Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
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Matthew Purves at the Schools and Academies Show

Ofsted's Deputy Director for Schools yesterday discussed the new education inspection framework and initial feedback from pilot inspections.

The education inspection framework

Good morning! Thank you Tom, and thank you everyone for being here. I hope you’ve found the whole schools and academies show illuminating over the last 2 days.

My name is Matthew Purves. I oversee school inspection for Ofsted, and for almost the last 2 years it has been my pleasure to lead Ofsted’s work to produce a new education inspection framework (EIF) for introduction from this September.

Our goal for the new framework at Ofsted is really simple. We want to keep increasing the extent to which Ofsted is a force for improvement in our schools through intelligent, focused and responsible inspection.

The new framework puts the real substance of education, the curriculum, at the heart of inspection. It values and supports leaders and staff who are acting with integrity. And it takes the focus away from the generation and analysis of internal data, so that instead of teachers and leaders spending their time producing that data ‘for Ofsted’, they have our support to spend their time being educators, which is why we all entered the sector in the first place.

EIF judgements

The proposed new framework has 4 key judgements:

  • quality of education
  • personal development
  • behaviour and attitudes
  • leadership and management

The quality of education judgement focuses on the curriculum, that is, on what is taught. It considers how that curriculum is translated into practice in the classroom, including the way teaching and assessment are used. Finally, it looks at the standards that pupils achieve and what they know and can do as a result of the education they have received.

Personal development provides the space for inspectors to look beyond the purely academic, vocational or technical, and ask what the school is doing to support the wider development of the whole child: their character, resilience, values and the advice and support they receive that will enable them to move onto the next stage of life.

Behaviour and attitudes is about whether this school is a school in which children can learn. Is it one in which low level disruption or bullying are tolerated, or are they dealt with swiftly and effectively? Does the school have high expectations for all its pupils and implement those expectations consistently and fairly?

And finally, leadership and management asks about the vision, ethos and ethics of the school. Do leaders systematically support and develop staff to enhance their contribution to what children learn? Do they ensure that there is no place for off-rolling and gaming? This is also where inspectors will consider whether the school ensures that pupils are properly safeguarded from abuse and neglect.

I hope that, by focusing on these things, we as Ofsted can play our part in supporting and encouraging the kind of education that is right for all the children and young people in our schools.

The consultation

Development of this framework began 2 years ago. It started with our curriculum research. Drawing on this, as well as on existing research and 26 years of inspection evidence, we have reshaped our framework with the curriculum at the centre.

Over the course of the last 2 years, we have worked with inspectors, colleagues from unions and professional associations, teachers, leaders, parents, governors, researchers and analysts to gather the evidence that shapes the framework. Overall we have been involved in far in excess of 300 events across England.

All that led to a consultation that has been open since January. It’s a consultation that is very different from what Ofsted’s ever done before. We haven’t sought to consult you on a broad set of principles. Rather, we have put the draft inspection handbooks out into the public domain, and asked you to comment on them.

The consultation on our new framework closes tomorrow, at 11:45pm.

So far we’ve received over 8,000 responses. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to reply. This is by some distance the largest ever response to an Ofsted consultation, and the responses are still rolling in.

If you haven’t responded yet, it’s ok. Don’t worry. You have another 37 hours and 40 minutes left! I really do want everyone to have a chance to respond and feed into the new Ofsted framework.

It’s only by listening to the expertise of teachers, leaders, parents and those responsible for governance that we can keep improving the proposed inspection framework.

And you’ve been magnificent in responding. Already, we have had many specific comments on the inspection handbooks that I am confident will clarify our meaning, our thinking or our language. I am so grateful for these. Thank you for taking the time to give us this sort of feedback.

The case for change

At the heart of the education inspection framework is a recognition that we have collectively as a system put too much emphasis on data, and not enough on the curriculum, the substance of what is taught.

Make no mistake. Schools in England have made real improvements over the past 2 decades. That’s a testament to the hard work of teachers, leaders, and many, many others.

But an accountability system that doesn’t look at what young people are learning – and why – diverts schools and young people from the real substance of education.

Right now, in England, far too much time, work and energy are spent managing and defending outcomes and improving scores.

Standards matter

Standards matter. The impact of a good curriculum well taught should be that young people achieve great outcomes. If pupils achieve well, they’ll have qualifications to take into later life. But if the learning that underlies those qualifications isn’t rich and deep, then we’re getting it wrong for the children and young people in our care.

