Sean Flood, headteacher of Our Lady and St Joseph’s Primary School in Hackney, and Ofsted Inspector (OI), blogs about his experience of education inspection framework (EIF) pilot inspections.
What is it like to inspect under the EIF? Along with one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI), I took part in a 2-day inspection of a primary school in February this year. We were shadowed on day 2 by Ofsted’s Regional Director, London, so no pressure there!
A move away from data
My biggest observation was the sheer joy – both for inspectors and for school leaders – of the move away from detailed scrutiny and analysis of internal data. When presented with folders of data, I was able to say, ‘thank you for that but I’d rather talk to/look at/hear…’ This is especially true of early years data on entry and progress.
The new approach is much more about observing and discussing work. For example, we may ask if a young child can read simple words, identify letters and sounds and count. We talk to pupils and look at their work. That said, teachers do still have the opportunity to explain their assessment procedures and the rationale behind these and, crucially, what action they have taken off the back of that assessment.
The ‘deep dive’
The new framework really gives more time to look at areas and subjects in some depth: the now-famous Jacques Cousteau ‘deep dive’. This allows the school time to talk in rich detail about its teaching in different subjects.
We explore how the school’s curriculum is helping disadvantaged pupils and those with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) to overcome barriers to learning. How is it building their knowledge and ‘cultural capital’? This is really about knowing and being able to do the things that let them take part fully in society. We’re especially keen not to see disadvantaged and pupils with SEND receiving a thinner or less ambitious curriculum. The deep dive really lets us explore that.
The whole 2 days also built up evidence around personal development and behaviour and attitudes. This was similar to how things happen now, but there was more time to collect evidence and talk to pupils and staff.
In the discussions we had in the pilot, there was certainly none of the ‘why was there a 17.3% dip for disadvantaged boys in science in key stage 3 in 2017?’ type of questions. As a governor, I’ve been asked similar over the years, but we are serious when we say inspectors will not look at internal progress and attainment data!
Inspectors are encouraged to be flexible, not to use a script, and to make sure the line of questioning is effective. From an inspector’s point of view, there is much more professional discussion with staff and leaders. There’s also more talking to pupils about their work and learning – a lot of which we will have seen snapshots of when we were visiting their lessons.
One of the learning points I took away was to ask more from leaders about teacher workload and well-being. What is the school is doing to help and support teachers in this area?
When I did this pilot, the idea of inspectors preparing for inspection on site was still a possibility. This sent chills down my spine. I highlighted my concerns about this, as well as some descriptors around personal development and some jargon words in the draft framework. All have since vanished. Ofsted genuinely listened and reflected on what was working and introduced the education-focused phone call instead. It was a serious consultation.
The EIF launches in September. As a parent and educator, its focus on the real substance of education is laudable, and a real challenge for us all. Best wishes to all who work in schools and colleges out there in the months ahead.