Addressing the Association of School & College Leaders (ASCL) annual conference, Amanda Spielman today vowed to use the ‘immense power’ of Ofsted inspections responsibly and intelligently.
Inspection should not be making your job unnecessarily difficult or laborious. Or, worse still, actually diverting you from the real task at hand – our children’s education.
I have no interest in using this role to impose my personal prejudices about how you should run your schools, nor will Ofsted on my watch become a vehicle for promoting the latest educational fashion or fad. And I won’t be pushing you to jump through increasingly convoluted hoops, only to change direction a couple of years down the line.
My interest is solely in ensuring that every child receives what is their fundamental right: a good education. And not only a good education but the right education for that child.
Amanda made clear that she won’t shy away from speaking ‘truth to power’ or exposing institutions that are failing to deliver a proper standard of education or care for children.
Whether it is pupils struggling to learn, in schools where behaviour just isn’t good enough, young people being exposed to extremist views in illegal schools, or children left vulnerable in our care system, I will be frank about these failings. And, what’s more, I will demand action to tackle them.
The new Chief Inspector also used her speech to implore school leaders to resist heaping unnecessary workloads onto their teaching staff in the name of Ofsted, or hiring costly consultants to run mock inspections as a dress rehearsal for the real thing.
Ofsted inspections should not be a performance that schools spend hours rehearsing. Our inspectors are getting better at evaluating whether what we see on inspection is a true reflection of the everyday life of a school.
And no matter what so-called ‘consultants’ are selling, when school finances are under pressure and workloads are high, running mocksteds is an unacceptable waste of staff time and scarce pupil funding.
Following last week’s warning from Ofsted’s National Director of Education, Sean Harford, that some schools are entering pupils for non-academic qualifications that aren’t in their best interests, Amanda repeated concerns that the pressures of accountability are leading some schools to try to ‘game’ the system.
She acknowledged that conflict often exists between a headteacher’s desire to give pupils the right education for their future success, and the desire to improve their school’s position in the league tables.
We know that there are some schools that are narrowing the curriculum, using qualifications inappropriately, and moving out pupils who would drag down results. That is nothing short of a scandal. Childhood isn’t deferrable; young people get one opportunity to learn in school; and we owe it to them make sure they all get an education that is broad, rich and deep.
There is more to a good education than league tables. Vitally important though a school’s examination results are, we must not allow curricula to be driven just by SATs, GCSEs and A levels. It is the substance of education that ultimately creates and changes life chances, not grade stickers from exams.
So I am determined to make sure that the curriculum receives the proper focus it deserves.
In light of these concerns, Amanda today announced a major Ofsted investigation into how effectively schools – from early years through primary, secondary and further education – are using the curriculum to provide children with the best education.
Amanda conceded that the curriculum has not received enough attention during inspections in recent years. To correct this, Ofsted’s study will explore how maintained schools translate the National Curriculum into effective classroom teaching, and how academies design their own curriculum, and what this means for young people’s school experience.
The study will look for examples of the most successful curricula, and also consider what can be done to tackle the problems, such as such as curriculum narrowing. And it will provide insights into important debates about how schools can promote social mobility and make sure that every young person is offered the best possible start to adult life.
Ofsted is currently in the first stages of scoping the investigation. Inspectors will carry out fieldwork over the next few months, before the final report is published later in the year.
The study will not review the national curriculum itself, but rather how schools are implementing it in the classroom.