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Ofsted’s new framework is causing stress and increasing workloads

  • Ofsted’s new framework is causing stress and increasing workloads

Way back in 1992, the year I began my teacher training, a new organisation was formed to inspect schools.

In the nearly 30 years that have followed, there have been many changes to Ofsted, but one question remains constant: what does Ofsted want?

While the answer has changed over the years, the question itself still drives teacher workload, dictates teaching styles, causes stress and creates unintended consequences.

Back in the heady first years of Ofsted, schools had two months to prepare for a week-long inspection.

You can guess what happened.

By the time the inspectors arrived, schools were prepped to within an inch of their lives, with freshly minted handbooks, newly created displays, and lesson plans full of expansive detail.

In 2012 yet another new framework aimed to change the focus, but the ‘what does Ofsted want?’ problem remained.

Schools mined Ofsted reports, trying to discover the magic approach to teaching that would lead to an ‘outstanding’ verdict.

While the ‘correct’ answer to the Ofsted question changes over time – group work, not too much teacher talk, progress every twenty minutes, lots of marking, not too much marking, direct instruction – the problem remains the same.

Whatever gets written in Ofsted inspection reports, frameworks and blogs is translated into practice on the ground.

In the new framework, in an attempt to ensure a broad curriculum, Ofsted has created the ‘deep dive’ – a detailed look into subjects.

Unfortunately for teachers in small primaries, who may be responsible for several subjects, this has (unsurprisingly) generated excessive workload.

Ofsted has repeatedly stated that it ‘will not tell teachers how to teach’.

In 2013, then HMCI Sir Michael Wilshaw said that inspectors wanted to see “teaching which is part of the normal pattern of school life” and that “inspectors do not visit lessons with a preconceived view of teaching style”.

But no one really believed him.

In the new framework, the schools handbook states that “Ofsted will not … advocate a particular method of planning (including lesson planning), teaching or assessment”.

But, yet again, all is not as it appears.

Because the problem with this latest proclamation is that it takes only a few minutes of searching to discover that Ofsted is planning to tell you exactly how to teach, particularly when it comes to the teaching of reading.

A blog from Gill Jones, deputy director for early education, states that schools must teach “direct focused phonics” (SSP) every day, they must only let children read from books with sounds they know, they must provide extra practice for a specific cohort (“the lowest 20%”) and they must use “the best” books.

When challenged, Ofsted representatives will tell you that SSP is a ‘body of knowledge’, rather than an approach to teaching, yet their own published materials make it plain that this is a nonsense.

Ofsted wants to see daily, adult-directed SSP sessions in Reception.

If that’s not telling teachers how to teach, then I don’t know what is.

Already, stories are being shared on social media of Reception classes with desks in rows; with large swathes of time given over to direct instruction in phonics; where all books only contain sounds that children have already been taught – including in the book corner.

Where once there were picture books in continuous provision, now there are phonics reading scheme books only.

Where once children would have been given time to settle and form attachments at the start of the year, the demand that the teaching of phonics must begin ‘right from the start’ of Reception has led to some schools starting adult-directed SSP sessions from day one.

Over the years, many of the problems with Ofsted have occurred because it has an overly rosy view of itself, seeking to place blame on settings, and on the interpretations of others, rather than accepting its own failings.

The ever-present threat of academisation and the fear of losing your job should your school go into a category are powerful motivators for headteachers to play the Ofsted game.

But even the most ardent fan of Spielman’s new regime must surely admit that the latest changes have not worked, and that we’re now in the situation where Ofsted says “Leap” and too many simply ask wearily, “How high?”.

Sue Cowley is an author, presenter and teacher educator. She has helped to run her local EY setting for ten years. Her latest book is The Ultimate Guide to Mark Making in the Early Years (Bloomsbury).

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