New Ofsted framework: what will the inspectors be up to?

Teachers and students

Colin Logan, senior education lead at SSAT, examines the evidence

Most of the publicity surrounding the new 2019 Ofsted framework has focused on confirmation of the changes to the structure of inspection, such as the revised judgements and the decision not to proceed with the proposed on-site preparation before the inspection itself.

What has received less attention, is a document that accompanies the new framework and handbook, “Inspecting the curriculum: revising inspection methodology to support the education inspection framework”. This provides insight into what inspectors will be doing during the inspection and what it might feel like to be on the receiving end.

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At the heart of this inspection process is the new “quality of education” judgement. The concepts of “curriculum intent, implementation and impact” have been well-rehearsed in the lead-up to the new framework, which is based on the principle that these curriculum concepts connect with teaching, learning and assessment to provide evidence for the new judgement.

But how will inspectors go about finding that evidence?

The process will involve three key activities:

  • a top-level view
  • a deep dive and then
  • bringing it together.

The top-level view will, unsurprisingly, look at the overall curriculum offer and crucially, school leaders’ understanding of their curriculum intent and how its implementation allows content to be effectively sequenced to maximise learning.

The deep dive will be where the action really begins. The lead inspector will identify a sample of subjects or topics that will be the subject of intensive scrutiny to test out how theory is put into practice.

The deep dive will be where the action really begins. The lead inspector will identify a sample of subjects or topics to be intensively scrutinised to test how theory is put into practice

Bringing it together will collate the evidence available to see if there are any clear issues emerging or whether further investigation with school leaders is needed.

In primary schools there will always be a deep dive in reading, plus others in one or more foundation subjects and often one in mathematics. This will be adapted for small schools with less than 150 pupils. In secondary schools the focus will be on a sample of four to six subjects, across year and pupil groups. In both cases the deep dive will include:

  • an evaluation of senior leaders’ curriculum intent for each area and their understanding of its implementation and impact
  • an evaluation of curriculum or middle leaders’ long and medium-term planning, including their decisions on content and curriculum sequencing
  • visits to a “deliberately and explicitly connected sample of lessons”
  • work scrutiny from pupils in observed lessons
  • discussions with teachers about content and sequencing
  • discussions with pupils from the observed lessons.

Inspectors will be expected to know the purpose of the lesson or task, how it fits into a sequence of lessons over time and what pupils already know and understand. This suggests that there will need to be discussions with teachers before the lessons. As inspectors won’t be looking at schools’ internal data, these discussions will need to go well beyond the traditional “how many are reaching the expected standard?” Teachers will need to be able to explain what it is that pupils have learned. As before, lessons will not be graded; each lesson will be seen as one in a sequence and it will be what inspectors understand to be the overall sequence that will be evaluated to contribute towards the judgement on the quality of education.

Inspectors’ view of the overall lesson sequence will be evaluated to contribute towards the judgement on the quality of education

Findings from work evaluations will complement other evidence about the implementation of the curriculum. They won’t be used to judge the attainment or progress of individual pupils or to compare one pupil with another, nor will simple coverage of the curriculum by itself determine a judgement: “work scrutiny will form part of the evidence we use to judge whether the intended curriculum is being enacted.” For each deep dive, the exercise will involve a minimum of six workbooks or pieces of work per subject per year group; work will be scrutinised from at least two year groups, so that evidence isn’t drawn from a single cohort.

A deep dive will involve four to six lesson visits, meaning that in a secondary school there will be around 30 lesson observations, in addition to the other activities listed above.

Each inspection will begin with the top-level discussion. After that there will be a degree of flexibility around the order of what happens next. The intention is that, as many activities as possible are carried out jointly with school and curriculum leaders, so that the inspectors’ planning can respond to emerging hypotheses. As with current practice, the team meeting at the end of day one will bring together the available evidence for the four main judgements and then plan activity for the following day.

Concerns were expressed in responses to the framework consultation about whether there would be enough time for inspectors to gather enough evidence and about inspectors making judgements outside their subject specialism. Apparently, the pilot inspections have led Ofsted to have no worries on either count: they are confident that two days for both long and short inspections (in schools with more than 150 pupils) will be sufficient and  “no additional subject specialism should be required to deliver [the framework] consistently and reliably.”

As the proposed site visit on the afternoon prior to day one of the inspection will not be implemented, the telephone call with the headteacher will assume much greater importance. It will include discussion of the school’s context and progress since the last inspection, current strengths and weaknesses (particularly in relation to the curriculum), access to the curriculum and a discussion about which areas of the school might be the subject of deep dives. The conversation will last, Ofsted says, around 90 minutes and will make a significant contribution to the lead inspector’s initial hypotheses about the school. Although SSAT always says that schools should not prepare specifically for inspection, headteachers might find it helpful to have ready, the key points that they want the lead inspector to take on board as an aide-memoire when the call comes.

The pre-visit phone call lasting 90 minutes, Ofsted say, will make a significant contribution to the lead inspector’s initial hypotheses about the school

Pilot inspections of the new framework are still going on. Potential problems that have arisen so far have included staff capacity in small schools, specific subjects not being timetabled during the two days and the inspection of PRUs where there can be several sites to visit.

The new framework shouldn’t prompt any quick-fix curriculum planning from school leaders who might feel the need to be “Ofsted-ready” by September. Schools will have until September 2020 to have everything in place, provided that inspectors can see that they have a plan to review their curriculum, combined with “genuine action” to do so.

The new framework represents a major change in both the methodology and focus of school inspections. The first specific training for non-HMI inspectors will not happen until July, although many of the principles underpinning the new framework have been shared with them over the past 18 months.

There are understandably concerns among school leaders and others: how can a reliable and valid judgement be reached on such a sophisticated aspect of school life as the quality of its education? And what about the consistency of decision-making both within and between inspection teams? On the other hand, there can be no doubt that this has easily been the most transparent and signalled introduction of a new framework since Ofsted was formed in 1992.

Colin will be speaking at this year’s School Improvement Show in June where he will discuss what effective school SEFs and development plans look like.


Colin Logan
Colin Logan
Senior Education Lead

School improvement consultancy – Designed for flexible delivery

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