A deep dive into the unknown or light at the end of the tunnel? Thoughts on the new Ofsted framework

Light at end of tunnel image

By Emma Bishop, Subject Leader for Science in a Devon Academy

During my 23 years as a teacher, I have endured my fair share of jumping through Ofsted-generated hoops. Fads have come and gone and the days of high stakes lesson observations where we were falling over ourselves to show rapid progress are still fresh in my memory. Then, when Ofsted shifted their change in focus to outcomes, many schools developed horribly detailed data and intervention systems, adding to teachers’ ever-increasing workloads.

So, my first impressions on reading the new framework were overwhelmingly positive. I feel that the days of curriculum narrowing, playing the system, and teaching to the test needed to come to an end. I felt that Ofsted had been focusing on the results that students achieve with little regard for the methods by which they obtained them. With the recent publication of the new inspection framework for September 2019 comes the recognition that a school’s worth cannot be judged by outcomes alone. I couldn’t agree more!

Evidence-based teaching

One of the welcome changes for me was the use of evidence-based research to inform the framework. I have been interested in research on effective teaching for some time. Daniel Muijs is Ofsted’s Head of Research has claimed to draw on decades of research in school and teacher effectiveness to underpin the importance of effective teaching. I wholeheartedly agree that classroom practice is the single most important factor in school effectiveness, so I am encouraged that research on the science of learning and cognitive load theory has also been central to informing the framework.

I have been particularly focusing on the use of Barak Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction and have been regularly reviewing material, planning thoughtful questioning, clear explanations and modelling, and lots of practice.  Each of one these areas can be a focus area for improvement and I plan to continue to use multiple ways to engage with the ideas and to find a focus for deliberate practice. In my teaching this has included regular retrieval practice, interleaving, more modelling using a visualiser, well thought through explanations and models using dual coding and making time for pupils to use SLOP activities (Shed Loads of Practice) to embed their learning.

It’s worth noting that Ofsted are keen to highlight that they do not dictate a particular teaching method or recommend any particular teaching style, though.

Data and assessment

The fact that inspectors will not ask to look at internal data records is incredibly refreshing to me. I’m hoping the changes will enable us to develop sensible assessment schedules that match our curriculum rather than the data drop.

Subject knowledge and curriculum

Ofsted are also clear on the importance of teacher subject knowledge and believe that “if curriculum lies at the heart of education, and subject lies at the heart of curriculum, then it follows that teachers need solid knowledge and understanding of the subject(s) they teach.” This is a refreshing and important focus but how will this be inspected? I feel that it will be a vital strategic role of leaders to ensure that teachers receive focused and highly effective professional development to support those teaching outside their main area of expertise.

I have followed with interest reports from schools who have had pilots for the new framework and, as a subject leader, am wondering what a “deep dive” into the curriculum will be like. How can judgements be made in these areas based on work scrutiny and lesson observation?  I have read reports of senior leaders now having less contact with inspectors and subject leaders being involved to a much greater extent than they previously were. On a personal level, I’m not sure how I feel about this added responsibility, but I do think that we are best placed to discuss the curriculum in our own particular subject areas.

I am also reassured by Ofsted’s intention to apply a transition period to their judgements on the development of curriculum plans. I do feel the 12 month timescale for this carries some inherent risks. Will schools rush to create cross-curricular topics by mapping the curriculum? I would like the opportunity to plan teaching that develops understanding of the subject and how it relates and links to other subjects within our own science curriculum plan.

I have been enjoying the discourse about Key Stage 3 that has been going on between science teachers on Twitter and on the cognitive science email group. Bloggers like Adam Boxer have already made fantastic points about KS3 and I would like to simplify things in our department by using core questions for each Big Idea. I do not plan to reduce our 2-year KS3 even further by starting GCSE preparation in Year 7 and agree with the quote, “You have to remember KS3 is not just about preparation for GCSE Science, it is about giving the students a broad and varied scientific understanding and knowledge about how their world works – including things like space and plant reproduction even if they don’t come up in your GCSE spec.” 

As a department, I plan to use the EEF recommendations for improving secondary science as a basis for an audit and hope that after exams, we get the chance to reflect on what we do well and what we would like to improve (this is a useful poster summarising the EEF recommendations).

Final thoughts

If I have any worries, it would be that the interpretation of the framework by senior leaders has the potential to create unnecessary workload for subject leaders. I am concerned that we may be required to write detailed reports to justify our curriculum decisions, rather than taking time to focus on improvements. I also wonder to what extent we can have total trust in the ability of inspection teams to make a valid and reliable judgement?

Hopefully there is light at the end of the tunnel and we will all be allowed to focus on what we do best.