Unions respond to Ofsted inspection framework

Two school unions have responded to Ofsted’s new inspection framework proposition

In response to yesterday’s announcement regarding the new inspection framework proposition, two school unions – the National Education Union and the Association of School and College Leaders – have reacted to the news.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said:

“Ofsted makes bold and ambitious claims for its new inspection framework, but the National Education Union remains deeply sceptical about whether these will 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.

“None of these narrow accountability measures are being abolished. Schools will still be measured on the percentage of their pupils following the EBacc, GCSE results, progress 8 and attainment 8.

“Added to these quantitative measures, Ofsted intends to make qualitative judgements on the curriculum. Ofsted’s own research shows that those HMI doing the trial inspections asked how they could make curriculum judgements in the time available for inspection. How complex, detailed, value-laden judgements will be made consistently across England’s 20,000 schools is the fundamental question – and one that Ofsted cannot answer.

“Ofsted’s reputation as a reliable arbiter of school quality is gravely damaged. Government ministers are well aware that Ofsted judgements on schools are overwhelmingly based on the characteristics of their pupil intake rather than the education they provide.

“The NEU believes that there is no more time to tinker with Ofsted. England needs a new system of school accountability – one that keeps good teachers and school leaders in the profession, working to improve the life chances of our children and young people.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL, commented:

“Ofsted’s new inspection regime is a major change which will see inspections focus more on the quality of the curriculum taught in schools and less on test and exam results. This is a step in the right direction and it should restore some badly needed balance to a system which has become far too dominated by the government’s soul-destroying fixation on grades and data.

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“By the same token, however, Ofsted needs to understand the pressures under which schools are operating. Its proposal to judge leaders on how well they manage teacher workload is laudable in its intention, but inspectors will need to take into account the fact that workload is often driven by external factors such as government reforms to exams and the curriculum, and a school funding crisis which is driving up class sizes and thus generating more work for teachers in charge of those classes.

“Similarly, Ofsted is right to scrutinise the use of exclusions, whether external or internal, but it also has to appreciate that the severe funding pressures under which schools are operating make it difficult to provide the early intervention which prevents challenging behaviour escalating to the point of exclusion.

“Ofsted also plans to ask questions of schools operating a shorter Key Stage 3 in the early years of secondary school to ensure they are still teaching a broad range of subjects. This must be a conversation rather than a rush to judgement. Schools may feel they need to teach a shorter Key Stage 3 because new reformed GCSEs contain so much content that a longer Key Stage 4 is necessary in order to deliver them.

“Unfortunately, the inspectorate’s plan to judge a school’s curriculum partly on how well it is preparing to achieve the government’s ‘ambition’ of 90% of pupils taking GCSEs in the EBacc suite of subjects is misconceived. This target is unachievable because there are nowhere near enough modern foreign language teachers in the system to teach that many pupils. It is nonsensical to judge schools on factors which are clearly outside their control and we will be pressing Ofsted to amend this section.

“The inspection framework also deals with the practice of ‘off-rolling’ whereby by parents are persuaded to withdraw their child from a school, and the ‘gaming’ of exams in which pupils are entered for qualifications which are not in their best interests but may improve the school’s results in performance tables.

“The vast majority of school leaders will wholeheartedly support any action to prevent off-rolling and gaming. These are unacceptable practices, which shouldn’t happen and don’t do so in most schools.”

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