Ofsted fears reform will spark 'perfect book syndrome'

Sean Harford outlines myths that might have to be busted as the inspectorate introduces its new framework

Sean Harford was asked what myths he thought would arise with the new Ofsted inspection framework.

Ofsted fears that its new inspection regime could lead schools to try to produce "perfect" pupil workbooks to impress inspectors.

Sean Harford, Ofsted's national director of education, said the inspectorate's commitment not to look at schools’ internal data might lead to “perfect book syndrome” if schools wrongly thought inspectors would look for other evidence of pupils’ performance.


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He has previously been responsible for high-profile “myth busting” documents which the inspectorate has used to discourage schools doing unnecessary work for Ofsted inspectors.

Speaking at the Festival of Education at Wellington College on Friday he was asked to predict which myths he might have to bust under the new inspection regime, which comes into effect in September.

He said: “One, I think, will be the perfect book syndrome, which is the idea that if we are not looking at internal data then what on earth are we looking at? It must be we are looking at books, so everyone will have to have perfect books.

“No. In fact, we won’t be looking at those books to try to assess the standard the children are working at at that point. It’s not about that.

“It’s actually about, going back to this word ‘connected’, this is actually about connecting. Is the work the children and young people are doing supporting the intention of the curriculum?"

He added: “So if you intended the youngsters to learn about the causes of the First World War, but when you go down into the class they are dressing up in 1914 clothes but that is not helping them learn about the causes of the First World War, the intention has been lost somewhere, hasn’t it?

“It’s about work supporting what the curriculum is intending those young people to learn and know about.”

The framework has a heavy focus on the curriculum, and Mr Harford told the audience that one myth that had already emerged was that schools would have to rewrite their curriculum, and to have reviewed and evaluated their curriculum before September.

He said that schools that are currently in the middle of a curriculum review should not stop it, and added: “If you’ve just finished one, don’t redo it. Have the courage of your convictions.

“We’ve got this transition period for the first year, where the intention of the curriculum won’t be a downgrading issue, and we will review that next summer.”

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