Ofsted has published its latest annual report following a “year of two halves” which saw inspections halted around six months after the launch of its new inspection framework.
The report highlights that the judgment profile for schools remains “broadly stable” following the introduction of the new framework, with 86 per cent rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’. However, over half of so-called “stuck” schools inspected in the last year improved to ‘good’.
The document also rounds up concerns about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of which have already been raised by chief inspector Amanda Spielman over the past year and over the last weekend.
In this roundup we have focused on the findings of the report relating to the new inspection framework.
Here’s what we learned.
1. Still a ‘strong correlation’ between inspection outcomes and grades
One of the things Ofsted said its new inspection framework would do is focus more on what is taught in schools, rather than the outcomes pupils achieve.
However, the annual report makes clear there is still a “strong correlation” between inspection outcomes and Progress 8 scores at secondary level.
‘Outstanding’ schools inspected under the new inspection framework had an average Progress 8 score of 0.6, while ‘good’ schools had an average of 0.
Schools judged as ‘requires improvement’ had an average score of -0.4 and ‘inadequate’ schools an average of -0.7.
These averages are “very similar to what we found under the common inspection framework in 2018-19”, Ofsted said.
A similar pattern was seen in primary schools where ‘outstanding’ schools had an average reading, writing and maths score of 92, ‘good’ schools 65, ‘requires improvement’ schools 54 and ‘inadequate’ schools 48.
2. Poorer schools more likely to outperform on leadership
Ofsted also reported that, just as was seen under the previous inspection framework, schools graded higher for “leadership and management” than for “overall effectiveness” are “disproportionately” in deprived areas.
But the watchdog said it was continuing to highlight where schools in challenging circumstances are nevertheless being well led”.
3. Schools need ‘rich’ curriculum…
According to Ofsted, its inspection evidence shows the “importance of a rich and well-sequenced curriculum that leads to good results, taught by well-trained and well-supported teachers and their early years counterparts”.
In weaker providers, inspectors “often see a focus on tests or qualifications, which can lead to narrowing of the curriculum”.
Inspectors have now completed over 11,000 subject-level deep dives in schools, with subject reviews for all 11 subjects due to be published over the next two years.
A sample of deep dives analysed by Ofsted for the annual report concluded that outstanding schools tended to have a “rich” and “well planned and coherent” curriculum which is also “well-sequenced”.
In primary, this means the curriculum starts from early reading and phonics and continues through the whole school, and in secondary, key stage 3 is a “solid foundation for GCSE study”.
‘Outstanding’ schools also ensure their curriculum is “comprehensive”,
4. …but good teaching is key
However, Ofsted has warned that the best possible curriculum “will still fail if not taught well”.
A “common characteristic” of ‘outstanding’ schools is that they have “really well-trained and experienced teachers who have strong subject and pedagogical knowledge, and who feel valued by senior leaders”.
“The lessons they deliver build on prior learning and are underpinned by formative assessment in order to discover and address misconceptions and adapt lessons as they go.”
Subject knowledge is also “critical”, and Ofsted’s research found this was more of a challenge in primary where teachers must teach across the curriculum, but also in some secondaries “when teachers have to teach out of subject because of staff shortages”.
5. More concerns over curriculum narrowing
Ofsted found that primary schools judged to be ‘requires improvement’ sometimes “focused extensively on teaching reading, writing and mathematics at the expense of other subjects in the curriculum, even for pupils who had the capability to tackle a wide range of subjects”.
This “limits pupils’ ability to thrive in secondary school, where they will encounter a range of subjects”, the watchdog warned, adding that the effect would be “especially profound for disadvantaged pupils, who are less likely to be able to draw on resources at home to fill in gaps and broaden their knowledge”.
In “a minority” of secondary schools, inspections under the new framework “continued to show that not all children were receiving a full and appropriate curriculum”.
Some inspections identified and reported on curriculum narrowing, where a “disproportionate or premature emphasis on teaching exam specifications was limiting pupils’ exposure to a broad and balanced curriculum over the course of their secondary education”.
In its report, Ofsted emphasised it had “no view on the length of key stages 3 and 4”, but that it expects “all pupils to have access to a full curriculum, and not spend inordinate time preparing for GCSEs”.
In some schools, inspectors also identified “curriculum misalignment”.
This is where “substantial numbers of pupils” are directed or encouraged into courses, often for GCSE-equivalent qualifications, in which they were “likely to earn high grades but that were unlikely to help some of them to progress in the pathways that best suited their talents and interests”.
This approach could harm pupils “by preventing them from taking courses that would suit them better”, Ofsted said. Despite the concerns, the inspectorate said overall the early findings were “encouraging” as the “vast majority” of providers had curriculums that were “well developed, through through and implemented”.
6. Half of schools still ‘stuck’ after inspection
Before the new framework was introduced, there were 415 “stuck” schools – those which had not been rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ for 13 years.
Under the new framework, 53 of the 110 stuck schools inspected improved to ‘good’, while 57 did not.
Fourteen of the 23 ‘inadequate’ schools moved up to a ‘requires improvement’ judgment, but remain “stuck” as they are not yet ‘good’.
Schools that improved “did so through planning an ambitious curriculum for all, focusing on phonics in primary schools and supporting staff to be experts in their subjects”, Ofsted said.
Those that didn’t improve had issues with reading, weaknesses in SEND provision, disruptions to learning and poor attendance.
7. ‘Low expectations’ in patchy SEND provision
Along with the Care Quality Commission, Ofsted conducts joint inspections of SEND provision in local authority areas.
Ofsted said these inspectors “point to a lack of a coordinated response from education and health services in many local areas”.
Accountability is “unclear”, and in many cases, the goal of creating a child-centred system is “not being fully met”.
Area arrangements for identifying, assessing and meeting children and young people’s education, health and care needs “are frequently slow”, and families are “too often” left “feeling dissatisfied with their experience of area SEND arrangements because the quality of services and support fall short of what was envisaged in their children’s EHCPs”.
There is also a “range of quality” in SEND provision in schools. In ‘outstanding’ schools, staff are “skilled at identifying, assessing and meeting the needs of pupils with SEND”, and pupils “receive good support and achieve well”.
In schools judged as ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’, inspection reports “often note low expectations, an unambitious curriculum and weaknesses in the support provided for pupils with SEND”.
8. Fears over attendance in AP
The annual report states that although there are “many good or outstanding” alternative provision settings, providers “all too often” fail to do enough to “make sure that all pupils attend school regularly”.
“In some cases, pupils were only in school for a fraction of the time that they should have been. This leaves them at risk of criminal exploitation as well as of educational underachievement.”
Pupils in AP need consistency, but often don’t get it because of staffing turbulence. In almost half of providers, staffing instability was a “significant issue”, especially among leaders, Ofsted said.
The report also highlights the use of unregistered AP, stating that just over a third of AP settings commission the services of other providers, many of which are unregistered.
In these sub-contracted arrangements, there is “often a lack of clarity around who is monitoring unregistered AP”.