Since the introduction of Ofsted’s new education inspection framework (EIF), the first reports have started to be published in full. Looking specifically at mainstream secondary schools’ section 5 or 8 inspections, there have been remarkably few published – but there are already common themes emerging.
What the reports look like
What it’s like to attend this school
Although this was already in the public domain, the new reports look noticeably different from previous iterations. All of the context about both the school and the inspection activity has been sensibly shifted to the back, meaning the inspection results are up front in the report. This makes sense given Ofsted’s continued assertion that its primary role is to inform parents.
The first section of the report is a c200-word summary of ‘what it is like to attend this school’. Here, in the first published reports, we see a far more idiosyncratic narrative than previously. For example, reports refer to students’ wellbeing and satisfaction with the school, extracurricular activities and safety and bullying. These reflect the key concerns of parents, in other words, ‘will my child be happy and safe here?’
Interestingly, even in reports with an overall ‘requires improvement’ grade, the opening sections are largely positive.
Some examples of the type of language used in this section:
“[The academy] is a small secondary school where pupils know each other well. After several years of frequent staff changes, the school is now much more settled. As a result, pupils are getting to know staff better and building relationships with them.”
“Leaders want pupils to excel beyond their lessons. Pupils are given a wide choice of activities. For example, they take part in silversmithing, mindful meditation, creative history and yoga at lunchtime and after school.”
“In this school every pupil matters. The relationships between pupils and teachers are positive. Pupils say they have someone they can talk to if they are worried or upset. They say they enjoy going to school. Staff go the extra mile to help them with their work.”
What does the school do well, and what does it need to do to be better?
The next section is roughly 500 words: as with the first, this is largely narrative. It does not, on the whole, look back on historical data, but rather on what the school is currently doing. In fact, historical KS4 data is barely mentioned in the reports published so far.
Comments touch on each of the four judgement areas, largely building a narrative starting with ‘quality of education’ and ending with ‘leadership and management’. Again, the published reports are even-handed, offering a fair balance between strengths and weaknesses.
“Pupils enjoy a wide range of subjects in key stage 3. Teachers’ plans include the breadth of knowledge pupils need. However, in many subjects, teachers do not ensure that pupils understand the purpose of what they are learning.”….and: “Pupils enjoy debating and discussing issues, such as conservation. One pupil commented that a large statue of Buddha in the school grounds is the ‘pride and joy’ of the school. This sensitive comment is typical of pupils’ respect for other cultures.”
It also seems that this section will always comment on SEND provision, particularly SEND students’ wellbeing and ability to access the full curriculum. SEND is thus fully integrated into the report, rather than an add-on (which reflects both the EIF and the fact that at least two deep-dives will have a specific focus on SEND).
Safeguarding and improvements
The next two sections focus first on safeguarding and then on what the school needs to do to improve.
The safeguarding judgement largely says whether the school’s processes are effective and meet statutory standards, as well as focusing on students’ wellbeing and mental health.
The improvements section of the report is explicitly for use of the school and the LA/MAT – not parents. Again, we see a shift of emphasis here onto reports that are mainly authored with parents in mind – not schools.
There has been frequent speculation that Ofsted are not fans of a two-year KS3. Although they won’t (and shouldn’t) say so in many words, both Amanda Spielman and Sean Harford have expressed concerns over curriculum narrowing at KS3, and students revising the same GCSE material for three years at KS4. These are concerns that SSAT has shared, and we have always advocated a broad and balanced KS3 curriculum.
This is shown in the published reports, and some draft reports that we have seen. For example, in one published report, Ofsted notes:
“Pupils in key stage 3 spend two years learning a curriculum. In year 9, they [start] their GCSEs, which reduces the number of subjects they study. This means that teachers teach about a broad range of topics but they do not explore subject content in depth. This leads to gaps in pupils’ understanding.”
Ofsted have not ruled out a two-year KS3, nor have they made it a limiting factor for judgement. However, it is clear that if you choose to adopt a two-year KS3 then you can expect the following type of questions:
- Is the full KS3 national curriculum (or an equally ambitious school curriculum) taught within the two-year plan?
- What is the impact of limiting the subjects offered in year 9?
- If subjects are limited, what extracurricular/formal curricular provision is there for students to access a broad and balanced curriculum?
