The Westminster Insight conference for the new Ofsted Education Inspection Framework was held on Tuesday 26 March.
Since the claim that Ofsted were to ‘ignore all tracking data’, we knew that the new framework proposal held some significant changes. This was a chance for Professor Daniel Muijs, Head of Research at Ofsted, to present the research and the reasons behind their new direction.
On reflection of the day, there are five key ideas that schools should start thinking about with this new framework.
Internal data: gone but not forgotten
Unquestionably, schools have felt the pressure and fallen into the habit of generating data specifically for Ofsted. It is not so far out of the realms of possibility that the creation of data might include a few tweaks here and there so it is seen in the best possible light.
From Ofsted’s point of view there are questions over the validity of internal data: How reliable is it? Does the data show an accurate representation of learning within the school? Has the data been created just show an inspector a pretty picture of progress?
However, under the new framework, it does not mean that all internal data should be banished (as much as some may wish it). Internal assessment data should still be used for management and internal purposes. Data should not be tweaked, inflated or dropped on a six-weekly basis and it definitely should not be pretty – progress is not linear.
By not looking at internal tracking data but still expecting it to exist, Ofsted intends to give schools the chance to turn data back into a useful, meaningful tool that could support teaching and learning.
Curriculum is king
The principles of the new framework stress that Ofsted want to know what you’re teaching your students. For example, prioritising maths and English for the Key Stage 2 SATs at the expense of foundation subjects will no longer cut it.
The new Quality of Education judgement (which replaces and combines the Teaching, Learning and Assessment and Outcomes areas) means that curriculum will come under scrutiny in three key areas: intent, implementation and impact.
However, the message at the conference was very clear that there is no prior approved Ofsted curriculum. We heard from three head teachers, all very passionate and all very different in their curriculum design. What stood out as remarkably similar was their individual influence on their school’s curriculum.
If this is the example that Ofsted are setting out, then leaders need to take ownership of their curriculum within the context of their own school.
Character is key
Experienced practitioners have warned that societal shifts in the past decade or so means that schools need to take on the responsibility of teaching personal, social and emotional skills: a character education.
Children now feel like they know more about apps and technology than their teachers. This generation is growing up where there is very little distinction between online and offline. Rather than attempting to teach ‘future-proof’ skills that may very well become redundant, it has been suggested that we teach children how to cope with the analogue world.
There has always been an element of this in education, though admittedly the PSHE lessons of our time were perhaps a chance to chat or pass notes without too much repercussion. In more recent years, it has always been the lesson squeezed into the last fifteen minutes on a Friday afternoon.
There is lots more research and work to be done, not to mention consideration of the ethical implications. However, it was made clear that this is an area that will be coming to the front.
Prevent the data uprising
Ben White and others made an important point at the conference that bears repeating: we have started to let data define and drive the real world.
The real world is messy and progress is not linear. Yet the use of flight paths and predictive grades are prevalent in schools. Teachers feel the pressure of the current accountability system to create these line graphs and then push children on the uphill battle to reach the arbitrary results that they have set. No wonder teachers are exhausted.
This returns to the first point: if internal tracking data or flight paths have no other use than to be put in front of an already dubious inspector, then why do it?
Ofsted is asking schools to look at what is really necessary and to take ownership of their data, which in turn could support the issues around workload and well-being.
Ofsted are listening
As much resistance as Ofsted faces, they are at pains to make us understand that they are listening and they are aware of the issues.
In this new proposed framework we can see how they are trying to address the workload crisis, staff well-being and the over-dependence on data.
Yes, there will always be issues of school context, and the undeniable strain that The Phone Call brings. The question as to whether Ofsted are responding in the right way, or not, is a separate issue.
A step forward?
The consultation period on the framework proposal closes on Friday 5th April 2019 and inspectors are scheduled to start using the new framework in September.
From what we heard on Tuesday it is clear that through the introduction of this new framework, Ofsted are trying to uphold an accountability system, protect teachers and ensure students receive the best possible education in the UK. Let’s see what September brings.
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