Ofsted plans overhaul of inspections to look beyond exam results

New guidelines will shift focus towards quality of education rather than ‘outcomes’

The way nurseries, schools and colleges in England are inspected is to undergo its biggest overhaul in a decade, with proposals by Ofsted aiming to address concerns that education has been too narrowly focused on exam results.

The new guidelines will be launched by Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of schools in England, in a speech on Wednesday, with a consultation on revised inspection frameworks for state and independent schools as well as early years settings and further education colleges.

Under the new proposals, schools that push out less able children – a practice known as “off-rolling” – or teach a narrow curriculum designed solely to improve test results and gaming league table rankings risk being punished by Ofsted’s inspectors.

Sean Harford, Ofsted’s national director of education, said the new frameworks “cover all the way from birth through to adult learning”, with an emphasis on the quality of education, a new inspection category that will replace “outcomes” as one of the four main areas under which schools will be inspected.

If adopted, the new framework will come into force in September this year, although Harford said it will take up to six years for all eligible schools to be inspected under it, while the 20% of schools and colleges rated as outstanding will be exempt from regular inspection.

In her speech Spielman is to say: “The new quality of inspection judgment will look at how providers are deciding what to teach and why, how well they are doing it and whether it is leading to strong outcomes for young people.

“This will reward those who are ambitious and make sure that young people accumulate rich, well-connected knowledge and develop strong skills using this knowledge.”

Luke Tryl, Ofsted’s director of corporate strategy, said that inspections would no longer place as much weight on data in forming their judgment. “We are not saying outcomes don’t matter, but we have reached the limits of what data alone can tell us,” he said. Inspectors will have a longer period to assess the quality of teaching and will interview staff as part of the process.

The proposals were welcomed by Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England.

“I remain extremely concerned about the number of schools gaming the system and fiddling exam league tables through off-rolling, and I hope that Ofsted will grasp this opportunity to come down hard on schools who are letting down some of the most vulnerable children,” Longfield said.

The new framework was also backed by Damian Hinds, the education secretary for England: “As we have improved the curriculum and reformed GCSEs and A-levels, we have been fully united with Ofsted in our drive to ensure all children and young people benefit from an ambitious, broad and balanced curriculum.

“This framework reflects that approach and our continuing activity around exclusions and off-rolling.”

Angela Rayner, Labour’s shadow education secretary, welcomed the move to address off-rolling but said more significant reform was needed to ensure that Ofsted didn’t add to the pressures on teachers.

“Labour will address these issues by giving our schools the resources they need, reforming the accountability system and taking concrete steps to end the scandal of off-rolling,” Rayner said.

The National Association of Head Teachers said it was calling on its members to use the consultation to amend the proposed framework.

“In its current form, this proposal from Ofsted will cause widespread concern amongst school leaders. There’s nothing here that will reduce stress and increase the reliability of judgements, which many say is sorely needed,” said Nick Brook, the NAHT’s deputy general secretary.

The new framework will also see an increased emphasis on behaviour and attitudes in a revised category, with schools able to be rated as having outstanding behaviour if pupils “behave with consistently high respect for others”. In particular it notes that schools in “challenging circumstances” need to take action to create a “positive learning environment” to be awarded outstanding status.

A recent Ofsted inspection of a secondary school in Poole, Magna Academy, saw inspectors endorse its use of “silent corridor” policies, with pupils barred from talking while moving between lessons.

A new inspection area – personal development – will rate how a school prepares pupils for life in modern Britain, while the leadership category will now encompass issues such as off-rolling, which Harford defined as “getting rid of people because they’re not going to get the right scores”.

In a nod to an ongoing dispute among teachers, Ofsted’s consultation document notes that “a divisive debate has emerged in some quarters that creates an unnecessary opposition between knowledge and skills” and concludes that the two are “closely interconnected”.


Richard Adams Education editor

The GuardianTramp

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