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Ofsted’s plans for 2020/21 academic year

27 Aug

I           Looking forwards

On 6 July 2020, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI), Amanda Spielman, published the plans for Ofsted from September 2020, when all schools and academies are due to reopen for normal work.  She rued the enormous loss of lives because of the pandemic and remarked on the growing concern of its impact on the education of children.  The closure of institutions has had been detrimental to the education of millions of children and made many vulnerable youngsters invisible to the care services.

She praised teachers and headteachers for the tenacity they exhibited to work hard and sustain education during the lockdown. She also had warm words for the schools and academies that remained open for the vulnerable children and the children of key workers.

However, she remarked that it was a sad fact that children would have had unequal experiences in their homes.  “Not every child will have had a quiet place to work, a supportive adult on hand to help or access to technology.”  A number would have become demotivated and others find it hard to catch up.

Notwithstanding, she acknowledged that many children and school and academy staff were resilient and observed “that with clear guidance and careful planning, schools will get pupils where they need to be”.

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HMCI’s Verdict in Annual Report 2018/19: Education quality on an upward trajectory

13 Apr

I       Headlines

The quality of education continues to improve in England, according to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, Amanda Spielman, as mentioned in her annual report for 2018/19, which was published on 21 January 2020.  The Coronavirus meltdown of the last few months has resulted in everything taking a backseat.  But it is worth chewing on the judgements and commentary of Amanda Spielman’s and her team about the quality of education over the last academic year – 2018/19.  Her cover report to the Secretary of State was wide-ranging.  The bones of that were as follows.   Overall,

  • 86% of schools and academies were judged to be good or outstanding;
  • 96% of early years foundation stage (EYFS) providers were judged good or outstanding; and
  • 81% of further education and skills (FES) providers were judged to be good or outstanding.

According to Spielman, this picture was reflected in the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study, which showed average scores for 15-year-olds in England significantly above international averages in mathematics, reading and science. In 2018, standards in mathematics rose during the last three years for youngsters of 15 years of age. There was also a small rise in reading standards albeit there was no improvement in science.

The quality of social care improved too. Altogether, 48% of local authorities (LAs) social care services were judged to be good or outstanding – a rise of 12% on the first round under the previous single inspection framework (SIF).

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Two-thirds of governors satisfied with new inspection arrangements

13 Apr

During the autumn term 2019, the National Governors’ Association (NGA) collected the views and experiences of governing boards on the Education Inspection Framework (EIF). It also analysed 844 published inspection reports of that period to examine how the EIF was working.

Governors happier with new inspections

Two-thirds (64.6%) of respondents were satisfied with the inspections overall. This matched the responses that Ofsted had.   Altogether, 71.9% of governors who responded felt that Ofsted’s ratings of their schools and academies were correct.  The majority also thought that the feedback meetings from the inspectors (following inspections) were beneficial and gave them a better understanding of why they had been rated as they were. Altogether, 75.7% were either very satisfied or satisfied with the feedback.  However, many felt that the inspections had become more rushed.  They thought that inspections were covering “a huge amount of work in a very short space of time”.

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Ofsted 2019: How will governance be inspected?

31 Dec

I        Preamble

In March 2019, The Key, the governors’ organisation, interviewed Matthew Purves, the Deputy Director for Schools Inspection. In response to a question, Mr Purves said that governance would now be part of the overall judgement on leadership and management.   There would not be a separate judgement or grade for the quality of the work that governors do.

He acknowledged, in broad terms, that pupils’ standards of achievement had risen over the last score of years.  However, he admitted that the inspectors had been too focused on data rather than the quality of education, which was at the heart of the new framework.  In future, there would be “a single conversation about teaching quality and outcomes”.  To ensure that this was appropriately covered, he explained, inspectors would be asking the following questions.

  • What is it that the school/academy wants children to learn?
  • How does that translate into classroom practice?
  • How is that curriculum passed on through teaching?
  • How do teaching, learning and the quality of education impact on the standards children achieve?’

Ofsted will examine how well those “responsible for governance” deal with the following matters.

  • Understanding their role and how well they carry it out.
  • The school’s/academy’s vision, ethos, and strategic direction.
  • The management of resources.
  • The oversight of finance and ensuring that money, including the Pupil Premium Grant (PPG), is well spent.
  • How well governors hold the executive leaders (the headteacher or CEO, for example) to account for educational performance, the performance management of staff and the quality of education and training.
  • How well governors fulfil their statutory duties (like the ones placed on school/academy by the Equality Act 2010, the Prevent Strategy and Keeping Children Safe in Education).
  • The way governors promote the welfare of learners and ensure that the education the school/academy provides positively impacts on all pupils.

