Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman appeared in front of MPs this morning to answer questions about relationships and sex education, teacher training and how Covid impacted inspections.
Here’s what we learned.
1. Ofsted stands by inspections of trainers that failed accreditation
As revealed by Schools Week, the government’s ITT review denied accreditation to some providers rated ‘outstanding’ under Ofsted’s tougher new framework.
Spielman said Ofsted has since “looked at the places where there were different outcomes, and as far as we can see…it’s a difference between perhaps how people describe what they do and what it translates into on the ground”.
“The processes are not quite capturing the same thing. We’ve reviewed our inspections in the light of what we’ve seen in the accreditation outcomes and we’re confident in the judgments we’ve made.”
Asked if this cast doubt on the DfE accreditation’s system, Spielman said: “I think that’s a question for ministers who I understand you’re seeing over the next few weeks.”
2. Number of ‘outstanding’ ITT providers got ‘uncomfortably high’
Ofsted began inspecting initial teacher training (ITT) providers under a new framework in May 2021.
Spielman said the new inspections were “getting under the bonnet” of the quality and substance of training, and “throwing up a better distribution of outcomes”, with fewer providers rated as ‘outstanding’.
Prior to the introduction of the new framework, all ITT providers had been rated ‘good’ or outstanding’. Spielman said the number with outstanding ratings had got “uncomfortably high” and the previous framework had looked “more to process than substance”.
3. Omicron meant 1,000 inspections ‘lost’…
Last December, Ofsted suspended its inspections a week early in response to the Omicron wave of Covid. In January it allowed deferrals to all schools that requested them, and did not call on serving heads to carry out inspections.
Spielman said today that a “combination” of those factors “meant I think that we lost about 1,000 school inspections out of the programme”.
“From spring half term we reverted to a normal programme. We were slightly hit last year by slightly higher absence among our own staff as well. So I think we were about 1,000 inspections behind where we wanted to be”.
4. …but Ofsted ‘confident’ of 2025 target
Ofsted announced last year that it would inspect all schools by summer 2025 as part of its strategy to raise standards.
Spielman said today the setbacks caused by Omicron had been “factored into the planning” to meet that commitment.
While she was unable to reveal the number inspected so far in the hearing, she added Ofsted was “confident that we will meet the target”.
5. Spielman wants ‘limits’ on what’s taught in RSE
Spielman said relationships and sex education (RSE) guidance sometimes created “difficulty” for schools because it’s structured in terms of the “minimum” they must do, rather than “the furthest they should go”.
“So, it can appear as though the various mechanisms are encouraging schools to go ever further.”
In an effort to resolve this, she said she had advised the DfE it would be “extremely helpful if the guidance could be iterated to place some limits on what schools should reasonably teach”.
She added that “age-appropriate carries a lot of weight, and case studies and examples can do a great deal”.
Asked if she would recommend “more rigid guidelines” on the age-appropriateness of content, Spielman said she would “welcome clearer guidance for schools”.
She added that the “burden on heads trying to navigate deeply contested issues is actually very considerable…they need real clarity from government”.
6. ‘Regrets’ that inspectors can’t meet all teachers
Spielman was asked about criticism of Ofsted by the National Education Union.
She revealed said one of her “regrets” was that the “constrained model” of “short” inspection meant Ofsted “can’t interact with every single teacher in a school”.
She said this was “one of the things which I know we sometimes hear, that people want to interact with inspection teams, that people want feedback on themselves”.
“We can’t do that within the constraints that we operate, but we have put a tremendous amount into making sure we provide constructive dialogue and feedback for leaders in schools.”
7. ‘Our job is to diagnose, not treat and improve’
Spielman said Ofsted’s inspection models were “designed to meet the policy purposes government set”.
“Many of the concerns people express about inspection really come down to not liking the purpose government sets for us, and to wishing that we could be turned into a school support mechanism.
“But the policy divide at the moment, that has been set by government for the last decade, is that our job is only to diagnose, not to treat and improve. And I have to respect government policy.”
8. Future of ‘attendance alliance’ uncertain
Last year, education secretary Nadhim Zahawi launched a 17-member “attendance alliance” which was tasked with working to reduce absence from schools.
Today, Spielman said the “periodic get-together” had provided a “forum for people to share what they were doing and think about what more in the light of what they were hearing from others might join up”.
She said the alliance had been “helpful” but had not met since the reshuffle in the summer.
“I don’t know whether the current secretary of state is planning to reinstate it.”