Ofsted to drop focus on exam results in school inspections, chief inspector says

'Performance tables and inspections have increased the pressure on school leaders and teachers'

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Thursday 11 October 2018 16:20
Amanda Spielman announced the reforms to school inspections in Newcastle
Amanda Spielman announced the reforms to school inspections in Newcastle

Pupils’ exam results and grades will no longer be a focus in school inspections, Ofsted has said.

Schools will no longer receive a separate grade for students’ outcomes under changes set out by the education watchdog. Instead, the wider curriculum on offer will be looked at.

Amanda Spielman, chief inspector of Ofsted, said she recognised that current inspections have contributed to excessive workload in schools at a time when teacher shortages are an issue.

Ms Spielman said: “For a long time, our inspections have looked hardest at outcomes, placing too much weight on test and exam results when we consider the overall effectiveness of schools.

“The cumulative impact of performance tables and inspections, and the consequences that are hung on them, has increased the pressure on school leaders, teachers and indirectly on pupils to deliver perfect data above all else.”

Speaking at the SCHOOLS NorthEast summit in Newcastle, she added: “But we know that focusing too narrowly on test and exam results can often leave little time or energy for hard thinking about the curriculum, and in fact can sometimes end up making a casualty of it.”

Ofsted will now consult on replacing the current “outcomes for pupils” and “teaching, learning and assessment” judgements with a new, broader assessment of “quality of education”.

The watchdog will challenge schools where too much time is spent on exam preparation, which offer pupils narrow choices, or where children are pushed into qualifications to game the system.

Ms Spielman said: “With teacher workload and retention such pressing issues, I am firmly of the view that a focus on substance will help to tackle excessive workload. It will move inspection more towards being a conversation about what actually happens in schools.”

Teachers should be treated “as experts in their field, not just data managers”, she added.

Ofsted hopes the new framework – which would shift the focus away from outcomes – would make it easier to recognise the good work done by schools in areas of high disadvantage.

A consultation on the new Ofsted inspection proposals will be launched in January, with intention to start using them at the start of the school year in September 2019.

The announcement comes after increased pressure on Ofsted to change the way it works. A recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report suggested the inspection body is losing its credibility.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “It is clear that Ofsted’s focus on data has achieved the opposite of what the agency intended. Rather than raising school standards, Ofsted has caused them to decline.

“Teachers see the harm that data driven targets are doing to their pupils and to themselves as education professionals.

“No education system can exceed the quality of its teachers, and our schools are being starved of that vital resource because the constant pressure on data driven targets, promoted by Ofsted, is taking the joy out of teaching and learning.”

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She added: “Whilst a change in focus is welcome, the National Education Union remains acutely concerned about the ability of Ofsted to deliver this change.

“We will await further detail as to how Ofsted will find the time to inspect a school’s curriculum in a one or two day visit to a school.

“We question how inspectors can make a fair judgement on the curriculum in this timescale and with the very variable quality of Ofsted inspectors.”

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