Podcast | Season 1 | Episode 2: The New Ofsted Inspection Framework: A Welcome Improvement or a Missed Opportunity?
Should Ofsted cover financial health of a school or academy? Has Ofsted really weaned itself off data? Deep Dives: an opportunity or just increased workload? Ed Dorrell, Deputy Editor of TES, leads this discussion on Ofsted with the Rt Hon. David Laws (Executive Chairman, Education Policy Institute), Sam Butters (CEO, Fair Education Alliance) and Ty Goddard (Co-Founder, The Education Foundation). This panel discussion was recorded live on 14 November 2019, in the Hot Seat theatre of the Schools & Academies Show at the NEC in Birmingham.
My name is Ed Dorrell, I'm Deputy Editor and Head of Content at the TES which is also the artist formerly known as the Times Education Supplement. We are here to talk about just about the most pressing issue in schools today. Certainly if you're a school leader, if you were to read our pages online, you might be forgiven for thinking that was there was a general election on but actually if you read the list of most read articles on our website at the moment, it's heavily populated with people commenting about their experiences of the new Ofsted Framework, which almost no one here will need selling is a big, big issue for the inspectorate and represents a big culture change, I think what they're trying to do. The jury is certainly out on whether it is the right strategy to achieve what it wants to achieve, and whether it will work. I have a fantastic panel here to talk about it. In no particular order we have Ty Goddard on end, who is Co Founder of the Education Foundation. We have David Laws, who is Executive Chairman of the Education Policy Institute, and a former Minister of State for Schools. And Sam Butters, who is Chief Executive of the Fair Education Alliance. I will run this as a traditional panel. So the panellists will all say, I'm going to say three minutes but if you go over a little bit, that's okay, on the subject. And then we will open it up to discussion from you guys who I am confident in saying, we'll have a lot of thoughts about what's going on and I am going to run a little bet for how long it takes someone say the phrase, deep dive. So without further ado, I am going to hand over in no particular order except when we agreed before we started. To David Laws.
Ed thanks very much. So you've asked us to consider the question about whether the recent changes to Ofsted are generally positive or whether they're a missed opportunity. And I think I want to argue that they're generally positive. But I also mentioned two areas where that where I and my colleagues EPI have some concerns. If you're one of those people who thinks that we don't need a school Inspectorate or the Ofsted is fundamentally flawed, you're probably not going to be satisfied with the reforms that we've seen because they are pretty incrementalist. But to me, that is part of their strength. Actually, the risk in all areas of education policy, but including inspection, is that you make very big changes on the basis of not enough evidence and then there are unintended consequences or problems with implementation. So I would argue that actually developing the system quite cautiously on the basis of evidence and incrementally as a good thing. I also think that there is some good evidence that we need an independent schools inspection system of some type, and therefore, I wouldn't be one of those people who was arguing for a really radical change in the way in which we inspect schools with the removal of Ofsted or a fundamentally different Inspectorate. So for me, the very incrementalism of the changes is probably a good thing. The second thing that I think is very positive is that what Ofsted is trying to do in the new inspection framework in parts is as an organ of high accountability that we have in the English school system. It is trying to push back against some of the potentially negative effects of that high accountability. By that I mean, squeezing down the curriculum offering some schools and the time spent on various parts of the curriculum in order simply to prepare pupils for public examinations that then appear in the accountability league tables, and looking more carefully at the use of exclusions and so called off rolling. And I think that that is because the chief inspector in particular has come from a background as chair of Ofqual, where she is very sensitised to the sometimes negative impacts on education, of a hyper accountability system that bend education out of shape and she's trying on the curriculum in areas such as exclusion and off rolling to lean against that. And I think that's generally a good thing and it's generally a good thing that if we're going to send inspectors into schools, rather than simply look at data that is collected by the DFE, at a national level, that there is some added value there, and they're not simply checking the data that they could see in the DFE. I guess I've got two concerns. And the first relates to my second positive on the curriculum, and that is because Ofsted is deliberately