Ofsted inspection framework: sector response

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The early years sector has cautiously welcomed Ofsted’s new inspection framework, with its focus on education and aims to cut down on paperwork and data, but teaching unions have been more critical.

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However, some early years concerns remain, primarily around the lack of clarity around the definition of ‘cultural capital’, which settings will now be inspected on.


The framework’s publication follows a three-month consultation with the sector on the framework, which comes into force in September, and accompanying inspection handbooks.

Ofsted said it had made some changes following feedback from 15,000 respondents to the public consultation.

The Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) said that it was pleased to see that many of the key points made in its submission to the consultation had been taken on board by Ofsted, notably concerning the discrepancy between the schools and early years handbooks.

PACEY chief executive Liz Bayram said, ‘PACEY, like many others in the sector, is supportive of the new Education Inspection Framework (EIF), and its renewed focus on quality of education. We hope its reduced focus on outcomes and data will give early years practitioners more time to do what they do best – give children the best start in life – by reducing unnecessary paperwork.’

She added that when implemented the EIF had to be supportive of a wide range of flexible approaches to planning, leading and reviewing and settings would need advice on how to cut down on their tracking and assessment, and how to feel confident in communicating their expertise around effective curriculum planning, design and implementation to inspectors. ‘This has simply not been a focus of their training to date.’

The Early Years Alliance particularly welcomed the acknowledgement of the impact of workload on early years practitioners and how leaders and managers can support that.

The Alliance is currently carrying out work in partnership with Ofsted and the Department for Education to identify what paperwork and administration causes the most stress in the sector.

Chief executive Neil Leitch said, ‘We welcome the evolution of the early years inspection framework and the strong focus on outcomes. Releasing the draft frameworks as part of the consultation enabled the sector to give considered feedback, which Ofsted has recognised in the final documents.

‘We are pleased the documents have been released now to give practitioners the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the new handbooks before the autumn term begins.’

‘Cultural capital’ concerns remain

However, the Alliance had reservations around cultural capital, which were echoed by other sector organisations.

‘We do still have concerns about some of the detail within the new framework. For example, the reference to cultural capital that has no clarity or detail other than a reference to the wording in the National Curriculum. We would invite Ofsted to work with us to support the sector to get clarity where it is required.

‘In the early years section of the schools framework, we are pleased that it explicitly notes EYFS is the curriculum that needs to be followed for all children up to the age of five, although we were a little puzzled at the odd statement later in the document where it says the EYFS curriculum "provides no limits or barriers to the children’s achievements." This was not in the original schools handbook, and it feels like a grudging acceptance of EYFS.'

But he added, ‘All in all this was a good consultation and we hope Ofsted keeps listening in order to address some of the finer detail as the framework gets put into practice.'

Ms Bayram said, ‘The wording around “cultural capital” is an improvement, but we are still concerned that it is liable to be misinterpreted without advice and guidance to settings. We have supported Ofsted’s pilot EIF inspections. These have made it very clear that early years settings are already supporting cultural capital as it is central to how the EYFS is delivered. So our message to all providers is to keep on doing what you are doing well and you won’t need to worry about the EIF.’

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said, ‘It’s helpful that Ofsted has listened in part to the respondents of this huge consultation, which is very important for the early years sector.

‘We know from feedback from our members that they have concerns about the language used and how inspectors will interpret this. They are pleased there is a clearer definition of “cultural capital” but this still leaves some room for misinterpretation.

‘NDNA and our members still have concerns about the lack of focus on child-centred learning and how good and bad behaviour is interpreted in an early years setting by inspectors. A lot of this is dependent upon training of early years inspectors in order to address these concerns.

‘We welcome Ofsted’s change in direction for before and after-school clubs, many of which are run by nurseries. Due to their circumstances, we agree that they should not be judged on the full framework.’

Charlotte Lynch, policy advisor at Save the Children, said, ‘The new inspection framework is an important opportunity to ensure that all children, irrespective of background, can access high-quality early education. While welcome progress has been made in parts, inconsistencies mean some pre-school children will still be left behind.

‘We are encouraged by reassurances that disadvantaged children will remain at the forefront of inspector’s minds. It is also good to see strengthened requirements for the link between nurseries and parents, which is so important for early learning.’

More than a Score, the group which is leading a campaign to have the Reception baseline scrapped, said that like parents, teachers and headteachers, Ofsted had recognised ‘the terrible consequences of the Government’s high-pressure testing regime.’

‘However, neither Ofsted nor the DfE are countenancing the changes which would transform primary education — getting rid of SATs altogether and ending a system dominated by league tables.

‘We believe that schools should be encouraged to develop a rich curriculum, and to avoid a teaching-to-the test culture but the Government is determined to continue to use children as data-points as a way to judge schools.

'Without fundamental change to the system, schools will be in a lose-lose situation. They will have  pressure from both sides - to deliver the curriculum Ofsted requires while still living under the influence of league tables. Children will still be labelled on the basis of a narrow set of tests and told they have not achieved “the expected standard”. They deserve better.’

Plans criticised by teaching unions

Teaching unions were much less favourable in their response to the new framework, claiming that Ofsted's plans were 'unworkable' because of a lack of resources and inspectors' expertise.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said, ‘Ofsted is not proposing to abandon data as a key factor in its inspection judgements.’ Inspectors will still arrive at secondary school armed with data.

‘Under the proposed framework, schools and colleges will not be able to contextualise their data in their conversations with inspectors, meaning that they will effectively be judged against national attainment scores which may bear little or no relationship to their own school’s or college’s student population.

‘We believe that schools and colleges will still not be evaluated accurately or be provided with worthwhile feedback, and it will remain the case that Ofsted has neither the financial nor the human resources to effectively implement its ambitious inspection proposals.

‘Ofsted does not have the capacity to quality assure its own judgements and we do not have confidence in the capacity of inspectors to make judgements on the curriculum, particularly out of their own subject/phase expertise.

‘We also believe that the criteria looking at pupil’s resilience, character attributes and ‘virtues’ encourage a deficit model of mental health and wellbeing rather than looking at measures which assess a whole school approach to social and emotional wellbeing.

‘The first step for a radical overhaul of the inspection system would have been the removal of the 4-grade system of judgements, to make space for proper professional conversations about curriculum, and to provide helpful information to support school improvement. Ofsted have woefully missed that opportunity.’

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary or school leaders’ union NAHT, said, ‘The ambition in Ofsted’s plans is sound, but we are deeply concerned that it will prove to be unworkable in practice. Under these new arrangements inspectors are being asked to do too much, with too little resource, and with too great a degree of subjectivity.

‘It is right that Ofsted looks at the “quality of education” on offer in schools – one would not expect them to look at anything else. But Ofsted has given its inspectors an impossible task to perform.

‘It is difficult to see how the verdicts delivered from September will be any more useful than in the current system, particularly for parents. Ofsted has got a massive job on its hands to explain why they think this new framework is better than the old one.'

The announcement of the new framework felt ‘rushed’, he added, just 22 days after the consultation closed, and the union was therefore ‘extremely concerned’ that Ofsted had 'not processed all 15,000 responses thoroughly enough, and that as a result, many important views have been missed or ignored.’

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