Ofsted plans to overhaul the way it inspects schools in England, downgrading the influence of exam results in favour of a closer look at pupil behaviour and at the breadth of subjects being taught.
Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of schools, outlined details of the new inspection regime, with the current category of “outcomes for pupils” that includes exam performance to be dropped in Ofsted’s inspection reports.
“For a long time, our inspections have looked hardest at outcomes, placing too much weight on test and exam results when we consider the overall effectiveness of schools,” Spielman said in a speech to school leaders in Newcastle.
Concentrating on exam performance “has increased the pressure on school leaders, teachers and indirectly on pupils to deliver perfect data above all else,” she said.
Instead, schools would be judged on “quality of education” as one of four key areas of inspection.
Schools would still be awarded an overall rating, and judgments would continue to use a four-point scale running from outstanding to inadequate, under proposals to be put out for consultation in January.
The changes were largely greeted with enthusiasm, with Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, describing the shift away from results as “a breath of fresh air”.
“Exams and tests will always play an important role but they have become too all-consuming in recent years, and we need a more balanced approach,” Barton said.
Spielman said the new quality section would focus on the curriculum taught within a school, rewarding those that offer pupils a broad range of subjects.
“Ofsted will challenge those schools where too much time is spent on preparation for tests at the expense of teaching, where pupils’ choices are narrowed or where children are pushed into less rigorous qualifications mainly to boost league table positions,” Spielman said.
The other major change involves looking at behaviour and pupil attitudes in a single category, signalling a more critical view to how schools deal with classroom behaviour.
“We believe that the tough business of behaviour and the attitudes pupils bring to learning and a school’s approach to things like attendance, bullying and exclusions are best considered separately,” Spielman said.
The changes also received a measured endorsement from Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT union, who said teachers had long been concerned at Ofsted’s narrow focus on collecting data.
“If implemented effectively, the NASUWT would expect these reforms to help address the problem of excessive bureaucracy, which is diverting teachers from focusing on teaching and learning,” Keates said.
In a separate speech, the education secretary, Damian Hinds, appealed to school leaders for help in reforming the oversight of multi-academy trusts currently running chains of state schools in England.
Hinds said he was convening “roundtables and meetings with trust chairs and chief executives across the country” over how to hold their trusts to account.
The move follows a string of failures, such as the collapse of the Wakefield City Academies Trust, which last year announced it was giving up control of 21 schools, while tens of thousands of pupils remain at “zombie schools” unable to find a trust willing to govern them.
Hinds’ speech also contained attacks on Labour’s plans to re-establish local authority control of schools, with Hinds saying he wanted “honest answers” from Angela Rayner, the shadow secretary of state, over how Labour’s policy would work.
“When ministers have more to say about the opposition’s policies than their own, it is clear that they’ve run out of ideas,” Rayner said in response.
Meanwhile, the House of Lords joined recent critics of the Department for Education’s behaviour, with the Lords’ secondary legislation scrutiny committee rebuking the DfE for “inadequacies” in the timing of its consultation on teachers’ pay.
The consultation ran from 24 July, when most state schools in England had broken up for the summer, and ended on 3 September, the first day of the new academic year.
“In the committee’s view, the Department for Education prioritised its own requirements over the needs of the parties consulted,” the peers said in a statement.
On Monday the UK statistics watchdog said it had “serious concerns” over the DfE’s misuse of statistics relating to school funding and improvement, warning that the department risked losing credibility.