Over the past year there’s been much talk in education circles about Ofsted’s new assessment framework – the criteria against which schools will henceforth be judged during inspections. Ahead of the 2019/20 academic year it was given a significant overhaul, with Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman citing concerns that some schools had begun to behave like ‘exam factories’, narrowing their curriculums to maximise their exam results.
Ofsted has thus added a new ‘Quality of Education’ focus to the framework, which seeks to ensure that schools are delivering a ‘broad and balanced curriculum’, and plans to hold schools accountable for this via a practice known as ‘Deep Dives.’ Under the new policy, a select group of subjects will be chosen and inspected rigorously. In theory, this will involve inspecting children’s work in books, a series of lesson observations and interviews with subject leaders.
In practice, however, these Deep Dives have the potential to cause more harm than good. Maths and English subject leaders in primary schools will typically be senior members of teaching staff, with many years of classroom experience under their belt and the wherewithal to cope with the stresses of Ofsted inspection. Yet foundation subject leaders – for art, D&T, music and MFL, for instance – frequently won’t possess such experience. Many will even be new to their roles. Regardless, these teachers now face the prospect of being put front and centre during an Ofsted visit in a way that could make or break their school and its reputation.
What message does this send out when the profession continues to be mired in a recruitment crisis? ‘Come and train to be a teacher, where in little under two years you could be the focus of a high-stakes inspection.’ This is especially disheartening, given that the percentage of teachers leaving the profession within five years of qualifying remains as high as 40 per cent.
Moreover, teachers of foundation subjects often aren’t compensated for the extra responsibility they take on. Primary maths and English subject leads can expect to receive teaching and learning responsibility payments on top of their salaries, therefore compensating them for the extra scrutiny they’ll face. Right now, an NQT leading D&T in a one-form entry primary is unlikely to be extended the same courtesy. If we’re going to put foundation leads at the frontline of Ofsted inspections, should these roles not start to come with additional pay?
A key criticism of Ofsted’s outgoing framework was that its judgements focused too heavily on results, placing undue stress on pupils that stemmed from teachers’ and senior leaders’ desperation to avoid ‘Requires Improvement’, or ‘Inadequate’ ratings. But instead of removing this needless pressure from the system, Ofsted has simply moved it elsewhere. At a time when pupil wellbeing is a top priority for the government and Ofsted, it seems remarkable that they’ve failed to appreciate how teacher wellbeing matters too.
Schools should absolutely face scrutiny. We all want to ensure that every child receives the very best start in life, but the brunt of inspections should be faced by schools’ most experienced staff. Yet again, Ofsted seems to be turning an opportunity into an own goal. Rather than supporting schools in establishing a rich curriculum, the regulator has instead sought to up the ante with Deep Dives. Over time, these will inevitably generate an additional layer of paperwork for already stretched teachers, as senior leaders seek to ensure foundation leads have a folder for every conceivable question an HMI might wish to ask.
Matthew Murray is a primary teacher in Manchester and co-creator of the site 2 Stars and a Wish, where he regularly posts ideas for using songs, videos and poetry to teach literacy and guided reading