If you were to analyse the frequency of words used in the proposed Ofsted inspection handbook (first use for January 2020), what do you think the three most frequent words would be?
‘Teaching’? ‘Learning‘? Maybe ‘Pupils‘?
You probably wouldn’t be surprised to find that ‘school’ is the most common which appears 884 times. Depressingly the next two on the list are ‘inspection‘ (521) and ‘inspectors‘ (357).
Maybe this highlights the emphasis that Ofsted and therefore the government place on inspections as a measurement of judging educational success in our country. After all the handbook does outline the inspection process.
Supporting you through the changes
As an aside, History Resource Cupboard will be introducing its own fully resourced high-quality Key Stage 3 coherent curriculum plan over the coming months. We have already blogged extensively about curriculum planning. More blogs will follow soon.
We will also be running a series of events designed to support History Teachers and Leaders through the proposed changes, help them to plan, implement then evaluate a high-quality history curriculum.
An overview of the changes proposed by Ofsted
It is vital that history teachers are armed with knowledge about the proposed changes to the Ofsted regime. By being informed we can then make judgements about what changes, if any we need to make to our practice. It also allows us to question from below decisions made from above labelled in terms like ‘this is what Ofsted want to see’.
After reading the entire document, then some head scratching I decided to copy the entire text of the existing Ofsted handbook into a word cloud – I repeated this process for the newly proposed handbook.
Using a simple ‘wordcloud’ to overview the changes makes things pretty interesting. Here you can see the existing handbook’s top 50 most frequent words in the first figure below. In the second you can see wordcloud created for the new ‘draft’ handbook.
Of course, by simply counting the frequency words appears in each handbook can be viewed as a flawed method of analysis. Nevertheless, it does give a strikingly clear view of the changes.
If you have followed the education press and social media posts, who have been reporting on the upcoming proposed changes to Ofsted over the last year or so then you won’t be surprised by the similarities and differences in the two wordclouds above.
There are many similarities: ‘Schools’, ‘Inspections’, ‘pupils’, ‘academy’, ‘children’, ‘behaviour’ etc.
But there are also some striking changes.
The biggest and clearest change is to do with the curriculum.
The word curriculum appears no less than 173 times in the proposed handbook, yet it doesn’t even make it into the 50 most frequent words in the existing handbook (it actually appears just 48 times presently).
This surely tells us a lot about the changing focus of Ofsted’s inspection regime?
Another interesting change is the appearance of word knowledge. ‘Knowledge’ doesn’t even make the top 100 words in the present handbook (it appears 33 times). In the proposed handbook it has 86 mentions.
Based on word frequency the proposed changes to Ofsted’s inspection regime it is clear to see what the new focus will be on!
Digging into the detail
There clearly are some important proposed changes.
The 4 areas of judgement have changed from:
- the effectiveness of leadership and management,
- quality of teaching, learning and assessment,
- personal development, behaviour welfare,
- outcomes for pupils.
- the quality of education,
- behaviour and attitudes,
- personal development,
- leadership and management.
What is really interesting is the way that the leadership and management judgement has been demoted down the list and replaced by ‘the quality of education’.
However, when you dig down you can see that ‘outcomes’ are still used when deciding overall how good the ‘quality of education’ is (see red text below).
The most important change is from the ‘quality of teaching, learning and assessment’, to ‘the quality of education’ and the high focus on the quality of the curriculum. For us subject specialists this has got to be a good thing. After all, planning, delivering then reviewing a high-quality history curriculum has been a career-long obsession for us at History Resource Cupboard.
We are against simply teaching to the test, using GCSE questions regularly at Key Stage 3 as the main form of assessment and a general lack of thought about how to plan then implement a decent history curriculum.
Indeed Amanda Speilman has gained our respect. She recently stated this about curriculum planning and teaching to the test:
‘There is no tension between success on exams and tests and a good curriculum. Quite the opposite. A good curriculum should lead to good results. However, good exam results don’t always mean that pupils received a rich and full knowledge from the curriculum. In worst cases teaching to the test, rather than teaching the full curriculum leaves a pupil with a hollowed out and flimsy understanding.’ (HMCI 2017 Balancing the Curriculum)
What is Ofsted going to be looking for in terms of the curriculum?
