Ofsted launches consultation on new inspections that look beyond test results

Early years providers now have the chance to have their say about a radical overhaul to the inspection process, which shifts the focus to quality of education, rather than outcomes.

Head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, has launched a consultation on how early years settings, schools and colleges in England will be inspected from this September.

The new framework proposes to rebalance inspection, so that instead of taking exam results and test data at face value, Ofsted will look at how a nursery, school or college's results have been achieved and whether they are a result of broad and rich learning, or ‘gaming and cramming’.

This means working with inspections that aim to focus on what children learn, rather than ‘performance data’.

The schools watchdog says this is in response to its research, which found that teachers across all education stages feel the current burden of paperwork detracts from time spent working directly with children.

The new framework has been designed to address this problem, with a new focus on whether children are being offered a ‘rich curriculum’ and how well it is taught.

Ofsted says it has spent more than a year researching the proposed framework, hosting engagement events and speaking with stakeholders. It has also been tested in a number of pilot inspections. More events and pilot inspections are planned throughout the consultation, which is open until 4 April 2019, while the new inspection handbooks and final framework are due to be published later in the summer.

Understanding the key proposals
These include:

  • A new ‘quality of education’ judgement, with the curriculum at its heart
  • Looking at outcomes in context and whether they are the result of a coherently planned curriculum, delivered well
  • No longer using schools’ internal performance data as inspection evidence, to ensure inspection does not create unnecessary work for teachers
  • Separate judgements about learners’ ‘personal development’ and ‘behaviour and attitudes’
  • Extending on-site time for short inspections of good schools to two days, to ensure inspectors have sufficient opportunity to gather evidence that a school remains good

The ‘leadership and management’ judgement will remain, and will include looking at how leaders develop teachers and staff, while taking their workload and wellbeing into account.

Inspectors will continue to make an overall effectiveness judgement about a provider. All judgements will still be awarded under the current four-point grading scale of outstanding, good, requires improvement, and inadequate.

Ofsted said it believes the proposed changes to the framework will make it easier to recognise and reward good work done by schools in areas of high disadvantage, by tackling the perverse incentives that leave them feeling they have to narrow the curriculum.

Shifting the emphasis away from performance data will empower schools to always put the child first and actively discourage negative practices such as off-rolling, where less able children are pushed out,  it said.

Ofsted has also responded to the demand for parents to give better information about how well behaviour is managed in a school, along with the existing information they value and understand. There will be a new separate behaviour judgement to reassure parents that behaviour is good, and that schools are creating a calm, well-managed environment, free from bullying.

Alongside that, proposals for a ‘personal development judgement’ will recognise the work schools and colleges do to build young people’s resilience and confidence in later life – through work such as cadet forces, National Citizenship Service, sports, drama or debating teams.

Sector response
Michael Freeston, the Pre-school Learning Alliance's director of quality improvement, said: ‘We welcome the proposed early years inspection framework, which is a real positive step in the right direction. While the current Common Inspection Framework has plenty of value in it, it relies on some concepts and terms from school provision that never made sense in an early years setting. This new framework not only rectifies that, but also shifts the focus on to the overall importance of the child’s educational experience in the provision, while emphasising practitioners’ ability to demonstrate this to the inspector over to the production of records and data.

‘We also welcome the stronger reference to the Characteristics of Effective Learning as something inspectors should consider when they look at children’s attitudes and behaviours, as this demonstrates Ofsted’s recognition that “how” children learn is as important as “what” they learn.' 

However, Mr Freeston sounds a note of caution, recognising that the review of the Early Learning Goals and the re-introduction of baseline assessment, with their narrow focus on numeracy and literacy, do not sit with this new emphasis on instilling a life-long love of learning:  He says: ‘Our concern is that, until those differences are reconciled, there’s a real danger that providers will be caught between being inspected on how their children learn and delivering against an increasingly narrow understanding what should be taught.’

Purnima Tanuku OBE, NDNA’s chief executive, sees the consultation as a crucial opportunity for the early years sector to understand Ofsted’s proposed changes and shape the framework’s future direction.

‘Initially, the changes appear to be more outcomes focused with an emphasis on teaching which is an important shift,’ she says. ‘Managers will now be expected to carry out observations rather than early years teachers which could devalue their qualification further if we are not careful.

‘The judgements are different too, and inspectors will want to look at records of behaviour which is developmentally not appropriate in an early years setting.

‘Ofsted is proposing a lot of changes, with early years moving towards a model that more closely aligns with the school model. This would be concerning and we would want this framework to recognise and respect that children learn differently in early years.’

At Voice: the union for education professionals, a call has been made for a delay in full implementation of the new framework to enable schools, colleges and nurseries to prepare for the changes.

General Secretary Deborah Lawson said: ‘This a positive step forward. We welcome the proposed framework’s emphasis on the quality of education and teaching, moving away from the current focus on data and results.

‘Exams are only one measure with which to judge a school’s performance. The outcome of an inspection should not rest, or be perceived to rest, on exam results and league tables.

‘Voice, in response to members’ concerns, has long called for Ofsted inspections to be more consistent, and to be supportive and positive, rather than punitive and negative. We believe Ofsted should be about enabling, not penalising, education professionals.

‘However, Voice is concerned about the pace of change, with the final framework and inspection handbooks due for publication in summer 2019 for implementation in September. The implementation timeline does not factor in sufficient time to amend the draft guidance and handbook.'


‘We question the wisdom of full implementation of the new framework for inspection in the autumn and suggest either pausing or trialling inspections during the autumn term instead, to ensure that all education establishments have time to prepare for the changes.’






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