Ofsted’s new framework receives mixed response

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Early years organisations and teaching unions have given a lukewarm response to Ofsted’s plans to overhaul inspection.

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The National Day Nurseries Association raised concerns that the new framework signaled a shift in early years inspection towards schools and that some changes may not be developmentally appropriate for pre-school children.

Chief executive Purnima Tanuku, said, ‘Initially, the changes appear to be more outcomes focussed with an emphasis on teaching which is an important shift. Managers will now be expected to carry out observations rather than early years teachers which could devalue their qualification further if we are not careful.

‘The judgements are different too and inspectors will want to look at records of behaviour which is developmentally not appropriate in an early years setting.

‘Ofsted is proposing a lot of changes, with early years moving towards a model that more closely aligns with the school model. This would be concerning and we would want this framework to recognise and respect that children learn differently in early years.’

However, the Pre-school Learning Alliance welcomed the stronger reference to the Characteristics of Effective Learning.

Michael Freeston, the Pre-school Learning Alliance's director of quality improvement, said, ‘While the current Common Inspection Framework has plenty of value in it, it relies on some concepts and terms from school provision that never made sense in an early years setting. This new framework not only rectifies that, but also shifts the focus on to the overall importance of the child’s educational experience in the provision, while emphasising practitioners’ ability to demonstrate this to the inspector over to the production of records and data.

‘We also welcome the stronger reference to the Characteristics of Effective Learning as something inspectors should consider when they look at children’s attitudes and behaviours, as this demonstrates Ofsted’s recognition that ‘how’ children learn is as important as ‘what’ they learn.’

But he highlighted that Ofsted’s position was at odds with the Government policy of the review of the Early Learning Goals and the proposed re-introduction of baseline assessment.

‘Our concern is that, until those differences are reconciled, there’s a real danger that providers will be caught between being inspected on how their children learn and delivering against an increasingly narrow understanding what should be taught.’

Voice general secretary Deborah Lawson welcomed the proposed framework’s emphasis on the quality of education and teaching, and the move away from the current focus on data and results.

But the union for education professionals said it was concerned about ‘the pace of change’ and said that there was not sufficient time to amend the draft guidance and handbook.

‘Exams are only one measure with which to judge a school’s performance. The outcome of an inspection should not rest, or be perceived to rest, on exam results and league tables.

‘Voice, in response to members’ concerns, has long called for Ofsted inspections to be more consistent, and to be supportive and positive, rather than punitive and negative. We believe Ofsted should be about enabling, not penalising, education professionals.’

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said Ofsted made 'bold and ambitious claims' for its new inspection framework, but the union remained 'deeply sceptical' about whether these would be realised.

‘The uncomfortable truth for Ofsted is that the practices it deplores - the narrowing of the school curriculum and teaching to the test - have been the results of its own enforcement, through inspection, of a range of narrow measures to judge school quality,' she said.

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said, ‘In its current form, this proposal from Ofsted will cause widespread concern amongst school leaders. There’s nothing here that will reduce stress and increase the reliability of judgements, which many say is sorely needed. This is not the game-changer that many have hoped for and some had predicted.

‘It is welcome that the chief inspector plans to end Ofsted’s obsession with data and instead focus inspectors on what is taught and why. But as so much of what is proposed is open to interpretation, schools may be left second guessing what they are supposed to do to be seen as successful.

‘Not only that, there is a very real risk that subjective views of inspectors will lead to inconsistent judgements. This makes it difficult for parents who want to be confident that the information that they are using to make important decisions about their children’s future is fair and comparable.’

  • Read about what the new Education Inspection Framework means for the early years in the next issue of Nursery World out on Monday, and online.
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