Schools buying 'very poor' online advice for Ofsted

Schools worried about new inspections wasting money they 'probably haven’t got' on identikit help from expensive consultants, union warns

The NASUWT has warned that a lot of schools are buying poor quality advice from consultants about the new Ofsted framework.

Schools are wasting money buying identikit curriculum intent statements from the internet to impress Ofsted inspectors, a teaching union has warned.

The inspectorate is introducing a new inspection framework, which puts less emphasis on a school's results and more on its curriculum and the intent behind it, from September.

It has frequently said that schools do not need to spend money on consultants to prepare for the new regime.

National director of education Sean Harford has urged schools “not to buy the snake oil”, and chief inspector Amanda Spielman says heads should "tell [consultants] where to go”.


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And earlier this month, Ofsted told schools that they do not need to write curriculum intent statements after hearing some were being offered half-day courses to do just that.

However, Darren Northcott, the NASUWT teaching union’s national official for education, this week said that many schools are not heeding the advice against paying consultants.

Speaking at a Westminster Education Forum event he said: “We are coming across, I am afraid, a lot of schools that are doing exactly that.

"They are buying advice from consultants and all the rest of it at great expense. Much of it is of very poor quality.”

He told Tes the most common example was schools buying curriculum intent statements.

He said there were a “range of reasons”, and added: “Something that comes up is perhaps a lack of confidence.

“You can understand if schools have been focused on data and are now being asked to focus on the curriculum, they may feel ‘well, it’s going to be easier for us to buy something off the internet.’

“These intent statements are all going to look the same, and the inspectors will very soon become familiar with them.”

He said that while schools are increasing the focus on their curriculum, “We need to be clear that the answer isn’t to spend money that you probably haven’t got on expensive consultants.”

Mr Northcott said feedback from union members suggested that primary and secondary schools were equally likely to be buying curriculum intent statements, as were schools with both positive and negative Ofsted grades.

He said that NASUWT was going to be “systematically collecting that evidence to make sure that we are able to pick up on schools that are buying in unnecessarily services and products just to respond to the Ofsted framework”.

Earlier at the event, Phil Minns, Ofsted’s specialist adviser for early years and primary, said a common question from schools was whether they should “get advice from a consultant or buy in specific products”.

His answer was: “No! There is nothing mysterious here. The quality of education is about schools and trusts thinking about the curriculum carefully for themselves.”

Responding to Mr Nothcott's comments, Mr Minns said: “You can pay a lot of money to get in somebody who will tell you they are an expert, but actually the expertise they have access to is the same as yours and what we are really interested in is what that means in your school.

“How have you with your leaders and your staff sorted out what your school delivers, based on the needs of your children?

“The idea of something off-the-shelf or bespoke or someone who can help you with that: you are the experts in schools. You know what your children need and what the best way to deliver that is.”

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