Ofsted flags shift away from outcomes-led inspections

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Children’s outcomes will become a less prominent feature of inspections, while the quality of education will become a key focus, Amanda Spielman announced today.

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Ofsted’s chief inspector said it will change its headline inspection judgements in the planned new framework to prevent what she described as ‘pressure on school leaders… to deliver perfect data above all else’.

The key judgement on outcomes will be changed to one on the quality of education, she proposed.

In a speech today to an audience of headteachers of primary and secondary schools, Ms Spielman said, ‘It is clear that, for some time, Ofsted hasn’t placed enough emphasis on the curriculum. For a long time, our inspections have looked hardest at outcomes, placing too much weight on test and exam results.’

She added that, ‘The cumulative impact of performance tables and inspections, and the consequences that are hung on them, has increased the pressure on school leaders, teachers and indirectly on pupils to deliver perfect data above all else.’

And she admitted that ‘too much time’ preparing for tests ‘can often leave little time or energy for hard thinking about the curriculum, and in fact can sometimes end up making a casualty of it.

‘The bottom line is that we must make sure that we, as an inspectorate, complement rather than intensify performance data’ she said.

A spokesman for Ofsted confirmed that this sentiment applied equally to the early years sector, which shares the same inspection framework as schools, adding that ‘there will be new handbooks for each sector which help translate the broad outline judgements’.

The new judgement headings are proposed to be:

  • Quality of education – this replaces the outcomes judgement, though still includes outcomes, and also curriculum
  • leadership and management
  • personal development
  • behaviour and attitudes – split off from the former personal development, behaviour and welfare judgement, below

These would replace the four categories currently used for Ofsted inspections, which are:

  • effectiveness of leadership and management
  • quality of teaching, learning and assessment
  • personal development, behaviour and welfare
  • outcomes for children.

While the sector is likely to welcome the changes, which theoretically reflect a more child-centred philosophy, the Pre-School Learning Alliance flagged concerns that the changes did not match with other initiatives such as the early learning goals.

Neil Leitch, alliance chief executive, said 'We have long called for a shift in the focus of Ofsted inspections away from outcomes...so this aspect of today’s proposals does feel like a step in the right direction.

'That said, it’s hard to see how this shift aligns with the DfE’s increasingly outcome-focused approach to early years, not least the impending introduction of revised early learning goals which are likely to focus on narrower, easier-to-measure skills like literacy and numeracy over broader development indicators.
 
'In fact, it’s difficult to understand where the early years fits into this new framework more generally. Instead, the way today’s announcement has been framed by Ofsted very much suggests that these changes were driven by a desire to inspect schools differently.'

He added that it was 'hard not to feel that early years, and the other areas of the education system, weren’t much more than an afterthought.'

Ofsted will launch a consultation on these, along with the inspection handbooks, in January, with the aim of introducing the new education inspection framework in September 2019.

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