saying that there is not an ideal curriculum, there isn't a model Ofsted curriculum. They're inviting inspectors to go into schools across the country, and to some extent make their own judgments. Some of those judgments might be quite simple. So whether our very elongated Key Stage fours that appear to be squeezing out parts of the National Curriculum much too early, that may be an easy call to say that it's not good behavior. But otherwise, it's quite a tough thing to judge what is a great curriculum and what is not a great curriculum, and it is really important given the high stakes nature of accountability that school leaders and teachers feel that the curriculum inspection judgments that have been made are fair and consistent and that they have some idea why those judgments are being made. And it's probably too early to know whether Ofsted are going to be able to pull off that trick of not having an Ofsted curriculum, but also being able to make judgments that are consistent and reliable between schools. The second area where there may be some concerns is on the focus on disadvantage and the understanding of pupils' with special educational needs. I think that there probably is a need not just in Ofsted, but across education research for more research on special educational needs for more understanding of what pupils' can and can't achieve, for fairer judgments for schools with large populations versus SEND pupils', and there are some changes in the new Ofsted framework around the pupil premium around pupil premium reviews, which for me probably reflected an underlying desire by Ofsted to focus less on some of the gap narrowing issues that Ofsted was previously asked to look at. And yet when I was administering government and we initiated the people premium, the deal there really was that we wouldn't tell schools what to do with the money, but we would hold them to account for spending it in a sensible way and Ofsted were an important parts of that. So I would be nervous if Ofsted tried over time to move away from that focus on the disadvantage gap because I think it was would be very important in driving school behaviors, and potentially move us away from an area that English schools need to focus on more.
Lovely. Thank you David. Sam.
Good morning everybody. So I'm Sam, I'm Chief Executive of the Fair Education Alliance. So, in looking at this question, I was very much coming at it in terms of how is the accountability system and how is Ofsted helping to or not, and tackle the disadvantage gap between wealthier peoples and poorer peoples? And and I think the answer to Is it a welcome opportunity, a welcome improvement or a missed opportunity. To me, it's a step in the right direction when we probably needed a leap. We with EPI released our report this year on how we're doing in tackling the disadvantaged gap and on current projections, if we carry on the way we are, it's gonna take 500 years to close the disadvantage gap. So an accountability and how we measure good in the school system is a critical lever we can pull, in changing that situation. Having said that, I do think that the Ofsted framework is a step in the right direction, but probably the missed opportunity is a more radical rethink of what that could look like. Although I do agree with David, that radical change needs to be evidence led and not rushed into. So perhaps it was an opportunity for taking more time and thinking more deeply about the type of Ofsted, the type of accountability system and the type of inspection framework we might need. So just to pull out a couple of reasons for that, so the Fair Education Alliance has decided three things together across the organisations that make up the alliance that will really start to transform the disadvantage gap and the first is the quality of teachers and leaders that we're attracting and supporting to work in areas that serve disadvantaged communities. And we know that the current accountability system and Ofsted inspections in particular are actually deterring and making it harder for teachers and leaders who are serving schools in disadvantaged communities, and I think this is something which this kind of moment in time and an opportunity to relook at the Ofsted framework hasn't necessarily tackled. I think another thing I'm more on the plus side, but it does do is the Fair Education Alliance is also saying that we believe a more broad and balanced curriculum will help disadvantaged people from from all backgrounds, this arguably the Ofsted framework is kind of moving in the right direction, and the quality of education judgment is a is a big step there. But again, I think sharing David's concern on how that's actually going to be measured and the capacity and ability to do that and is yet to be tested. So I think from my perspective, it's a it's a kind of mixed bag. I think there's some welcome and improvements. But I think there was an opportune moment for more radical rethinking on something which is so fundamental to our education system and so fundamental to whether and how we tackle the disadvantaged gap.
Thank you Sam. Ty.
