This morning, Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman responded to the Education Committee, chaired by Robert Halfon MP.
The session was about accountability, and what falls within Ofsted’s remit as the inspectorate of schools.
If you’ve ever wondered what Ofsted does and how it is held to account, this summary will put you in the picture.
Should there be more transparency on how schools allocate their pupil premium grants?
Spielman responded that how grants are spent should be disclosed by schools, but that the spending is not linked to individual children. It was, in her view, more within the remit of the Department for Education than Ofsted.
What is Ofsted doing to meet its goals on alternative provision?
Ofsted inspects pupil referral units, Spielman said, but a lot of alternative provision (where children are educated outside of the standard school environment) was in unregistered schools, and there would need to be a change to legislation for independent schools in order to more thoroughly gather data.
Robert Halfon frequently drew the conversation back to careers advice in schools and technical training, two areas he felt require urgent improvement and tougher Ofsted guidelines.
Spielman responded that data on pupil destination (what happens to them after they leave the school or college) was an important part of inspections, which are holistic, taking into account every aspect of preparing young people for life in work. She contended that in a short inspection, it’s difficult to ensure every requirement is followed, but that careers advice would usually be discussed with schools during the inspection. Halfon said that the answers were “disappointing”, and that a lot more needs to be done to ensure good quality careers advice for every child, and at the end of the session, asked Spielman to take this point away with her for consideration.
Can Ofsted inspect apprenticeship provision, given that 37% is judged not good quality?
One of the problems identified was the inability of Ofsted to inspect all sub-contractors of education providers, but Spielman claimed Ofsted now had good data on 500 sub-contractors. Additional resources would be necessary to widen their inspections of sub-contractors.
What has Amanda Spielman’s first months as Chief Inspector of Ofsted been like?
Talking about her time so far in the role, Spielman said that she is visiting around one school per month and is getting up to speed on social care issues. She has met inspectors, Ofsted staff and external stakeholders and listened to their feedback. When prompted about children, she added that she listens to children and talks to them in a variety of educational settings. “Everything Ofsted does starts with experiences of children.”
How are schools facing up to the enormous amount of change and funding challenges?
Spielman said that schools are facing up but with a varied degree of success, but that colleges have the biggest level of funding challenges, and that raising the educational participation age to 18 has to mean providing worthwhile education to post-16s to add value to their lives. She was concerned by some reports that less academic students at KS4 were encouraged to study subjects most likely to generate points for the school, rather than making subject choices in the best interest of the child.
Emma Hardy MP asked if there is any value in Ofsted’s ‘Outstanding’ grading, which many schools find uncomfortable, though parents put weight on it.
Spielman admitted that schools and parents feel differently about the value of the ‘Outstanding’ grading. Research is ongoing on how best to triangulate the difference of view, but there are no easy answers.
Concerns were raised about SEND pupils who are requested to miss school when inspectors are visiting, which does not give an accurate reflection of the school. It was also suggested this punished inclusive schools and rewarded those with exclusive policies. A solution offered was a report on absence levels during inspection dates for SEND children and/or those predicted low grades.
Amanda Spielman conceded that a small level of specific non-attendees can make a big difference to schools, so it can be hard to interpret data on absenteeism. She suggested the complaints procedure can be used to flag up such practices to the inspectors, but took on board the idea.
Schools Week reported on sixth forms ejecting students after one year of sixth form for fear their results would negatively impact school league table positions. What is Ofsted doing to ensure this doesn’t happen again?
Spielman agreed that taking children out of a course for those reasons was “extraordinary”. She claimed the two-year cycle of AS- and A-level study had created uncertainty. A two-year programme of study should help schools move away from the idea they can review students’ progression after one year. She did, however, say, “I don't have the powers to tell any school what they can or can't do, only criticise them in a report.”
Lucy Powell MP welcomed the debate around the curriculum review, but asked for indicators that the changes were working.
Spielman said that changes had been made alongside the profession because “some GCSEs had become too narrow”. She singled out the increase in content in maths GCSE. The increased level of demand had lowered results, but she expects this to change over time. She added, “We'll carry on looking at curriculum and its implementation in schools.” Chair of Ofsted Professor Julius Weinberg said that Ofsted supporting the changes to the curriculum (government policy) did not threaten its independence from government.
James Frith MP addressed school funding. His concern was over a possible disincentive for schools under budgetary pressure to fund SEND pupils at £6,000 each.
This was a point Amanda Spielman suggested she would consider; though Ofsted doesn’t look at how schools apply funding.
A question was asked about if the complaints process was fit for purpose.
Spielman said that most complaints were from education providers who had been graded ‘inadequate’, who would challenge a judgement even when it was fair. She agreed that a judgement can be reversed, but that this was unlikely, and only when the school in question was visited again and more evidence provided. Asked if schools have a right of reply, Spielman said that the views of parents and schools are taken into account in the inspection process.
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