Barely a month after receiving a record number of responses to their consultation on the Education Inspection Framework (EIF), Ofsted have issued their response and published the version of the EIF and associated handbooks which will come into effect in September 2019.
Clearly Ofsted have listened to a number of concerns from the sector:
- Following concerns that the draft appeared to endorse the idea of schools narrowing the curriculum at KS1 or below, wording has been amended to talk about inspectors checking pupils' reading, writing and mathematical knowledge rather than about teachers focusing on these areas. However, there remain other parts of the document which talk about not narrowing the curriculum from KS2 onwards, without explaining whether this should also apply to KS1 and below.
- The School Inspection Handbook has been amended to make clear which expectations apply only to children in Reception, and ensuring there is increased attention to the needs of younger children in schools in the Early Years section of the schools handbook, and a removal of some of the overly specific and unhelpful references to what inspectors might need to know about 2-year-olds.
- The approach to the inspection of maintained nursery schools now has its own section (though see below).
- The proposal for Section 8 inspections to last two days has been amended and for maintained nursery schools and primary schools with fewer than 150 children on roll, this will be a one-day inspection.
- The Quality of Education judgement will not apply to providers of out of school childcare.
- Ofsted have clarified that inspectors will be interested in the leaders' conclusions and actions arising from internal data, but will not check the data.
However, a number of concerns remain:
- The language and structures of the "one-size fits all" framework do not always work well for the early years: eg references to "knowing and remembering more", "sequencing knowledge". Ofsted acknowledges sector concerns about the separation of "Personal Development" from "Behaviour and attitudes" but has not addressed these. The grade descriptors for "Behaviour and attitudes" in particular could be problematic.
- The proposal for pre-inspection visits for schools on the same day as the inspector phones will not go ahead, but instead the phonecall will be a 90 minute discussion picking up on many of the same topics as originally proposed, which may raise many similar problems of staff availability and a sense of the inspection starting from the moment the phone rings.
- Whereas schools will be given transitional time to adjust to the curriculum focus of the EIF, early years providers will not be: "We will not apply the same transitional approach for inspections of early years providers. The EYFS sets out the education and care standards that all early years providers must meet." It is not clear why Ofsted think early years providers need less preparation time than schools to articulate their curriculum provision in relation to Ofsted's new framework.
- The term "cultural capital" has been retained, and referenced to the highly problematic idea of "the best that has been thought and said". The explanation in the Early Years Handbook offers some slightly wider possibilities, which suggest that rather than paying attention to the unhelpful and incorrect use of the term "cultural capital", providers should attend to what Ofsted actually means, which is about broadening children's experiences and raising their attainment right across the curriculum:
142. Cultural capital is the essential knowledge that children need to prepare them for their future success. It is about giving children the best possible start to their early education. As part of making a judgement about the quality of education, inspectors will consider how well leaders use the curriculum to enhance the experience and opportunities available to children, particularly the most disadvantaged.
143. Some children arrive at an early years settings with different experiences from others, in their learning and play. What a setting does, through its EYFS curriculum and interactions with practitioners, potentially makes all the difference for children. It is the role of the setting to help children experience the awe and wonder of the world in which they live, through the seven areas of learning.
Concerns also remain about the consistency with which judgements will be made against the new framework, but if Ofsted succeed in turning attention away from data and focusing constructively on the quality of education, there is much to be welcomed in the new framework.