In light of Ofsted launching the new Framework for the Inspection of Schools last week, we asked a number of former teachers working within the Centre to reflect on their memories of Ofsted inspections, and to consider the impact that the inclusion of character education as part of the new framework might have on school inspections in the future.
Michael Fullard – The panic induced by the phrase ‘Ofsted inspection’ is something that every teacher can relate to. This is especially true when you know the inspection is geared towards a strict focus on attainment and will consist of pouring over spreadsheets of pupil progress data. This process can lead many headteachers and teachers to forget what makes them special as individuals and as a school. They have helped form a special community where children come to feel safe, learn, play and enjoy themselves. Children are not merely numbers on a spreadsheet and teachers are not machines who churn out lesson after lesson and who can mark books with military precision. A school is more than an exam factory, it is a community which has developed an ethos and culture which hopes to enable its pupils to flourish academically and personally.
The new Ofsted Framework and Inspection Handbook has taken the largest steps yet to recognise this by focussing on a more varied approach to the curriculum but by also acknowledging that schools are communities which help foster the character development of their pupils. This teacher sees this as positive step and hopes the new wave of Ofsted inspections take this into account.
Rachael Hunter – As someone who chose to work in schools in deprived areas, believing that this was where I would have the most impact, I found Ofsted’s outcomes-driven agenda a deep source of frustration. With many children starting their educational journey with significantly below-average attainment, it felt like we had to work twice as hard as our leafy suburban counterparts in order to be considered to be doing a ‘good’ job. We were obsessed with tracking children’s progress, to the point of colour-coding the children’s books by their KS1 SATs result so that we could support them appropriately.
I was really pleased to see the new framework with its broader focus on curriculum quality and the personal development of children. However, this will constitute a culture-change for many schools and, as with all new initiatives, this new focus will take time and effort to embed. I’m looking forward to seeing the results!
Jason Metcalfe – As a former humanities teacher, I believe a key role in education is to promote an understanding of what it means to be a human being. In recent years, the precedence in schools has been on pupil attainment. Whilst undoubtedly an important element of education, this attention has unintentionally resulted in other priorities falling to the wayside in place of tasks that evidence learning. One recent example of this in some schools is the process of stamping a book with ‘verbal feedback given’ after a conversation in class, followed by asking the pupil to respond in a different colour pen, to ensure the discussion is documented.
With that said, this recent announcement from Ofsted will be received as excellent news nationwide for many involved in education. In this draft consultation framework, a school must give careful consideration towards the development of pupil character to be ranked ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’. This document shows that the issues teachers have raised are being recognised at the highest levels in Ofsted, marking the beginning of a shift away from focusing solely just on assessment attainment but to more broadly to also include the importance of a holistic learning environment for pupils.
Ben Miller – As a secondary school head of department, working in a school that ‘required improvement’ and seeking to transition back to the ‘good’ old days, a pending Ofsted inspection diverted all of my attention to student progress, assessment data, classroom behaviour and leadership and management. This response is not uncommon for teachers in schools across the UK as they assess their strengths and weaknesses and anticipate the judgments and comments of inspectors. Amidst the data analysis, progress 8 scores and value added measures being examined, the acknowledgment that a young person’s education is more than predicted grades, flight paths and expected progress levels is too often overlooked.
The inclusion of character development within the new framework is a welcome sign that Ofsted acknowledges the importance of a holistic education for young people, and is beginning to recognise that many aspects of school life allow young people to grow and develop their character.
Paul Watts – The inclusion of character development within the new (draft) grade descriptors of ‘Personal Development’ is an encouraging sign. While elements of character development featured in the previous inspection handbook (for example under ‘spiritual, moral, social and cultural development’), they had a tendency to become lost amongst the other criteria used to judge ‘Overall Effectiveness’ and were more likely to be acknowledged if inspectors had negative views on the school’s promotion of fundamental British values.
An Ofsted inspection is never going to be a pleasant experience for teachers. The fear factor will never be removed from a visit where judgements are being made about the quality of education at the school; however, teachers can now have more faith that their wider work is going to be recognised and celebrated. Schools should see this as an opportunity to reflect upon and share their existing provision for character development, not worry that this is going to be another bullet point they need to provide hard evidence of, like the infamous British values display board.
Ofsted consulted with members of the Jubilee Centre team during the drafting the new framework documents, which are currently open for consultation. This collaboration has contributed to the inclusion of character education as one aspect of the draft ‘personal development’ section, and an acknowledgement from Ofsted that education should work towards ‘developing pupils’ character, the set of positive personal traits, dispositions and virtues that informs their motivation and guides their conduct’. This is the first step on a long road towards ensuring pupils in schools across England receive a more rounded education, and are informed explicitly of the importance of character development.