A full description of the judgement is on pages 11 to 12 of the inspection framework and page 66 to 67 of the inspection handbook.

The structure of education in England is messy, because of which there are multiple accountabilities.  In schools and standalone academies, people in charge of governance are governors.  In Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs), the responsibility for governance could lie with the trustees or the governors of the academies for which the trust board is responsible – or both.  Ofsted is keen to ensure that inspectors hold the right people to account.

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Ofsted Inspections: All Change in September 2019

18 Apr

(1)       Ofsted’s Deputy Director heralds changes to inspections

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman has signalled a radical change to how school/academy inspections are to be carried out from 1 September 2019. Consultations on the draft inspection handbook, which began on January 16, 2019, closed on 5 April 2019.

Writing in the March/April 2019 of Governing Matters, the National Governors’ Association (NGA) magazine, Matthew Purves, Ofsted’s deputy director of schools, gave schools/academies a pat on the back when he stated: “England’s schools have made real improvements over the past two decades, thanks to the hard work of teachers, leaders, governors/trustees and many others.  The accountability system has played its part in the improvement.”  He added, however, that this accountability had become a slave (my word) to performance data, spawning a school improvement industry around scores and outcomes.  Schools and academies have expended too much time on performance data “rather than focus on what is really going on in the classrooms”.

You can sense that the pendulum is now set to swing in the opposite direction from outcomes to processes.  Matthew Purves empathises with teachers because of the excessive workload they have been under obsessing with data as they “generate, upload and analyse” outcomes endlessly. This focus, he avers, has been “a barrier to further improvement”.   Attending to pupil scores has drawn attention away from the substance of education – i.e. “what is taught, how it is taught and the impact”.   This remark is a bit puzzling.  It is precisely because schools and academies have been focusing on impact that they have placed so much store on data.

I will return to Matthew Purves at the end of the article.  Meanwhile, there is merit in outlining what will be different in inspections.

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Quality of Education in England – a Curate’s Egg: Good in Parts

4 Jan

Chief Inspector’s Annual Report 2017-18

On 4 December 2018, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) of Schools, Amanda Spielman, issued her second annual report to Parliament, in accord with section 121 of the Education and Inspection Act 2006.  You may have missed it because of the Brexit kerfuffle.

As always, there was good news and bad news for the nation’s schools, academies, Further Education (FE) Colleges and local authorities (LAs).

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Minor inspection changes from September 2018

4 Jan

I        The Changes

Minor changes were made to the Inspection Handbook. These changes took effect from September 2018.

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Ofsted researches curriculum focus to plan for future inspections

4 Jan

I           The Consultation

From 16 January 2019, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman begins a consultation on the new Education Inspection Framework (EIF).   The focus on inspections is to be rebalanced.  Previously, outcomes was under the microscope – more so than progress – which had been stressing out headteachers and school/academy staff alike.   The current proposal is on refocusing inspections on the quality of education, including curriculum intent, implementation and impact.

To ensure that inspecting the quality of education is valid and reliable, she commissioned a major, two-year research study into the curriculum.   Inspectors visited 40 schools/academies in phase 1, 23 in phase 2 and 64 schools in phase 3[1]. There were also focus groups, reviews of inspection reports and other exercises undertaken.

Mrs Spielman said: “…….at the very heart of education sits the vast accumulated wealth of human knowledge and what we choose to impart to the next generation: the curriculum.

“Without a curriculum, a building full of teachers, leaders and pupils is not a school. Without receiving knowledge, pupils have learned nothing, and no progress has been made – whatever the measures might indicate.”  Exams should exist to serve the curriculum rather than the other way around. The dog must wag the tail not the tail the dog.  While exams were the best measure of how successfully knowledge was transmitted to young people, any test was just a sample of the knowledge that was gained. The curriculum goes well beyond that.

Knowledge appears to be like the cosmos and seems to have no boundaries in both, time and space.   Accordingly, an excellent school/academy makes careful choices between the breadth and depth of the curriculum it adopts and pursues, drawing on appropriate resources and deciding what to teach mindful of the opportunities available for pupils to develop new concepts.

This should be grounded firmly in a consensus of what knowledge and concepts should be handed over to the next generation to help that generation succeed and flourish.

