The new Ofsted Inspection Framework is over a month old and we’re already starting to see middle leaders, Heads and MAT Directors share their experiences of the new-style inspection. I’ve looked across some of what’s been shared across media and social media and pulled out some of the key themes that have stood out to me...
1. Data - what data?
It appears that Ofsted are staying true to their word in not asking to see a school’s internal progress data - much to the surprise of many schools. Dan Morrow, CEO of Woodland Academy Trust, captured this best in his article for Schools Week - ‘There I was, armed with reams of data for the achievement conversations, ready to ride into battle for my staff, my children and my community. Except the conversation didn’t come.’
This should not be surprising - Ofsted have consistently said they will not look at internal progress data - yet schools have had the lingering doubt that a leopard cannot change its spots. It seems clear that schools who spend hours preparing folders of internal assessment data will have wasted time. It is also equally clear (see no.2 below) that schools would be far better placed ensuring their middle leaders and teachers have a thorough knowledge and sound justification for the curriculum choices they have made.
2. The role of middle leaders and teachers
Several school leaders have commented on the more prominent role that their middle leaders have played in the inspection process. Across Primary and Secondary, examples abound of hour-long interviews with subject leaders covering, amongst other things, areas such as:
- the coverage of content in the curriculum
- what schemes a school follows and why they are studying the content they are at that particular point in time
- how a school ensures prior knowledge is remembered and built on, and how they plan learning to support retrieval of key knowledge
- what links are made with other subjects
- where the same topic appears to be taught in different years, how the subject leader is avoiding repetition
- the subject leader’s own background and, where they are not a specialist (e.g. in Primary), how they came to lead on a subject and how they have built their own subject expertise
As one Head advises, it is vital to ‘ensure understanding is embedded at every level, so all staff can talk with the same clarity as the school leaders.’ And returning to Dan Morrow, ‘Inspectors don’t want this [the deep-dive methodology] polluted by headteachers, so look to middle and class-based leaders to gather and confirm their view.’
The early signs are that middle leaders will have much greater input than in the legacy framework, involved as they are through initial interviews, lesson observations and work scrutinies. Some SLT, on the other hand, report feeling somewhat sidelined and redundant.
3. Walk with me
One thing that’s come across loud and clear from nearly all accounts of the new inspection is the centrality of the ‘Learning Walk’ to the new inspections process. Many school leaders have expressed their surprise at how quickly the inspectors have launched into learning walks, which is Ofsted’s central way of understanding what is happening in a school and carrying out the subject ‘deep dives’ that allow them to make judgements on the quality of a school’s curriculum. These learning walks have invariably involved:
- observations of sequences of lessons
- scrutiny of pupil work - often involving a discussion between the inspector and the subject leader as to what that student’s book/work indicates about the quality of the school’s curriculum
- comparison of student work across year groups or between different sets - again as a means of drawing out the progress students are or are not making
- in-depth conversations with those pupils to understand what they have learnt and retained in a subject - for example, asking students to recall and describe their learning in the previous year or asking pupils to ‘present’ their books and what they have learnt
Having interviewed middle leaders to understand their perception of what’s happening in their subject, the learning walks are Ofsted’s way of seeing for themselves whether this view reflects reality.
4. Shallow dives
More than one school has expressed surprise at how, on day two, the inspectors have carried out learning walks across a range of subjects that were not the focus of deep dives. In many respects, this should not be a surprise - Ofsted have always been clear that while they will choose a select number of subjects for deeper scrutiny, they would then look to ‘surface’ and use some of the inspection to sense-check that what they were seeing in those subjects was indicative of what was happening elsewhere in the school.
5. Support for NQTs
Something I hadn’t personally picked up from my read-through of the various Ofsted documents, but is mentioned time and again by schools who have undergone inspection, is the focus on what schools are doing to support NQTs. This ranges from a conversation with SLT and middle leaders to understand what measures they are putting in place to build the expertise of their NQTs, to 1:1 interviews with all NQTs in a school in which the inspector probes around the induction they have received, what training is in place and how well the NQTs understand the school’s approach to behaviour management, curriculum design, safeguarding and so on.
We’ll be providing further updates, insights and guidance in the next few months, so stay tuned to our curriculum pages to keep up to date.