned whether Ofsted has the capacity to do this. He also suggested that Ofsted cannot assess a schools’ curriculum without having a view on what a good curriculum is, and questioned whether this is compatible with a neutral inspectorate.

There are concerns that Ofsted favours a knowledge-rich approach to the school curriculum – something the inspectorate has denied.  Ofsted has visited 23 schools to look at curriculum design and most of these have favoured a knowledge-based approach.

Ofsted has said that it has identified strengths in both knowledge- and skills-based approaches and that it does not have a preferred curriculum style.

What happens next?

Ofsted has already started trials of its new inspection framework in hundreds of schools across the country.

It has also produced two pieces research that identified a narrowing of the curriculum in some schools and also looked at how schools that are invested in curriculum design deliver it.

It is expected to announce more findings on how it will assess the curriculum, and will begin formal consultation with schools in January with a view to bringing in the new framework in September next year.

So it's all systems go?

Ofsted has said that its plans have been well received by the profession and that its changes must not be delayed – but there have already been two major stumbling blocks.

Education secretary Damian Hinds has voiced concerns that Ofsted’s plans will lead to an increase in workload and although he has since given Ms Spielman his personal backing, it is unclear to what extent the Department for Education is fully on board with the inspectorate’s case for change.

Meanwhile, the NAHT heads' union has urged Ofsted to pause its plans for a new framework – amid concerns about the workload it will create and questions about whether Ofsted has given itself enough time to bring about such a major change in the way it inspects schools.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the other big heads' union, the Association of School and College Leaders, has welcomed Ofsted’s direction in looking at the curriculum but noted with caution that “the devil will be in the detail.”

He told Tes this week that it was important that schools are given space to make their own decisions on curriculum.  

With so many influential voices expressing concerns about the changes, the stance taken by Mr Barton after he has seen the detail of Ofsted's plans could be crucial in determining their future. 

 

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