Morning. Can you hear me at the back is that okay? My name is Ty Goddard, Co Founder of the Education Foundation. When I was going to the station this morning, about half past five, I can't tell you how excited I was to be in a debate about Ofsted and you must feel the same at 10 o'clock in the morning. It is since 1993, possibly one of the most contested areas for debate in education policy. Everywhere I go, schools talking to teachers, people absolutely adore Ofsted. They adore the experience of I can see people turning to each other here going shaking their head. They adore the experience of inspection. They think that inspectors are consistent. They feel that, that Ofsted inspection really helps their practice. They feel really supported as teachers, they feel in poll after poll. Yeah, that's why when Labour announces the abolition of Ofsted very very soon, if it wins the election there'll be hundreds of thousands of teachers really sad about that. And why I start there, in the dreamland is can you ever love an Inspectorate. Can you ever love the process of inspection? I don't think you can. But I think you can respect it. And I think what this process has been about and you've heard from both Sam and David, it's a realisation within Ofsted, that things could not carry on as they were. What's also amusing when you read all of the background research and all of the speeches from HMCI, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector is it's almost as though Ofsted didn't exist before this new Education Inspection Framework, that they weren't at all part of high stakes accountability, that they weren't part of narrowing the curriculum, that they weren't part of a sense of times what teachers say about Ofsted, a sense of morale sapping inspections. So bear in mind, and I think David will attest to this from his from his time in the department that was that was a tricky time, a Lib Dem minister within a coalition government. Very, very tricky I imagine, but a kind of sense that it had that old model had gone far enough. So if you read a lot of the research that was around the consultation, I don't know whether you've had a chance to have a look at that. You actually read the present inspection framework itself. You have to say it's a work in progress. It's got an element of shape shifting and swerving for responsibility for the past. It takes place In a highly, highly politicised with a big fat P and a small p, a really highly politicised environment. But when you actually go through yeah, the jungle of what is a priority for Ofsted, what might not be a priority for the Chief Inspector, what the culture change, as Ed highlighted, what is the culture change that they're after you get some very interesting revelations I think, against curriculum narrowing. I'm quoting now from Ofsted's own literature. Against unintended consequences of school inspection, pulling away slightly from data. Also, looking at the pupil journey. Curriculum is not a syllabus of an exam board. It's about design. It's about and you've heard these words. It's about the program of education. What is the intent? What does that pupil? What do you want as school teachers, school leaders, college leaders, early years practitioners, skills providers, what do you want that journey of that young people, young person to be about? How do you implement another eye? That How do you implement this this journey? Also, how do you yourselves as a school measure impact? Also, it talks about the fact that long term memory and these are going to be new buzzwords, as Ed said, like, like deep dive. Yeah. So one of my worries is that worries over data will now be transferred over worries to deep dive. Books scrutiny, yeah. What does books scrutiny mean? That's going to be very, very interesting, isn't it that rather than looking at data, necessarily, but inspectors are going to look at books in a way that perhaps they haven't looked at books before to again, see that journey of learning. Is that possible? Is that possible in a sample size of books to judge that journey? You've got other things that researchers has brought up? Retrieval practice, spaced or distributed practice? Dual coding? Yeah, these are all a new era, new buzzwords. Absolutely fascinating. But at the heart of it, and I think this is where I share some of the optimism of David and Sam, you hope it's about what young people are learning in that school in that college during their time as pupils, it's a challenge. It's going to be really, really hard, I think, for consistency as ever, between inspections. Guess what, there's no evidence, and I'll end here. There's no evidence that school inspection itself is a school improvement activity. So I'd argue it's a really complex area. The question we have to debate today is does this get us anywhere nearer winning the support of the profession for inspection?
Okay, right. I'm going to ask one question, because I'm in charge, I get to do what I like. But I want you guys to start thinking about questions that you want to ask the panel and I'd like to thank them first of all for their fantastic introductory remarks. I'm gonna start with David. Obviously, there very heavy ambitions from Ofsted for this new framework about changing essentially changing the culture in schools. Do you think the Ofsted inspectors and the inspector as an institution are capable of delivering that? And also, are they capable of delivering or capable of avoiding some of the unintended consequences that Ty talked about? Such as inappropriate focusing on deep dive, inappropriate focusing on book reviews? Is the organisation actually capable of this, David?
