These three words have been on the lips of many school leaders during 2019 and now will continue to be at the forefront of every school’s agenda.
14th May saw the latest OFSTED framework finally published with only minor changes from its draft form released earlier in the year. The one significant change being the removal of no-notice inspections, to the relief of many schools who had highlighted how impractical this would be. Already, many who have experienced one of the many pilots have spoken positively about the experience and the changes made. Yet it still has its critics – is it too much change, too fast? Will it create further (albeit different) workload issues for schools? Should it have been even more drastic, removing judgements entirely?
Our school was fortunate enough to have Senior HMI Mark Philips attend our Agnus Dei Teaching School Alliance TeachMeet to share highlights from the draft handbook and framework. He pointed out that the greater freedoms that the system now allows (via academies, free schools etc.) also come with responsibility. His favourite questions while inspecting are, “What’s the point?” and “What difference is it making?” These are useful and pertinent in every school setting.
It was made clear that new judgement for the “Quality of Education” would be very focussed on the curriculum. This is where our “3 I”s have come into play: intent, implementation and impact. Many have rightly claimed that of course schools have always been focussed around curriculum! Yet the conversations that have emerged in the last few months suggest we are perhaps approaching things a little differently – we are no longer just caught up just in pedagogy and the how we teach, but also the what, the why and the when. Ofsted doesn’t expect this to be sorted overnight and Amanda Spielman has pointed out that schools will have at least a year to ensure their curriculum is appropriate, with conversations simply being around the direction of travel.
I am proud to say that my school has always had its students at the heart of the curriculum in recent years, despite the pressures to “game” and “play the system” with the qualifications that can help boost Progress and Attainment 8 scores. We believe in offering the best, most appropriate, and as academic as possible qualifications that we can to the young people of East London. We want to confidently claim to be aiming to enhance their life chances and opportunities and I am sure OFSTED would already recognise this.
Yet we continue to look at ways to continue to improve. We will see a significant change in the offer we make to students from September 2019, but that is because it is best for them, not for any external agency. One example is the slight increase in time that GCSE subjects will get, ensuring adequate time to further embed the principles of effective learning. No longer will we simply finish the specification, but we will have used the time wisely to review, use spaced and retrieval practice to help students really know the content. We have resisted the temptation to move to a three year Key Stage 4; we believe in providing an excellent Key Stage 3, allowing students to flourish while studying creative subjects such as DT, Music and Art, and allow a further year of History and Geography – something removed by taking ‘Options’ in Year 8.
The “Deep Dives” into subject areas are going to put Subject Leaders at the heart of the conversations during an inspection. Whereby the traditional focus has been on Senior Leaders and their internal data, it is perhaps both a daunting, but quite exciting situation for a Subject Leader to have to explain and justify their curriculum choices. As someone who genuinely loves my subject, it may be hard for the inspector to escape as I justify the content of each year, explaining how it connects, links and builds upon other areas of study, and beyond! As teachers review their curriculum, they will naturally revisit their resources to see if they are fit for purpose. Maybe they will look to textbooks in a renewed fashion; many authors have already carefully considered aspects of the ‘when’ and ‘where’ knowledge is ordered.
It will not please everyone, and some will always need OFSTED as the enemy. The consensus when Phillips visited us to explain the vision, the rationale and the plans, was an overwhelmingly positive one. However, every single person who works in a school knows exactly how stressful “the call” will remain. The historical legacy of OFSTED will not go away, and schools and individuals whose lives have been affected by judgments will remain for the foreseeable future. There has also not been any claims about consistency from OFSTED, which is a concern for schools – does the inspection visit allow enough time to see sufficient lessons, exercise books, staff and students to accurately make the judgement about the Quality of Education (alongside the Behaviour and Attitudes, Personal Development and Leadership and Management)?
Amanda Spielman has ambitious aims, and I feel some of them have been realised in this framework. It seems clear to me that she has certainly shifted the conversation, and I feel in the future she has more work to be done. In the meantime, it seems that schools will hopefully have to review their recent behaviours and talk more about education as a wider concept, rather than just data and test performances. We will have to wait and see in order to give OFSTED their judgement on that.