The quality of the curriculum will now be judged in 3 areas:
- Intent: Is there a coherent plan for the curriculum that will address all the needs of the learners?
- Implementation: teachers have good subject knowledge and they present subject matter clearly, and they help learners to remember in the long term the content they have been taught and they can integrate this knowledge into larger concepts.’
- Impact: ‘learners develop detailed knowledge and skills across the curriculum and, as a result, achieve well. Where relevant, this is reflected in results from national tests and examinations which meet government expectations, or in the qualifications obtained.’
So far so good. I have no problem with any of this. It supports curriculum planning theory as proposed by the likes of Taba and Stenhouse.
Reference is also made to the fact that there might be some time lag between the planned curriculum ‘intent’, its ‘implementation’ and its ‘impact’. This is a good thing. However, the overall ‘quality of education’ judgement will be the best fit judgement taking into account intent, implementation and impact.
Another area worthy of note is that of new guards against the narrowing of the curriculum ie those schools starting GCSEs in year 9. Ofsted even use the heading ‘curriculum narrowing’:
161. Ofsted’s research into the curriculum has shown that some schools narrow the curriculum available to pupils, particularly in key stages 2 and 3. Our research shows that this has a disproportionately negative effect on the most disadvantaged pupils…. Inspectors will be particularly alert to signs of narrowing in the key stage 2 and 3 curriculums. If a school has shortened key stage 3, inspectors will look to see that the school has made provision to ensure that pupils still have the opportunity to study a broad range of subjects in Years 7 to 9. ‘
This again is a positive move.
However, when you study the detail of the wording in the new Ofsted handbook the influence of supporters of E D Hirsch Jr is clear.
To my knowledge, for the first time, the term ‘cultural capital’ appears. It is defined in the handbook like this.
‘165: Ofsted’s understanding of this knowledge and cultural capital matches that found in the aims of the national curriculum. It is the essential knowledge that pupils need to be educated citizens, introducing them to the best that has been thought and said and helping to engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement.’
Knowledge is mentioned on a number of occasions as ‘content’ and remembering such content appears to have high importance. The new handbook does give warning against only teaching recall/list learning.
Anti List Learning:
‘169. Learning can be defined as an alteration in long-term memory. If nothing has altered in long-term memory, nothing has been learned. However, transfer to long-term memory depends on the rich processes described above. In order to develop understanding, pupils connect new knowledge with existing knowledge. Pupils also need to develop fluency and unconsciously apply their knowledge as skills. This must not be reduced to, or confused with, simply memorising facts. Inspectors will be alert to unnecessary or excessive attempts to simply prompt pupils to learn glossaries or long lists of disconnected facts.’
Paragraph 169 above raises the notion of what ‘learning’ actually is. As a teacher and an educationalist, my whole career has been driven in terms of learning – both my students, the teachers I have supported and my own. Therefore I, like many others have a deep interest in how best to help students learn. The thing that concerns me about in this document is the definition that Ofsted has taken to define learning.
‘169. Learning can be defined as an alteration in long-term memory. If nothing has altered in long-term memory, nothing has been learned.’
Such a definition has been seen with delight by some, but some but others have viewed this definition with caution.
Daniel T Willingham, everyone’s favourite cognitive scientist, questioned this exact definition in a blog 2017. Willingham argued that the flaws here are many, particularly if you don’t define what long term memory is or explain how it is changed/altered, or how long it has to be changed for. Ofsted don’t! Presumably long enough for students to do well in their exams?
Interestingly Willingham says this about defining learning as an alteration in long term memory:
‘ Nor does this definition specify that the change must lead to positive consequences…does a change in long term memory that results from Alzheimer’s disease qualify as learning? How about a temporary change that’s a consequence of transcranial magnetic stimulation?’
I raise this issue only because it could potentially lead to SLTs thinking that Ofsted is favouring one style of ‘teaching’. And we all know the impact this has on teaching, learning walks, performance management targets etc.
More will be written about the changes to the inspection regime and its impact on history teachers and leaders over the coming months.