Data should not be all we should look at. And data should not be ‘king’. Too often in our schools, teachers and leaders find themselves repeatedly and excessively recording and measuring data about progress and attainment in ways that are not always valid or reliable, and are not useful in helping teachers to teach and pupils to learn.

It’s important that I recognise that we at Ofsted have contributed to this. Sometimes inspection conversations have been about outcomes, assessment of current ‘pupil progress’ and expectations of future progress.

It’s therefore essential that we, as Ofsted, take action to address this issue.

Inspectors will not look at schools’ internal progress and attainment data

That’s why we have proposed in the consultation that inspectors will not look at schools’ internal progress or attainment data.

Inspectors will use nationally published data about pupil performance in a school as a starting point – and only ever a starting point – but inspectors will not look at schools’ internal progress or attainment data.

This is a really important change, but I fear that it has sometimes been misunderstood by some to suggest that inspectors will stop up their eyes or ears and not look at essential evidence. That’s not the case at all.

Let me share some of our experiences from our pilot inspections using the new framework to make this clearer.

Internal performance information – feedback from pilots

On the pilot inspections we have conducted so far, school leaders have usually had a more up-to-date and detailed understanding of pupils’ performance in their school than that provided by the most recently published national data.

Some of the schools we have visited have made changes since national data was published and pupils now know far more and can do far more than the previous cohort who were captured by the last round of tests or exams. Leaders have wanted to explain that to inspectors.

And inspectors have listened. They have listened carefully to leaders’ explanations, exploring and probing them. No inspector has had a problem with leaders drawing some of their understanding from internal performance information, and nor should they!

But the key thing about leaders’ use of data is the conclusions that they reach, and the action that they take based on the understanding they have formed. What inspectors will not be interested in is conducting an in-depth analysis of a school’s own particular style of collecting and recording data. We are asking inspectors to focus on first-hand evidence, not the spreadsheets. This is what we will not look at, because what you understand is far more important than the way a spreadsheet is constructed.

So what inspectors have said again and again in pilots is, “Okay, let’s go and see that first hand.”

And that is the essence of the change we are making. We are putting the emphasis on testing out whether the theoretical story you’ve set out is an accurate picture of what’s really going on in your school.

That is the essence of inspection and always has been.

Inspecting the curriculum – feedback from pilots

Let me share some more from the pilots about the way that inspectors are gathering this first-hand evidence.

We have said a number of times that the focus of inspection must be the curriculum, that is, what is taught. We have also said that making progress means learning the curriculum, not increasing points scores.

And so the pilots that we have been conducting have started with in-depth discussions with school leaders and curriculum leaders about the school’s curriculum. Inspectors have been asking about what leaders intend pupils to learn. What are the end points they wish them to reach, what are the key concepts that they need to understand, and in what order will they learn them?

The next step for inspectors is to see all of this first hand. They visit lessons, they talk to individual teachers. They interview pupils. They look at pupils’ work together with curriculum leaders to see whether it matches leaders’ intentions. And then they draw all this evidence together around different pupils, classes and year groups.

I have heard some people worry out loud that, with Ofsted less focused on data, one specific type of evidence will suddenly take on more importance than the others. Perhaps work in pupils’ books. Our experience from the pilot inspections is quite the opposite. The evidence that inspectors are gathering is balanced and connected, and it is the very variety of types of evidence that strengthens the conclusions inspectors are able to reach.

I have been really struck by the richness of the educational conversations that have emerged from this process. The focus is never on one particular lesson, one particular book or one particular pupil. It is about the connectedness of all of these pieces of evidence and what they tell leaders and inspectors about whether young people are learning the curriculum and making progress in the sense of knowing more, remembering more and being able to do more.

Crucially, both inspectors and leaders can clearly build up a picture of whether the school is meeting the criteria set out in the quality of education judgement.

The curriculum

The curriculum is the substance of what is taught. It is the specific plan of what pupils need to know and should be able to do. The curriculum shapes and determines what pupils of all ages will get out of their educational experience.

It’s vitally important, therefore, that we don’t over-complicate what we mean when we talk about the curriculum and about what it means to learn.

