Debra Rutley rejoiced when she read the new Ofsted framework. “At last we in AP could tell our story”

The day the new Ofsted framework came out I was at an event for alternative provision chief executives, where two Ofsted HMIs, Nick Whittaker and Dan Owen, were speaking.

None of the attendees had had a chance to look at the framework, so we were relying on what the HMIs said. The reaction was positive; personally I loved what I heard so much that I practically skipped home. At last we in AP could tell our story: “all AP contexts are different”.

The key word from Whittaker and Owen was aspiration, which is fabulous for Aspire, our AP trust. Having high aspirations for all young people is key in all AP settings, which is why I ask our staff to reflect daily and ask, “Is this good enough for my child?”

On the train home, checking reactions in the press and on social media, it became clear that a lot of people didn’t share my enthusiasm. I began to doubt myself and what I’d heard, so there was nothing for it but to read the whole lot: handbook and annexes.

I love that it’s not black and white

I’m not saying that I love Ofsted and being inspected, but my conclusion at the end of the 96 pages was that if it has to be, then this framework is good for me. I love the simplicity of it, and the invitation, as explained to us by Whittaker, to each tell our unique story through intention, implementation and impact.

I love that Ofsted recognises that not only are no two AP settings or pupil-referral units the same, but also that different provision with the one AP can be different. What’s your ambition (intent) in that provision, with those children and in that community? How do you do that? (implementation) and how successful are you (impact)? Basically, we’re being asked to start with the WHY.

I love the flexibility for those who have the courage to stick to and explain their “why”. I love that it’s not black and white. Attendance isn’t a raw score, but a look at improvements, given the unique cases that we have. Even the use of part-time timetables is evaluated based on the story and the ambition we have for that child. I love that Ofsted acknowledges and understands the turbulence factor of a constantly changing cohort. New students each week upsets the delicate balance, and the atmosphere in an AP setting can be transformed overnight from a Swiss finishing school to Beirut.

There are five main areas where we can tell our story. (This is based on the Ofsted draft handbook, with a bit of my own interpretation!)

1. Knowing your students. Assessing students on entry is key to working out what kind of provision they need and making an ambitious plan.

2. Curriculum (the three Is)
i) In this setting, for this young person our ambition is…
ii) Over time we are building knowledge and skills against the background of our assessment.
iii) Is our plan translated into reality given our context and challenges.

3. Partnership working. Families, families and more families with support.

4. Aspirations. “Is this good enough for my child?” linked with all aspects of PRU life such as attendance, reintegration, goal setting, improving attitudes and behaviour.

5. Are young people prepared for the next steps?

These five areas fit in with all of the different provisions we have at Aspire, from complex mental health, hospital school provision, key stage 3 reintegration programmes and year 11 full-time provision. We have a why and a story for each.

My only note of caution, where I would suggest careful storytelling and use of case studies with Ofsted, is around reintegration. We in AP are often judged on something that takes two organisations to make work. Mainstream is the other partner in this success or failure, and too much emphasis on our responsibility masks the barriers we and our students often face.

Ofsted HMIs are welcome anytime to Aspire. I’d happily discuss what we do and why, within all our provisions, and, in this new context, I might even have the courage to talk without fear about our challenges.