John Deans is co-founder of Oriel Square Ltd, and has worked with Kognity to deliver some of our IGCSE Science textbooks. We have invited John to share his thoughts on the new Ofsted Inspection Framework and what it means for schools in practice.

In with the new – the motivations for the new Inspection Framework

Two of Ofsted’s major concerns with the new Inspection Framework are:

  • breadth of curriculum
  • avoiding excessive teacher workload

After consultation and revision this spring, Ofsted’s new Inspection Framework comes into force from September 2019. I will look at what has motivated two of the major changes: how inspectors will use schools’ data, and what they will be looking for as ‘Quality of Education’. I will also discuss what these changes mean for schools.

Often enough, a new Director at Ofsted means a new Inspection Framework. With the new framework come inevitable concerns over what the change might mean, both for practice in schools and for the data schools need to collect. There are valid reasons behind those concerns: too often, change seems to be informed by individual or institutional preference, or educational trend, rather than evidence.

But at Ofsted, Amanda Spielman has overseen a transparent review process, which has seen the new Inspection Framework draw strongly on research evidence, then be widely piloted. It was revised intelligently after an open consultation process with strong participation from teachers, senior school leaders and the unions.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, introduces the new framework

Two thoughts in particular seem to be in the front of the inspectors’ minds: breadth of curriculum coverage (with quality across that breadth); and excessive teacher workload (both day-to-day and due to inspection preparation). Tied up in both of these themes is the thorny question of student data.

It is worth being upfront that the clearest concern around breadth and quality of curriculum is at the Primary level. Ofsted is acting on the concern that Numeracy and Reading risk squeezing all other subjects out of the curriculum, pushing children to show end-of-year progress and end-of-key-stage results where it counts: Numeracy and Reading. At Secondary, public exams lessen the stranglehold of Primary’s ‘Big Two’. But Ofsted nevertheless has concerns here as well, particularly at KS3. With more and more schools changing to three-year GCSE preparation (a few even going to four!), where is the time for students to develop a broad body of knowledge? This knowledge and experience is a good in itself, but it is also proper preparation for GCSE and beyond.

Out with the old – a look at data and Quality of Education

  • Ofsted is moving away from solely quantitative data to take a broader view, including qualitative factors.
  • The new framework analyses ‘Quality of Education’ through intent, implementation and impact.
Pens on yellow background

With the new framework, Ofsted make clear that they are much less interested in seeing schools’ pupil data. They will still look at end-of-key-stage data, but everything else is off their shopping list. The feedback to the consultation exercise seem to prove the first justification for this: classroom teachers bear the brunt of this data work, and it is not work that they value. Ofsted are also concerned that the non-statutory figures they see are ‘number soup’ – schools tend to be good at finding data sets that show good numbers (and of course software providers are good at this too), but they are not comparable or testable data capable of giving a real measure of the quality of learning in a school.

However, the consultation did reveal that school leaders are concerned about losing the chance to use data to make the case for impact on learning in their school. How can an institution demonstrate their improvement when the cohort has not yet made it to the end of a key stage? The answer is in a more qualitative approach from Ofsted to their assessment of a school’s ‘Quality of Education’.

The new framework analyses ‘Quality of Education’ through Intent (‘what do we want the kids to get from this?’), Implementation (‘how will we make sure they do?’) and Impact(‘has our implementation fulfilled our intent?’). Inspectors will select two subjects for a ‘deep dive’, looking in more depth at an area of learning with all three of these aspects in mind, and looking for the context of observed teaching and materials. Ofsted’s own ‘Intent’ here is that the judgement around ‘Quality of Education’ no longer rests on performance data (which can be hard to read or even ‘gamed’).

This is Ofsted’s attempt to nudge schools towards thinking of the quality and breadth of students’ learning, rather than sacrificing these in favour of generating positive numbers. But it is worth drawing a distinction between what Ofsted feels are useful data, and what a school finds useful from day to day.

A phrase coined at Ofsted is:

“Don’t use the data to prove; use it to improve

Consider the example of a school that has drawn on data to decide how to implement a particular intervention. Under the new inspection regime, this is useful information when the inspector asks why that intervention was chosen for these students. But the inspector’s answer would now be along the lines of “that’s great – I don’t need to see the numbers, but the approach is sound”.

The way forward – data, but with a different purpose

  • Schools should use data to drive improvement, not just to report to Ofsted.

Ofsted is not turning its back on data – rather, it is giving responsibility for it back to schools. Schools’ use of data to understand individual students’ needs will only continue to improve and develop, both as leadership teams and teachers become more experienced in using data, and as technologies making proper use of data continue to come onstream and develop. Using data becomes one of the school’s tools for driving improvement, rather than a crude reporting tool for the inspectorate.

Student looking at mobile phone

If Ofsted’s new framework is reactionary, it is a reaction to a regime that it helped bring about: where sometimes the numbers attached to our young people are more important than the real quality of their learning. The noble ambition is to nudge schools the other way, and to empower teachers and school leaders.

An environment where breadth and quality of curriculum coverage is at the core of learning is one that most teachers would aspire to, and it is where resources like Kognity’s come into their own. Kognity has always offered rich, engaging curriculum content, with natural jumping-off points inspiring students to discover more. The data the software holds is there to help students to understand their own progress and understanding, and direct their learning, letting teachers see levels of progression and engagement.

Do you want to know more about how Kognity can support your school? Submit your email below and we’ll reach out to tell you more.

Author: John Deans

John Deans is a co-founder of Oriel Square Limited. At Oriel Square, education is at the centre of everything we do. We help educational publishers identify and develop opportunities, research and develop new concepts, and handle all aspects of project delivery for print and digital publishing. We’re industry experts. We use our market and policy experience and expertise to lead strategy and deliver high-quality, effective publishing throughout schools and higher education.