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Ofsted in the spotlight – again

17 Aug

I        Inspecting schools/academies – a high-risk business

Working as an inspector for Ofsted is a high-risk business.   Because inspections are obsessed with judgements, the exercise can have devastating consequences on schools and academies.  It is, therefore, unsurprising that Ofsted is constantly under scrutiny.

The great and the good, including Professors Dylan Wiliam, formerly of University College and Institute of Education London, and Robert Coe of Durham University, have been critical of Ofsted in the past.

William Stewart wrote in an article for The Times Educational Supplement in April 2015 that Wiliam said in 2012 that Ofsted needed to subject its school inspections to a proper evaluation of reliability, claiming the watchdog did “not know good teaching” when it saw it. Coe warned, in 2013, that Ofsted’s practice was not research- or evidence-based adding that it needed to demonstrate that its evaluations of lessons were valid by testing the judgements of different inspection teams.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) Amanda Spielman is making strenuous efforts to change the public perception of inspections.   First she is confronting schools/academy leaders who off-load their “disruptive” children – especially prior to a possible inspection and/or the examinations in which they are likely to fail.  Second, she is introducing a fairer inspection regimen that takes more account of children’s starting points.

Secretary of State Damian Hinds is giving his support.   For instance, he has made it clear that it is not going to be the Regional Schools’ Commissioners (RSCs) who will be inspecting and evaluating the quality of education in schools/academies but rather Ofsted that will judge the institutions.

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Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI), launches her first Annual Report on state of education and children’s care in England

31 Dec

Amanda Spielman, HMCI, who took up her post on 1 January 2017, issued her first annual report on 13 December 2017.  As always, it was a bitter-sweet experience, where some of the findings were uplifting and some depressing.

I        The Positives

On the positive side, Spielman remarked that the life chances of the vast majority of young people in 2017 were the best they had ever been.

(i)         94% of early years providers were now rated good or outstanding.

(ii)        90% of primary schools and 79% of secondary ones were good or outstanding.

(iii)       80% of further education and skills providers were good or outstanding.

(iv)       83% of children’s homes were now good and outstanding.

(v)        More local authorities’ children’s services were on a path to improvement. Ofsted had inspected 146 out of 152 local authorities nationally and judged that 34% were good or outstanding, compared with 26% at the time of its previous social care annual report.   Even within those authorities that require improvement to be consistently good, there were many areas of good practice.

(vi)       There had been an overall trend of improvement across social care providers.  The proportion of good and outstanding children’s homes had increased from 79% to 83% since Ofsted last reported on them in 2016.   Across all the many types of providers inspected, only secure training centres had declined in the quality of their provision.

II       The Negatives

However, everything in the education garden is not rosy.  Over 500 primary and about 200 secondary schools/academies are currently judged as requiring improvement or in special measures over their last two inspections.   Of those inspected in 2017, 130 schools/academies had been underperforming for up to ten years.

The schools/academies shared similar features.

(i)         Unstable leadership, high staff turnover and difficulty in recruiting good staff members were blighting the educational provision for the children.

(ii)        During past inspections and monitoring exercises, inspectors had frequently reported seeing positive signs of renewal, especially after new leaders had been appointed.   This improvement, however, had not been sustained.

(iii)       Tragically, many had high numbers of pupils from deprived areas, above average proportions of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and White British pupils from low-income backgrounds.  These vulnerable children deserved the best and were been served the worst that education could offer in the country.  She exhorted policy-makers, professional and Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education) of which she is the chief to direct their support to improve the outcomes for all pupils, but especially the most vulnerable who were getting a raw deal.

(iv)       Where schools/academies were failing their pupils, weak governance was a common feature.   The elements of weak governance included the following.


  • were not challenging effectively or holding leaders to account, for instance, by being too accepting of what they were told;
  • did not understand school performance or quality sufficiently well;
  • were not holding leaders to account for the use of additional funding such as the Pupil Premium Grant (PPG);
  • were failing to act swiftly enough to challenge or support;
  • were not checking the quality and impact of external support; and
  • lacked skills and understanding to carry out their role effectively.

In the weaker MATs, she identified the following trustee/governance failings.

  • Trustees and governors were unclear and/or had not published schemes of delegation which outlined the roles and accountabilities of each level of governance – e.g. what precisely were the functions of the trustees, and what were those of the governing board and those of the committees;
  • Trust boards did not have an accurate picture of pupils’ progress in their academies.
  • Trustees and governors were overly dependent on academy leaders and a minority of members to interpret data.
  • They did not have clear strategies for the spending of additional funding such as the PPG and evaluating the impact of additional funding

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