How Ofsted is trying to tackle the culture of teaching to the test

18 Jan 2019, 5:00


Inspection should capture the things that no data measure can, says Amanda Spielman. ‘We need to look at how a school has achieved results, not just take them at face value’

I hope that most of you will have seen that we have now published a consultation on our new education inspection framework that we intend to bring in this September.

We are proposing a shift so that inspection looks harder at the real substance of education, at what children are really learning.

We know a data-heavy culture has led to perverse consequences, consequences that are actively detrimental to the substance of education. We’ve seen curriculums being narrowed and a culture of teaching to the test sometimes trumping real learning. This, in turn, has had implications for workloads. I understand why these practices have emerged, and I acknowledge that we have played a part. But these are the things we are now trying to tackle.

It is clear that we have reached the limits of using data alone as a proxy for educational quality. Inspection should capture the things that no data measure can, no matter how well constructed. We need to look at how a school has achieved results, not just take them at face value, and at the things that aren’t and often can’t be measured.

We have reached the limits of using data as a proxy for educational quality

That is not to say that outcomes don’t matter. They matter hugely to children who take them, and to their parents. That is why we will still look at external performance data to ensure that schools are setting children up to succeed in the next stage of their education or future careers. But we will look at that outcomes data in the context of what is being taught and how, through a focus on the substance.

Because it is only by emphasising substance that we can contribute to true standards. Real standards come from children being taught a rich and broad curriculum, and the way that this is achieved is through a relentless focus on what is taught and how it is taught. Doing that will require some extra time in schools, which we will manage within our current budget. As before, we will be going into lessons and looking at students’ work, but also having deeper discussions with curriculum and subject leaders, or heads of department, talking about curriculum intention, coherence and sequencing as well as its translation into the classroom.

We have also taken pains to be clear that there will be no Ofsted-approved curriculum. There are a variety of approaches to the curriculum and we do not have a preference among them. Equally, we do not want to see schools turning to consultants, or jumping through hoops to start creating curriculums from scratch unnecessarily: for many, the national curriculum provides the right baseline. At the same time, I know there are those who want to innovate and try new approaches. I certainly don’t want to stop those people, or those who want to innovate or participate in trials, such as those run by the Education Endowment Foundation.

Ofsted is not the sole repository of wisdom here

And on the topic of research and evidence, the proposals we outlined this week are built on our collective experience from 26 years of inspections and sector research. When I became chief inspector I promised that everything I did would be evidence-led. That’s why for the first time we have published a research commentary alongside the framework, which explains the evidence base for the proposals.

We’ve also done more development work, more testing, built in a programme of more than 200 inspections, and published more explanatory materials than for any other framework. That’s why we’re confident that this is the right time to introduce this framework. Any delay would be an unnecessary delay in improving children’s education.

But to reiterate how I started. This is a genuine consultation. Ofsted is not the sole repository of wisdom here. That is why we want to hear what you think about the proposals, what you like about them and what you think could be improved. Ofsted is committed to being a force for improvement in education. I believe that this framework, and your response to it, will take us further in making that real than ever before.

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