I think it's probably capable of some of it, but maybe not all of it. I mean, if you're going to inspect 23 and a half thousand schools, you need a pretty large workforce of people. Selecting a workforce of people to do this job when there are competing roles, leading schools and other areas of education. That's not easy, you can't guarantee that every one of those inspectors is going to be as good as the best head teachers in the country. So you have to have an inspection system, which is not based on all of the inspectors being the best people in education, you've got to assume that some of those people are going to be more average performers as we have in every part of life, including probably in Parliament. Those average performers can therefore inspect some things that are easier to inspect, they can see, you know, when the key stage four preparation for GCSEs is starting, they can look at what is being taught in each year group and see whether they think that curriculum is broad and balanced. They can look at the use of data and they can take some of the guidance that's been given to them by Ofsted at a national level they can look more carefully at exclusion policy, and potentially unexplained exits or so called off rolling Yeah, once you then move beyond that into making more complex judgments about a curriculum. That's where it is yet to be shown whether Ofsted inspectors can do that job effectively or not. And it's not an easy thing to do. Many people think that, you know, the idea of inspecting the curriculum is pretty obvious and that there isn't a great disagreement on it. I remember, Ty mentioned the coalition government, I remember towards the end of it setting between Michael Gove and Michael Wilshaw discussing precisely this issue of whether Ofsted should be inspecting the curriculum. Michael Wilshaw wanted to, Michael Gove said not on your nelly, over my dead body and they sort of had a ding dong argument. Michael Gove's argument was that schools were best place to judge the needs of their own pupil populations. Some schools might need to focus disproportionately on the basics of English and Maths, and if they wish to do so it was up to them. He wasn't going to mandate a sort of national curriculum, and Michael Wilshaw took completely the opposite view. So once we get into the weeds of what a good curriculum really looks like, it's going to be more difficult for Ofsted inspectors who will vary in quality and not all the brilliant and not all will have exactly the same view as the chief inspector to apply this consistently and fairly. I think that's the biggest challenge for Ofsted in the new framework.
So last year, I sat on the NAHT's Accountability Commission, and which looked at kind of what the challenges were with the current accountability system and what we're recommending to change. And one of the things that actually came out was this problem that Ofted has limited resources and where are those resources best focused to make the biggest impact? And one of the things we recommended as a commission is that they should actually focus on identifying failure and a more thorough diagnostic on the schools that are struggling and need the most support. Actually, that's the kind of opposite has happened with the heady ambitions that Ed has talked about. For example, the extending of the short inspection for good schools to two days. And then I think, the complexity in making these judgments on what is a positive step to look at the quality of education, but it is more complex. So I think that to answer Ed's question, is there the kind of capacity and resource to do this? I don't know. I think that it was already a struggling resource and I don't know if there is the resources to meet the ambitions, however admirable.
Perfect. Ty you've got one minute.
Tough question. Let's go back to some basics. I mean, as I said, it was only founded in 1993. So, who is the Inspectorate for? Is it for teachers or is it for parents? Is it forgiving one grade judgments that frankly all of the polling says by the way, is loved yet they're loved by parents disliked, I would imagine other than by PVC banner manufacturers. Yep, disliked, by the profession. How can you judge complexity in a day? Research also says that no two inspectors 100% of the time agree about what they're seeing and what they're feeling about a school. What would an education system look like without an Inspectorate? Can Ofsted change? Yes. But as I said earlier, it's a highly, highly politicised organisation working in a highly political, big p small p environment. And I think that's the crux of some of the problems. Wilshaw, what did he do? What was his theory of change? Clober, Clober, Clober. Yeah, I quite liked him. Yeah, he was a bit naughty at times. He was a bit reverential. But is this an attempt final point? Is this an attempt to try and get the profession on side?
Okay, that's a good way. Can you put your hands in the air if your head teacher or school leader? Can you keep your hands in the air if you're happy with the changes, please? It's a reasonable amount of goodwill out. Okay. Keep your hands in the air if you want to ask a question or make a point. Anyone, anyone come on. There's a hand here, thank you very much. You don't have to but if you wouldn't mind saying who you are. That would be great.
Sean Hampton (Audience Member)
Hi, Sean Hampton. I'm CEO of a trust in Nottingham. It's a, I'm interested in the ebacc in particular, which won't be surprised, and really what the panel feel about the insistence that to get a good you have to have at least 70-80% students doing ebacc.
Um, the emphasis on ebacc, which is that definitely in the framework? I'm not convinced it is in the framework.
Sean Hampton (Audience Member)
If you look at the good judgment, it says you have to be ambitious. Yes. That's the word towards achieving whatever the government goal is for the end of this parliament.