We all learn by connecting new ideas or concepts to what we already know. This is as true for children as it is for adults. We can make accurate connections, or we can misunderstand something and labour under a misconception, connecting information to the wrong part of our mental map, or schema. If we are missing too many parts of the puzzle or too many steps in the chain, then making the right mental connection can simply be too much of a leap for us, and we find ourselves unable to learn the new concept. We sometimes call the effect of those multiple gaps in the chain cognitive dysfluency.

Since this is how our minds work, it is essential that schools think about what they teach with real clarity. What end points do we wish children and young people to reach: what do we want them to know and be able to do?

We also need to think about what are the key concepts that will enable pupils to get to those endpoints. And to help them make the right connections, we need to think about the order in which those concepts are taught.

It’s as simple, and as challenging, as that. This is the understanding that inspectors are carrying into inspection, and the conversation they will wish to have.

But I want to assure you now that there is no need for anyone to think they must develop a new curriculum, or design everything themselves from scratch. You don’t have to do it all yourself. The early years foundation stage framework, the national curriculum and the specifications for GCSEs, A levels and other qualifications can carry much – though not all – of that load. For example, a primary school that fulfils the spirit as well as the letter of the national curriculum, across the full range of subjects, is already in the right place with its curriculum.

Responses to the new quality of education judgement

The responses we have had to the consultation so far have been overwhelmingly positive about the new quality of education judgement and the criteria within it. Of course there have been quibbles, but those who have responded to the consultation so far have overwhelmingly said that they think we have got the focus right. I think a consensus is emerging that this is the right sort of conversation for us all to be having on inspection, and more generally in the day-to-day life of schools. I’m incredibly encouraged by that.

Two-day section 8 inspection

I hope that you will appreciate that it takes time to get under the skin of the new quality of education judgement. This is why we’re proposing that inspectors spend 2 days on-site in almost all inspections, rather than having one day ‘short inspections’ of good schools as we do now.

On pilots, we’ve found that both inspectors and school leaders really value having a night in the middle of the inspection to reflect. Often day 2 of the inspection will start with leaders bringing forward new evidence, or inspectors reframing some of the discussions from the day before. We want to take the time needed to reach valid and reliable conclusions about the quality of education that schools provide.

But by the same token, we have legitimately had a lot of questions from the smallest schools, saying that a 2-day section 8 inspection feels like overkill—for them, it would be almost the same as a full section 5 inspection. I think this is a fair point, and so we will be thinking very carefully about the duration of section 8 inspections for small schools as we consider the consultation responses.

On-site preparation

Finally, a word on on-site preparation for inspection.

Currently, inspectors prepare before they arrive at a school. We’re proposing that from September this preparation takes place at the school the afternoon before the inspection starts, so that the lead inspector and leaders can prepare collaboratively.

The point of on-site preparation is to allow for better communication, giving leaders the chance to inform inspection planning with their own knowledge of their school’s strengths and weaknesses. We know that on-site planning can provide more time to establish a good professional relationship between school leaders and the lead inspector.

So far, the feedback from schools taking part in the pilots has been quite positive. More than half of those who have taken part in pilots and given us feedback have expressed their view that on-site preparation is more effective than existing arrangements.

But we’re very definitely aware that many, many colleagues in schools have reacted negatively to the idea of on-site preparation.

Our job over the coming weeks is to analyse the full set of consultation responses and use those to inform the conclusions that we reach.

We’re listening.

What happens next

And in fact, that’s a perfect summation of where we are now. We’re listening and reflecting.

Throughout the rest of April and into May, we will be reading your consultation responses. I am determined to ensure that we read each individual contribution and comment and we take these into account as we consider our consultation response and finalise the handbooks.

We’ve been doing this for months. Since 16 January, when the consultation opened, we have been scrutinising the emerging responses, building a richer and richer picture. And alongside this, we have been conducting the largest programme of pilots in Ofsted’s history, more than 200 in all. Thank you to all who have taken part—the framework will be better because of your considered involvement.

Our goal is to respond to the consultation and publish the final handbooks during May. This is to give you the greatest possible clarity about what the final inspection arrangements will be from September, which is the same animating spirit that was behind our decision to publish the draft handbooks in early January.

But for now, the consultation is still open. And I don’t mean to worry you, but you now only have 37 hours and 10 minutes left to respond!

Thank you for listening, and thank you for all you do to support and educate children and young people across our country.


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