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Our response to Ofsted’s consultation – and our worries

We took part in three responses to Ofsted about its new Inspection Framework. In all three we supported Ofsted’s closer focus on the curriculum because it will move inspectors’ attention away from data towards the reality of what is happening in classrooms. Inspectors are already talking more to teachers, middle leaders and pupils, and this seems a better way of judging a school than looking at spreadsheets of progress data. It should also reduce pressure on teachers to do so much formal assessment.

But we have some worries. Our first response is as part of the Let’s Think Forum (LTF) which covers Science and Maths as well as English. The LTF has raised with Ofsted that its documentation is inconsistent. The draft Education Inspection Framework and Inspection Handbooks treat knowledge and skills more or less equally, but the Overview of Research sometimes slants its description of research towards knowledge rather than skills.

This bias towards knowledge becomes extreme in the training materials for inspectors that Ofsted has published. For example, in the Curriculum Workshop presentation on 66 slides, the word “knowledge” appears 58 times (excluding “curriculum knowledge” on Slide 8 referring to school leaders), but “understanding” appears once (Slide 20) and “skills” does not appear at all.

The influence of this on teachers can be seen in the fact that, when accessed on 8 April 2019 at 19.40, this presentation had been viewed 25,398 times – far more than any other Ofsted presentation.

So although Ofsted is officially treating knowledge and skills as equal, in fact it is heavily prioritising knowledge. This discrepancy doesn’t seem a suitable basis for inspecting schools.

At bottom it appears that Ofsted’s training materials may not fulfil the legal requirement of the National Curriculum that “matters, skills and processes” must be taught (Education Act 2002, sections 76 and 87(3)) – taught presumably equally or at least more equally than in the Curriculum Training materials.

This emphasis on knowledge also seems to contradict the policy set out in the Education White Paper The Importance of Teaching (November 2010) which is still Government policy and gives schools freedom to establish their own curriculum – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-importance-of-teaching-the-schools-white-paper-2010.

The Let’s Think Forum’s final concern is that, although the DfE has emphasised the vital importance of high-quality CPD for teachers, the new Framework and Inspection Handbooks don’t require inspectors to report on schools’ actual provision of effective CPD. They award Outstanding and Good by ‘best fit’, so could award these grades to schools where CPD is indifferent.

The Let’s Think Forum’s response to Ofsted can be seen here.

Let’s Think in English and the Common English Forum

As Let’s Think in English we made two other points relating to English.

The first is that Ofsted’s new inspection arrangements don’t give enjoyment of reading the prominence required by the National Curriculum. The NC is a statutory document and the importance of teaching pupils to read for pleasure and enjoy reading are mentioned separately 12 times in it. Ofsted’s draft Inspection Handbook mentions this briefly just once.

We believe this failing is particularly serious at a time when reading of books by young people seems to be declining; text is read differently on screen than on paper and is remembered less well; and take-up of English A Level and English degrees is falling.

Our second point is that Ofsted’s Overview of Research misrepresents recent research about how children acquire vocabulary. Ofsted repeats research that children learn words from the number of words they hear, in particular adult words. This has been overturned by recent high-quality research at MIT using advanced technology including brain scans which shows that acquisition of vocabulary depends centrally on the number of ‘conversational turns’ that a child experiences each day, not on the number of words heard.

Recognising this finding is crucial because it demonstrates that conversation is central to learning.

Our response can be seen here. Our points were also adopted by the Common English Forum representing five other organisations – please see https://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/english-association/news-1/ofsted-proposed-education-inspection-framework-consultation-april-2019-a-response-of-the-common-english-forum .

Ofsted is due to publish the results of the consultation and finalised inspection materials in May, but they have had over 8000 responses and may be late. It will be interesting to see if they take notice of any of our points.

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