Sean Hampton (Audience Member)
So you don't have to have a certain percentage now. But you have to be working towards it and be ambitious to achieve it.
So this is kind of the problem, isn't it already there in a nutshell, is that they say they don't want to be prescriptive about curriculum and what kids are learning, but they're already, well schools are suddenly getting the impression that they're being very prescriptive.
Yeah, I mean, I think the point that is exactly the one that Ed's making it's because of the complexity of judging what the quality of education judgment is that there's this kind of confusion between, is it the judgment of the inspectors? Or is it very specific things like, I haven't seen that thing, but 70 to 80% of people's on ebacc, there's a vast variety of ways in which schools can deliver that quality of education, and very a subjective as to as to what those different ways are and trying to be prescriptive with a kind of random metric like that. It just becomes really confusing, and I think it illustrates the point of the limited resource. Do we have to pick random metrics that don't really measure it? Or can we meaningfully judge whether school leaders and teachers are delivering a quality of education in a variety of ways that don't neatly fit into a metric like that?
Ofsted research itself, identified knowledge rich, knowledge engaged and skills, led at education institutions. And it said that all, all of them had strengths and all of them had weaknesses and what it wanted to do, and this was this is their own words, it wanted to put the power. Yeah, back to you, as curriculum designers, as experts in education. And then as as Ed says, it wants to judge you on a metric that actually potentially undermines your own judgments, your own independence of thought, and critically, your own institutional context. That's what they meant by one of those three I's was institutional context. If you can make a robust enough arguement, then you should make it in terms of your own MAT area, what you see as the priorities of those children, those people that you're there to serve. Interestingly, it also talked about engaging with parents and the community in a way that we haven't perhaps seen from an Inspectorate for about, what 10 - 11 years? So guess what? You've got to make your own judgment, I would suspect.
Yeah, I mean, I have no problem with firstly, there being some kind of national curriculum, and an accountability system that pushes schools quite heavily to give pupils some kind of balanced curriculum with a bit of choice in it. Progress 8 and attainment 8, were an attempt to get a compromise solution that allows schools flexibility, but didn't push everybody to do the core ebacc's and I thought it was quite a sensible solution. The problem is there were still people in the department who have come back into the department who didn't really like the compromise. And who essentially thought the ebacc should be the accountability metric, not progress 8 or attainment 8, those people have never really managed to get their view completely accepted by secretaries of state or the rest of the department, but they've gone on pushing. So it's good distance objective, which is coming closer of achieving 90% or something of a target, which only some people in the education department including only some of the ministers believe in. And I think it's putting schools in quite an unfair position because you're sort of being held accountable for attainments 8 and progress 8 but also this this debate in the department which hasn't been completely resolved, has been resolved by by leaving the ebaccc measure out there for the distant future. And so the pressuring you to achieve it without ever knowing whether it will really be an accountability metrics. So I think that the leaders of the department, including ministers need really to make a decision about whether that is an accountability measure, or whether they don't actually want things like modern foreign languages to be compulsory. My only other regret about progress 8 and attainment 8 , having spent a lot of time creating it, and actually thinking that they're quite good measures with quite a good balance between a sort of core curriculum and choice is that I think that the ability to put into the non compulsory buckets, sort of three subjects that are higher quality, vocational and other academic things, hasn't quite given the nudge to high quality, technical qualifications, the sort of green light that I might have hoped for, and if I was looking at progress 8 and attainment 8 again, given our problem in this country with getting technical and vocational subjects to be taken seriously. I'd be looking, for example at whether a really high quality D&T type course focused on sort of rigorous D&T type curriculum, or actually to be one of the options within the compulsory buckets. So I think there are some, there's some tinkering, we could do there, which would do good. But in the meantime, poor schools essentially are being held to account for two different metrics, because national policy makers even in the same party can't really decide whether things like modern foreign languages should or shouldn't be compulsory.
Fabulous. Any more questions from the floor? Anyone? Anyone, anyone? Okay, I've got another one. Because that's what I do for a living. Do you think, it's got high end question, but, and it touches upon the ebacc question and touches on what you've talked about, David. So I'll come to you last, do you think is actually capable of Ofsted to achieve this culture shift in schools with all the other structures of accountability, including local papers producing league tables, RSC Sports Academy ization, and all the rest, is it actually possible for them to achieve that step change, or you just adding another bucket for schools to worry about? Sam?
