Inspectors take child's eye view

1st December 2005 at 00:00

Elaine Williams has a checklist to help schools show they have taken the Every Child Matters agenda on board

When the inspector calls under the new framework his or her key question is probably going to be "so what?" You might have a plethora of breakfast and after-school clubs, water-coolers, fresh, locally-sourced food served up for lunch, a one-stop health centre on site and anti-bullying statements on every door, but you could still be missing the point.

It's not that new inspection teams are prone to adolescent-style truculence; they just want to know that the all-singing, all-dancing school is focused on children's learning and has not just gone for the pick'n mix approach - one of everything in the hope that something will hit the spot.

What difference does all this make, they will ask, to the particular learning needs of this particular school community - and where is the evidence?

The framework judges schools on the five outcomes contained in the Government's Every Child Matters document (see checklist). But according to Dave Ford, a lead Ofsted inspector and chief inspector for Durham education authority, they are less likely to be healthy and safe, make a positive contribution to society and enjoy economic well-being unless they enjoy their learning and achieve their potential. Well-educated children are likely to become better-off, and the better-off are more likely to be healthy, secure and contribute to society. In other words, it doesn't matter how many buddying schemes schools have, or how much sport pupils play, if learning standards are below the expected level, inspectors are not likely to be impressed. At the core of the five outcomes has to be pupil motivation and achievement and all activities have to be related back to that, rather than seen as beneficial add-ons.

Moreover, it's no use having racks of water bottles on prominent display, or high-profile health campaigns if inspectors see that children do not have open access to water during lessons, or they spy huddles of smokers around the school grounds.

Framwellgate school in Durham, a 1,250-pupil secondary, has recently undergone a new-style inspection and was judged outstanding in its overall effectiveness. Joan Sjovoll, the headteacher, said schools should not view meeting the Children Act outcomes as separate to the business of achievement. She said: "Other agencies involved in the children agenda have other things as their core business. Ours has to be about raising achievement because we are schools. It's no good saying we look after our children, we keep them safe, if in doing that we don't challenge them to achieve.

"For example, if a child who is being bullied is supported successfully through the school's anti-bullying procedures, the question we have to ask that child ultimately is whether that intervention has enabled them to carry on enjoying and succeeding in their studies. That is also what the inspectors will ask."

One inspector on every team is likely to be looking at the Every Child Matters outcomes. At Framwellgate that inspector held meetings with the child protection officer, the special needs co-ordinator and children from Framwellgate's achievement centre "who face the most challenges"; she conducted lesson observations and talked to children about their work.

Joan Sjovoll said: "That inspector wanted to see that children were achieving and that they understood the reasons for why things are as they are in our school.

"For example, pupils in our school had asked for lockers, but we're not providing them because of narrow corridors and access and they therefore present a health and safety hazard. What's important to inspectors is not that we don't have lockers, but that pupils understand the reasons for not having them."

Mr Ford said the Every Child Matters agenda within inspection meant that schools and inspectors were required to look through "the lens of a child":

"Schools might do lots of things slavishly from dawn to dusk, but they must know what children feel about them and that they are having an effect on achievement.

"Under the outcome promoting economic well-being, schools might think they have to provide some financial education. Yes, a certain amount might be beneficial, but that's not the big deal. What inspectors want to know is whether students have the skills to operate in the wider world. Are they literate, numerate, proficient in information and communications technology, can they work in teams. They will want to know that headteachers are aware of the destinations of their pupils. They will want to know that pupils understand why these things are important."

At Framwellgate, said Ms Sjovoll, staff had concentrated on giving pupils the language and criteria to make judgements about the quality of lessons.

The school is training students to be researchers in partnership with Newcastle university's school of education. Currently they are surveying pupils' attitudes to aspects of classroom practice which are fed back to teachers. Students learn to work so they can go as observers into lessons "very focused and with agreed criteria rather than making judgements about what we do from gut reaction. We see that as good practice to develop independent learners who can make a positive contribution. We have refocused our activity as a school on what the children are doing and thinking."

Carol White, head of children's services in Calderdale, one of eight authorities to undergo a pilot joint area review of children's services, said that from next April, schools will also be required to demonstrate an understanding of the five outcomes as they relate to the particular needs of their communities. By then all local authorities and their partners, including schools, should have drawn up a required Children and Young People's plan. She said: "The key focus will remain teaching and learning, leadership and management, but before making decisions about , say, extended school provision, or how they organise personal, social and health education schools must ask what it is their children and communities need and they must have the evidence to go with it."


Schools are judged by Ofsted under the headings of overall effectiveness; achievement and standards; personal development and well-being; the quality of provision; and leadership and management.

The extent to which schools enable pupils to achieve and enjoy is regarded as the core business encompassed by all the above headings. Schools are judged on the other four outcomes which relate to children: being healthy; staying safe; making a positive contribution; achieving economic well-being; under "personal development and well-being".

Being healthy

* Encourage and enable pupils to eat and drink healthily and take regular exercise.

* Discourage them from smoking and substance abuse.

* Educate pupils about sexual health.

Staying safe

* Procedures for safeguarding pupils should meet current government requirements.

* Risk assessment procedures and related staff training should be in place.

* Anti-social behaviour, such as bullying and racism, should be reduced.

* Teach pupils about key risks and how to deal with them.

Making a positive contribution

* Help pupils develop stable, positive relationshipsl Enable them to participate in making decisions that affect them.

* Encourage them to initiate, join and manage activities in school and the community.

Achieving economic well-being

* Promote pupils' basic skills.

* Develop enterprise skills and work in teams.

* Provide careers education and guidance to all pupils at key stage 3 and 4 and in the sixth form.

* Help 14 to 19-year-olds understand employment and the economy.

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