Information continues to trickle through about the planned changes to the Ofsted framework due to be implemented from September 2019. The extent to which the profession finds itself hanging on every word is the best indication of how overwhelmingly significant the whole process has become.
There are many things to admire about the way Amanda Spielman has gone about her business, not least because intellectually she presents as miles ahead of many of her predecessors. She is right to emphasise the curriculum and use ‘intelligent, responsible and focused’ as the key words for her ‘strategic approach’. There is plenty of evidence to suggest there is strong support for her vision, and that it is growing. The prospect that Ofsted will shift to a far healthier balance between the quantitative and qualitative is not before time.
From my perspective a focus on the curriculum is what I have wanted for many years. I have always held the view that you really judge a school by where its students are ten years after they have left. You will never have that overview but it is the basis on which I have worked throughout my career. Her focus on early years has not been publicised to the same extent but is equally welcome.
One hopes that Ms Spielman has realised the size of her task as she has had to point out in more detail than she may have imagined was necessary that the curriculum is a different beast to both assessment and qualifications, and as she has discovered the extent to which the curriculum has been narrowed and teaching to the test is the norm across primary and secondary.
In my view by branding the new framework as ‘an evolution rather than a revolution’ the HMCI does herself a disservice. Either she does not understand that a revolution is required or that what she is putting forward will be interpreted as one by many who have been inspected in recent years. Not demonstrating understanding of these things is, in my view, a mistake and leaves the profession bracing itself to see if the detail backs up the current optimism.
Given that concerns remain and with good reason. Ofsted is right to say there are plenty of references to the curriculum in the current framework. This is true (a round 50 in the section 5 inspection handbook) but it is very possible that the emphasis will start to change in advance of September 2019. I have heard one inspector say that she has already attended a number of meetings about the curriculum, yet ‘consultation on the detail’ does not start until next term and publication is not due until ‘summer 2019’. It is one thing to say the curriculum already features in the framework, it is another to pretend the focus within inspections has been there all along and it is not much a change. This baby needs to be thrown out with the bathwater.
Ofsted and the HMCI have two key opportunities in the months ahead. One is to demonstrate some long overdue humility. The current framework is not working, and Ofsted does not want to acknowledge this or the extent of its influence of all that happens in schools. The second is to ensure that the focus on the curriculum translates into the warp and weft of the new framework, and not just a bolt on to an existing practice and ethos.
If Amanda Spielman can take both of these she will take the profession with her. Let’s hope she sees the significance of that too.