A school leaders' union has warned that Ofsted’s new curriculum-led inspections need to be urgently reformed because they are "deeply problematic" in primary schools.
The NAHT school leaders' union says the inspectorate's new framework is attempting to judge primary school curriculum through a secondary lens and needs to be amended.
A major new report from the union, seen by Tes, says that the new inspection framework is creating a new workload and demanding a model of curriculum management that schools do not have the capacity or resources to implement.
It outlines school leaders' responses to the first term of the Ofsted inspections – which include deep dives into particular subjects to assess the curriculum last year. They reveal the visits are shattering the confidence of both new and experienced teachers and leaving some staff needing counselling.
It also warns that Ofsted’s teams cannot hope to fulfil the demands of the new framework because it attempts to do too much and claims that some inspections judgements are being made based on a “scant evidence base”.
The NAHT it is now launching a year long survey of its members to gauge their views on how the Ofsted inspection framework impacts on schools in more detail.
Ofsted’s new inspection framework has placed an increased emphasis on the school curriculum and gives less weight to exam and test result data.
It judges the intent, implementation and impact of the school curriculum as part of a new quality of education grade. This is done partly through deep dives into particular subjects during the inspection.
The NAHT says it welcomes the move away from a focus on exam results but warns Ofsted's approach to inspecting the curriculum does not take into account how primary schools work.
It says: “Ofsted has adopted a secondary lens through which to judge the primary curriculum which is proving to be deeply problematic in primary schools.
"Ofsted’s curriculum methodology is driving new workload and demanding a model of curriculum management that schools do not have the capacity or resource to implement.
“The NAHT believes the inspection methodology for evaluating the quality of a school’s curriculum in the primary phase should be amended as a matter of urgency, to reflect the reality of the way in which curriculum subjects are delivered in the majority of primary schools in England.
It adds: ”The heart of the issue is that primary subject leadership simply does not work in the way that Ofsted appears to feel would best fit its revised inspection methodology. This is not simply an issue for very small schools; it affects most, if not all primary schools.”
However, the report praises Ofsted for clarifying that its inspection teams should not carry out deep dives into more than one of a set of subjects led by the same member of staff.
It also says that, following talks with the NAHT, Ofsted has said inspectors should welcome any senior leader that wishes to support subject leaders in curriculum discussions.
The NAHT report's other key theme is that inspectors are being asked to do too much in the time available.
“Almost universally, school leaders describe inspection as frenetic," it says.
“They say inspectors are rushed and struggle to get through the evaluation schedule. School leaders report conversations being curtailed in mid-sentence, evidence supplied by the school being refused or ignored and meetings being unduly hurried.“
The NAHT report also warns that electronic recording of evidence can result in inspectors failing to really engage fully in conversations with school leaders, subject leads and co-ordinators and teachers.
Last year the NAHT led a commission which warned that Ofsted was part of an accountability system which was doing more harm than good in schools.
An Ofsted spokesperson said: "This framework was the most widely consulted on in Ofsted’s history, and anchored in solid research.
"So far we’ve carried out over 1,200 full inspections and section 8 inspections of good and non-exempt schools. The feedback we receive continues to be very positive.
“In post-inspection surveys, nearly nine out of 10 respondents said they were satisfied with the way their inspection was carried out.
“That said, we recognise that those feeding back to the NAHT have identified areas for improved implementation.
"These mostly mirror the concerns raised by some to us directly, for example the logistics of implementation in small schools, how headteachers and other senior leaders might support subject leads, and the extent to which inspectors can cover the expectations of the framework in the time available on site.
“We welcome this feedback from the NAHT and our continuing dialogue about the implementation of the new framework. We look forward to continuing to work with the NAHT in the coming months."