One of the more controversial aspects of the EIF is the assertion that Ebacc entry rates at GCSE reflect an ambitious curriculum for all – one that SSAT has continually argued against. That being said, we completely agree that studying the full breadth of Ebacc subjects until 16 should always be accessible to all students, including SEND, disadvantaged and low-attaining students. However, at a time of acute funding pressures, a focus on the Ebacc naturally limits the number of other GCSE options a school can offer. At a time when the education secretary is championing vocational and technical training post-16, this looks incoherent.
While we were hoping that Ebacc would not feature heavily in the reports, the EIF makes it almost impossible not to respond to this. Examples of comments in the first published reports include:
“There are also too few pupils following the suite of subjects in the English Baccalaureate. However, it is clear that leaders are already taking steps to address this. Their plans for next year show they will only enter pupils for suitable examinations and that the English Baccalaureate will be at the heart of the curriculum.”
“Leaders want as many pupils as possible to succeed in the English Baccalaureate. Pupils of every ability can choose the necessary subjects. At the same time, pupils can continue to study creative and artistic subjects.”
Although Ofsted have been clear that the DfE’s ‘ambition’ for Ebacc entry rates by 2022 will not translate into an Ofsted ‘target’, schools with low Ebacc entry rates should be prepared to explain their strategic reason, in the best interests of the student.
Reading and literacy
In the build-up to the EIF, Ofsted were vocal about the importance of literacy and reading skills in accessing the curriculum and being successful in the future. For example, every inspected primary school will have a deep dive specifically into reading.
However, we perhaps hadn’t expected reading, and reading for pleasure, to feature strongly in secondary inspection. This does seem to have been a key concern for some early inspections in the EIF:
“Pupils’ reading skills are not sufficiently well developed. The lack of focus on reading in school is not helping pupils to broaden their vocabulary. Although this is stronger in English, it is not the case in other subjects. Very few of the pupils who spoke with inspectors are currently reading a book.”
“Pupils do not show a love for reading. There is a weak reading culture in the school. This results in pupils having a limited vocabulary and a lack of confidence in their reading. Leaders need to ensure that reading sits at the heart of the curriculum.”
Content sequencing, progression and coherence
The underlying questions in the ‘quality of education’ judgement seem to be ‘Why this? Why now?’. We see this time and again in the first published reports; comments about whether staff can articulate why certain concepts or topics are taught at a moment in time, and how this builds on prior learning, and builds the basis for future learning.
Likewise, there is a strong emphasis in the reports on coherence both within and between subjects; how teachers in different departments are making links between subjects.
“However, in many subjects, teachers do not ensure that pupils understand the purpose of what they are learning. Nor do they draw out the links between subjects. Consequently, pupils do not remember what they are taught as well as they could. As a result, results at the end of year 11 have not been strong, but they are improving.”
“In most subjects, teachers have thought hard about what pupils need to know. They sequence lessons carefully and use thoughtful ways to recap and review knowledge. This is helping pupils to know and remember more. Most pupils talked confidently about important ideas or concepts from their lessons. For example, pupils described how to use precise measuring equipment to make a key fob. After a science lesson, pupils accurately drew on earlier teaching to describe their findings from graphs about electrical resistance.”
“However, in a few subjects, such as mathematics and art, leaders have not thought deeply enough about how pupils get there.”
“Teachers plan lessons and sequences of lessons well. They help pupils learn more and remember more by linking topics from one year to the next. For example, in geography, pupils learn about the continents in year 7. This helps them to understand where the ecosystems are when they study them in year 8. Good links are made between subjects.”
“Pupils learn about food chains in both geography and science. However, linking work between subjects needs to be better planned in all subjects. This will help pupils remember more.”
These lengthy quotations illustrate how much emphasis is placed on content progression, sequencing and links between subjects during deep dives. Middle leaders and classroom teachers must be able to articulate this; something that they should be able to do regardless of the new EIF – and could well form the basis of schools’ subject-specific CPD.
We will wait to see how the EIF plays out as new reports are published. In the meantime, if you would like to explore these issues in more detail, my colleague Colin Logan and I are speaking at various events over the coming term:
- Curriculum intent and quality assurance seminars designed to support senior and middle leaders with responsibility for curriculum and/or quality assurance
26 March 2020, London and 1 April 2020, The Midlands