5 unintended consequences of the new Ofsted framework

20 Jan 2019, 5:00

The vast knowledge of HMIs should support and improve schools rather than tell them what they already know, says Vic Goddard

Most of you will have seen the film It’s a Wonderful Life, but a quick summary: we don’t know the full impact of our own behaviour on others’ lives – think ripples in a pond. When I heard that some of the decisions in the new framework are to counteract off-rolling and the spike in inappropriate permanent exclusions it made me think of that film.

The behaviours mentioned have developed into practice as a response to the current framework; whether that is through misconceptions or observing which schools are receiving the highest grades. The ripples created across the system by our accountability regime have real-life consequences on staff wellbeing, recruitment, workload and retention.

I know how hard Sean Harford, Ofsted’s national director for education, has worked to try and tackle the “misconceptions”, but sadly they are still widespread and resistant to change. Harford, I am sure, would recognise the truth of this, even if he is clear that it has never been the intention. Also whether it was ever the intention of our inspection regime to create the stress it does is less relevant than the outcome of it.

So what are some of the ripples that the new framework will cause?

1. A 150-minute notice period before the inspection team arrive on site to begin preparation

Heads expecting “the call” will not want to be too far away from school, which will have an impact on the shift to system leadership. It’s ridiculous to say that the inspection hasn’t started and they are here to prepare. We all want to show the best of ourselves when being inspected and senior leaders give a huge amount of support to staff to enable them to do just that. This is under threat as the SLT will be tied up with the Ofsted team’s “preparation”.

Heads expecting ‘the call’ will not want to be too far away from school

2. A more ‘holistic’ approach with the curriculum at the centre

The subjectivity of the current framework has always been an issue and the human factor isn’t going away. This will become starker under the new one and lead to even more uncertainty and concern about which lead you get – a listener or one that has already made up his or her mind.

3. Separate behaviour judgment

For teachers in challenging areas it is vital that the judgment is on the work the school is doing to improve behaviour and not an expectation that all children will behave perfectly at all times or the school is not doing a good job. Guess what? Our young people do not always make the right choices and we have numerous systems in place to help them make better ones over time. Do the systems stop them from ever happening? No. Do they work over time? Mostly! Any disincentive for working in challenging areas would be a disaster.

4. A much greater expectation of the EBacc being the core of “an academic curriculum”

The amount of stress caused by trying to find teachers is enormous. This will simply add to it. To expect schools to deliver a particular curriculum when teachers are being driven out of the profession by a variety of government-led decisions in many of those subjects is unreasonable. Who said that a particular suite of subjects is what constitutes the right curriculum for every child in the country? Tosh!

5. A decrease in the focus on data to show progress and an increase in the use of work scrutiny

I can see a head under pressure saying to his or her staff that minute detail of a child’s learning journey must be evident in their books. I see another “everyone must record the learning objective” car crash on the horizon.

There are things that should have been in the new framework but aren’t, such as the removal of the separate grades and a deliberate shift so that the vast knowledge of HMIs is used to support and improve schools rather than to tell them what they already know. Place-based teams are the way forward.

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