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What Ofsted is looking for in 2021 – covering curriculum, assessment, parental engagement and staff wellbeing

I’ve reviewed 100 Ofsted reports – here’s what inspectors are looking for and how you can utilise this unique period to get there, says Dr Helen Edwards…

Dr Helen Edwards
by Dr Helen Edwards
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Lockdown and social distancing feels like it will stretch on for much of the summer term at the moment. For those educators not in school, the role as a remote teacher is dramatically different and all the planning and strategic work is largely on hold.

Prior to lockdown, I reviewed 100 Ofsted ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ inspection reports and it’s highlighted a number of areas that teachers and leaders might want to consider now, ahead of reopening to all pupils.


The need for a coherently planned and sequenced curriculum features extensively in the reports. They talk about leaders having thought carefully about the knowledge and skills they want pupils to learn, for each subject and year group.

Leaders also make sure that all teachers have clear oversight of all subjects in the wider curriculum so they can help children to make those links.

For teachers, the reports highlight that they are planning lessons that help children to make connections with what they already know. They help pupils to revisit and review previous learning to help embed that knowledge.

Planning and sequencing the curriculum so that it weaves together across year groups and subject areas is a significant undertaking.

However, in the past few weeks I’ve seen so many imaginative ways to help children learn at home. Can we keep this going and start to plan a really creative curriculum with which to engage children when they return to school?

What to do now

Think about setting up a learning peer group via video conferencing to start this work now.


Unsurprisingly, assessment still features as a key part of inspection. How well is assessment being used to check understanding and inform teaching? Or to help learners to embed and use knowledge fluently?

In the 100 reports I reviewed, assessment was the area with most areas of improvement identified. For some schools this was around using assessment to help children to be able to recall what they have previously learnt and connect to what they are learning now.

The reports suggest teachers should provide pupils with more opportunities to revisit concepts so that pupils remember more and apply what they know to new learning.

Reports identified good schools using assessment in a dynamic, detailed and thorough way at all stages. They highlight school leaders using assessment information to provide feedback and challenge to teachers about the progress of pupils in their classes.

For me, this speaks of the need for more ongoing formative assessment so we can describe children’s learning in meaningful narratives. Now is an opportunity for teachers to reflect on how best to assess children’s learning.

What to do now

Can you revisit and improve strategies for orally assessing prior learning? How can you work with colleagues to create a system that’s manageable and effective, and not just a complicated spreadsheet?

Parental engagement

Ofsted reports have identified a range of good practice in parental engagement. These recognise that having excellent links in place for communication is essential.

Building on this, parents and carers need to be kept well-informed about their child’s progress and have a good understanding about how they support their child’s learning at home.

More than anything, school closures have underlined the importance of parental engagement. Teachers have been incredibly inventive in how they are keeping in touch with their children and families.

What to do now

Build on your good work during lockdown and consider how you can continue to help parents and carers feel more engaged with their child’s education once pupils return.

Staff wellbeing

This new area of the EIF is to be welcomed and the majority of reports were very positive. Leaders put in place structures to enable teachers to do their jobs well and are considerate about staff workload and wellbeing.

Leaders reviewed workload and removed unnecessary tasks, for instance changing the way pupils’ work is marked. Staff are positive with leaders’ actions to improve workload and work-life balance.

What to do now

Teacher wellbeing is more important than ever. I have seen lots of examples of staff and leaders developing a more supportive language in the past few weeks.

This is hugely encouraging and I hope that when schools start to return to some sort of normality we will continue to nurture this and appreciate its role in supporting staff wellbeing.

Dr Helen Edwards is co-founder of Tapestry and Foundation Stage Forum, and a former Ofsted inspector.

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