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Ofsted speaks out: the focus on exam results

Author: Suzanne O’Connell

It came as something of a surprise to hear Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, speaking out against a focus on exam results.

In a twist of culpability, the head of Ofsted appeared to point the finger at schools for slavishly prioritising a narrow range of subjects at the expense of delivering a broad and rich curriculum.

In the speech ‘Enriching the fabric of education’ at the Festival of Education on the 23 June 2017, Ms Spielman was clearly critical of schools spending too much time on preparation for tests:

“If you are putting more resources into providing exam scribes than in teaching your strugglers to read and write, or scrapping most of your curriculum through Year 6 to focus just on English and maths. If you are doing any of these things then you are probably doing most of your students a disservice.”

What she failed to acknowledge in the speech is the key role that Ofsted has had in the process of consigning schools to a bland diet of test preparation. Schools have focused on exams, knowing that Ofsted’s priority has been a narrow range of outcomes rather than the process by which they were produced.

Ms Spielman indicates a change of role for Ofsted: “Rather than just intensifying the focus on data, Ofsted inspections must explore what is behind the data, asking how results have been achieved. Inspections, then, are about looking underneath the bonnet to be sure that a good quality education – one that genuinely meets pupils’ needs – is not being compromised.”

Other announcements include:

  • evaluation of the validity and reliability of Ofsted inspections
  • wider engagement with the research community
  • greater appreciation of the importance of management as well as leadership
  • continuation of a review of the curriculum
  • a review of routine inspections in the light of findings from the curriculum review
  • a new inspection framework in 2019.

There seems to be some acknowledgement that some schools are more challenging to work in. Ms. Spielman states that she wants to, “Make clear that no head, manager or teacher will be penalised by Ofsted for working in a challenging school.”

There are many statements made by Ms Spielman that schools would agree with. It’s how far can the body that has caused so much of what she criticises be the protagonist in a new system.

Amanda Spielman’s speech: http://bit.ly/2uQRvym.

About the author:

Dr. Suzanne O’Connell is a freelance writer specialising in education. Prior to this she taught for 23 years and was a headteacher of a junior school in Nuneaton for 11 years.

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