Ofsted to Look Beyond Grades When Assessing Schools

Teenagers celebrtating school exam results
Exam Sucess

Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, has set out her proposals for a new inspection regime which will be less focused on exam results as a mark of a school’s success. In a speech she delivered to school leaders in Newcastle, the head of Ofsted said too much emphasis on grades had put schools under incredible pressure and turned them into ‘exam factories’, limiting the scope of what they teach and reducing teachers to ‘data managers’.

Ofsted currently gives schools a day’s notice before an inspection takes place and inspections last two full days, during which time inspectors speak to a range of staff and pupils and observe lessons in progress. They also take into account the percentage of students achieving the desired grades in core subjects at key-stage, GCSE and A-level. Schools are then graded either outstanding, good, requiring improvement or adequate.

Overhauls of the inspection system have been promised in the past and not been delivered on. Will anything change with these new proposals?

‘Quality of Education’

Rather than concentrating on exam results and number crunching, Spielman said the new inspection system would take a broader look at the overall ‘quality of education’ each institute offered its pupils. A closer look at pupil behaviour, the breadth of the subject being taught and the ‘overall effectiveness’ of a school would all be taken into account, as would attendance records, suspensions and exclusions and the reported rates of bullying.

The focus will shift onto the curriculum, which falls into three categories – ‘knowledge-led’ which occurs in around a third of schools, ‘knowledge-engaged’ used in around half and ‘skills-led’, which is used in small groups. Amanda Spielman has said that too much attention has been given to leadership when it comes to implementing the curriculum, and there will need to be more focus on how well taught and sequenced the content is, how well designed the assessments are and how appropriate the model of progression is. Ofsted’s leader said ‘There need be no conflict between teaching a broad, rich curriculum and achieving success in exams’, as one should be the natural result of the other.

Schools would still be ranked on the four-point sliding scale from ‘outstanding’ down to ‘inadequate’, with higher grades rewarded to those who offered a wider range of subjects. Schools which focused too much on coaching children to pass exams would be challenged, while those which pushed children into less challenging courses for the sake of higher grades would also be held to account.

A Warm Welcome

The proposals were broadly welcomed by the teaching profession. Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, praised the speech and its proposals as a ‘breath of fresh air’, saying the new style of inspections would help create a more ‘balanced approach’.

The general secretary of the NASUWT union, Chris Keates, said teachers had long been concerned about the regulator’s narrow approach to data gathering, and said that the new proposals could help cut the ‘excessive bureaucracy, which is diverting teachers from focusing on teaching’.

Positive Progress

Teachers have long struggled with the pressures of teaching to a narrowing curriculum, teaching by rote to achieve the highest grades. Disheartened by such constraints, which often take the pleasure out of teaching, record numbers of younger teachers have been abandoning the profession in recent years.

With the main teaching unions broadly welcoming these changes, it’s hoped that some of the pressure will be removed from schools and teachers will be given more freedom over how – and what – they teach their students. Taking a more holistic approach to judging a school rather than simply concentrating on the numbers could dramatically change the education system, if implemented correctly. With adolescent mental health problems on the rise, examining the support and pastoral care a school offers is more important than ever.

The new Ofsted inspection system is due to come into force next year. Such changes have been promised before and failed to materialise. Teachers everywhere will be hoping the overhaul announced by Amanda Spielman will be implemented in full and have the desired effect, freeing them up to concentrate on teaching over the numbers.

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