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An Inspector Calls – Sean Harford on what Ofsted Wants to see During School Inspections

Sean Harford, Ofsted's National Director for Education, clarifies for us exactly what inspectors are looking for in great schools...

  • An Inspector Calls – Sean Harford on what Ofsted Wants to see During School Inspections

How does Ofsted ensure that all primary-age children get their legal entitlement to a broad and balanced curriculum – especially given the pressures from the testing and accountability regime?

At Ofsted, we don’t take a compliance-based approach to inspecting schools, but consideration of the curriculum offer is an important part of assessing a school’s leadership. Inspectors will look at the design, implementation and evaluation of the curriculum, and consider its impact on pupils’ outcomes, their personal development, behaviour and welfare.

A broad and balanced curriculum will inspire pupils to learn. The range of subjects and courses offered should help pupils build their knowledge, understanding and skills across all aspects of their education. It should also contribute to their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and help prepare them for life in modern Britain.

Inspectors will also reflect on how well the school supports the formal curriculum with extracurricular opportunities that allow pupils to extend their learning and skills through artistic, creative or sporting activities. They will also look at how effectively leaders use the primary PE and sport premium.

As part of the lead inspector’s preparation, she will study the school’s website to check it meets its obligations to publish certain information about the curriculum. Information gathered during the inspection – including through discussions with governors, senior leaders, teachers and pupils – will inform the overall assessment as to whether or not the curriculum is broad and balanced and meets pupils’ needs.

What kinds of evidence, and how much of it, do we need in order to show that children are making progress?

Ofsted has no set requirements. Our inspectors take a range of evidence into consideration when making judgements about pupils’ progress, including published test and examination data, the school’s assessment information, and work in books and folders. Inspectors also talk to pupils and teachers about the progress being made.

We do not expect assessment information to be presented in a particular standardised format. All schools will have their own ways of monitoring pupil progress. Ofsted will use whatever evidence the school provides which demonstrates that progress.

Ofsted is striving to have more current school practitioners within its ranks of inspectors, which is admirable, but how stringent is the quality assurance of these practitioners?

A: We’ve set out very clear quality standards that all of our HMI and contracted inspectors are expected to meet in different aspects of their roles; such as gathering evidence, determining judgements, communicating feedback and writing strong, unambiguous and accurate reports.

All our inspectors must also stringently adhere to a strict conflict of interest policy. This explicitly seeks to ensure that inspectors are not involved in any inspection activity in schools and colleges they are associated with, or with leaders with whom they have current or previous links. Our training and induction, and our quality assurance and performance management arrangements ensure that inspection is absolutely objective and consistent with Ofsted frameworks and policies.

Ofsted also has a transparent complaints process, which we are strengthening further with the establishment of independent scrutiny panels.

Now that national curriculum levels are no longer used to measure attainment and progress, with schools instead free to devise their own assessment systems, what common features has Ofsted seen among the very best systems in the schools it has visited?

It is still early days. The government’s response to the report by the Commission on Assessment without Levels agreed that further work is needed to raise awareness of good practice, and to ensure a shared understanding of the principles of assessment without levels across all organisations involved in education.

The DfE is looking into this and Ofsted will contribute any relevant evidence we find through inspection. However, we will be careful to avoid any such examples we provide being billed as ‘Ofsted endorsed’, or regarded as exactly what our inspectors expect to see replicated in every school. We have no preference for assessment systems, other than that they should support and promote pupils’ learning.

Inspectors will explore whether assessment draws on a range of evidence to demonstrate what pupils know, understand and can do across the curriculum. And they will check teachers make consistent judgements about pupils’ progress and attainment, for example within a subject, across a year group and between year groups.

For more information, visit the Ofsted website or follow @ofstednews.

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