No, it's not possible and yes, you are adding another bucket, but it depends on so, so yes, I think that the current kind of dynamic between schools and the Ofsted Inspectorate is set in a context of school league tables, the current exam system, and the current teacher training program, all of these different factors that are at play in our education system and we have made some changes in the Ofsted framework which are arguably positive, but it's in the context of all these much more complex and other things and that's the big opportunity that I talked about at the beginning that I think has been missed to say, this is a welcome step. But actually, is it going to make that difference? And is it possible to change this culture and change this dynamic? And without thinking about those are the those are the factors.
So, I mean, the essential question is, is it still going to be high stakes with low trust? I mean, Sam talked about the NAHT Accountability Commission, worth looking at if you get a chance. And if you if you're a school leader, if you're a practitioner, it probably won't surprise you. But you know, we can design an account a new accountability, culture and tone in this country. I went to visit a school in Northern Ireland. We did a tour of schools that were using education technology. And by the way, you wouldn't know that any schools use education technology If you looked at the Osfted Inspection Framework. Absolutely. I can't find anything about technology and what good digital pedagogy looks like in all of the documentation. So that that makes me worry about culture. So we go to this Northern Ireland school, in Belfast, and I'm introduced to two of their inspectors. Their inspectors have come for the morning. We got there in the morning to come for the morning to find out informally off the record how that school was using education technology to support teaching and learning in that school. And I just wondered whether that that kind of relationship of trust was worth was able to be forged in England, because don't forget, you've got different inspection cultures, different inspection tones in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It struck me that was at the heart of teacher distrust. I'm not expecting love for an Inspectorate just to go back to what I said earlier. But what you do want is respect or grudging respect, at the very least, or a sense that somebody understands the challenges that you're you're involved in. So we've got a chief inspector now, who I think doesn't, doesn't publicly sound off and bash teachers, that's a positive. Is she a smooth operator in the corridors of Whitehall? Yes, that's what she's been doing smoothly operating for the past 10 or 15 years. And I guess that's a plus and a minus. But the key question is I think what was in that Accountability Commission is how does the profession want to be held accountable? That's the key question. And can you forge a different approach in England? That has a high trust? Yeah. At its heart? Yeah. Is it possible?
We're quickly running out of time. So we'll leave the finals words with David Laws.
Yeah 2 points very, very briefly. In my answer to the question is, yes. I don't think the new Ofsted accountability framework is less accountability. I think it's just different accountability. And for schools and school leaders Ofsted remains the most important part of the accountability framework, after all head teachers and other school leaders can lose their jobs if those Ofsted reports go badly. So I think they're still going to be very influential. I wanted to pick up as my last point, something else that Sam mentioned earlier about disadvantaged schools and disadvantage pupils, which relates to this high accountability, which I should have made more of. In 2016. We did an EPI report which showed that based upon the assessment we made, Ofsted was more generous to schools in leafy catchment areas, particularly with its outstanding ratings, and it's inadequate ratings, and tougher on schools in the most disadvantaged areas in terms of awarding them top ratings or making them more inclined to be in the bottom category. It caused quite row with Ofsted. They really struggled to accept the data at the time, although privately some of the people from Ofted have actually said to us, we do accept this but maybe it is more difficult to get an outstanding or good rating in a disadvantaged school and maybe that should be the case. This is really important for all of us because if we have a very high accountability system, in which it is tougher to get a good rating and outstanding rating, easier to get an inadequate rating. If you lead or teach in a really challenging school, then that becomes a powerful incentive for the best leaders and teachers not to go to those schools is that so a real test of the framework in the future is whether they want to accept that criticism publicly whether Ofsted move to accept it in practice, because if they don't, we have a high accountability system in which you're not paid to take on the toughest schools in the country, which we shouldn't want the best leaders to take on.
I can't think of a better way to finish. So I'd like you to join me if you will, in a normal way in saying thank you very much to Ty, David and Sam. Thank you everyone for your contribution as well.
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