There are several refreshing changes that Ofsted is planning to introduce in the new framework. Firstly, it is reassuring that Ofsted has stated that test and examination results will be looked at in context rather than isolation. Secondly, Ofsted has acknowledged that too much focus on examinations has distorted what is taught in the curriculum. The new proposed framework includes a much greater focus on the quality of the curriculum, teaching and assessment. The overall grade in an inspection will be informed by four key judgements. These are: the quality of education; behaviour and attitudes; personal development and leadership and management.
There are many positive aspects of the proposed framework. The judgement on the quality of education is underpinned by a strong focus on the quality of the curriculum as well as the subject knowledge of teachers and their skills in using assessment during lessons to identify students’ misconceptions. These are simply aspects of effective teaching. The judgement on behaviour is informed by students’ attitudes to learning and the use of fair and consistent expectations across a school or other provider. Students’ character development, resilience, confidence and independence will shape the judgement on personal development and there is an emphasis on the development of students’ physical and mental health. Greater emphasis will be given to the extent to which the school helps to develop students’ personal development through going the ‘extra mile’ to provide students with a varied range of curricular and extra-curricular opportunities. It is extremely reassuring that the judgement on leadership and management will take account of cultures of staff bullying and harassment which may exist in some schools and the efforts of the senior leadership team to reduce unnecessary staff workload and to protect staff from bullying. It is also positive that inspectors will examine whether schools use unethical practices including gaming and off-rolling. According to Ofsted off-rolling is:
"the practice of removing a learner from the provider’s roll without a formal, permanent exclusion or by encouraging a parent to remove their child, when the removal is primarily in the interests of the provider rather than in the best interests of the learner. Off-rolling in these circumstances is a form of ‘gaming’."
(Ofsted, 2019, p.12)
However, there are some aspects of the proposed framework that require further debate. There is an emphasis on how well teachers enable students to retain information in their long-term memories. The language of the framework emphasises the importance of ‘knowledge’ and students’ ability to recall and understand knowledge. Whilst these are both important, there is a lack of emphasis on the application and synthesis of knowledge, for example through problem-solving. The framework is strongly aligned to a ‘knowledge rich’ curriculum which will not adequately prepare young people for employment after leaving school. There is a strong emphasis in the framework on the role of phonics in primary schools and there is an expectation that reading books should be matched to the level of phonic knowledge that has been taught. There is a danger that this will limit children’s exposure to ‘real books’ which will restrict language development, imagination and enjoyment of reading. Whilst decodable books have their place in schools, it is disappointing that there is no emphasis on the role of wider children’s literature in reading development or the role of a broad and rich language curriculum and the contribution that this makes to literacy development.
Whilst the emphasis on mental health in personal development is a positive move, it is disappointing that the mental health and/or wellbeing of pupils does not inform the judgement on leadership and management. Given that children and young people’s mental health is a political priority, the proportion of children and young people with mental ill health, and the role of schools and colleges in supporting students’ mental health as highlighted in the DfE / DoH (2017) Green Paper Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision, it a concern that there is no expectation that school leadership teams should address this issue strategically through developing and embedding a whole-school approach to mental health.
The proposed framework appears to be working, in many respects, in favour of schools, teachers and pupils. There are aspects which require further consideration and we will await the outcome of the consultation process to gauge the response from the sector.
Department for Education (DfE) and Department of Health (DoH), Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision: a Green Paper, DfE / DoH.
Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) (2019), The Education Inspection Framework, Ofsted.