In the Education Committee’s latest accountability hearing, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman stated that, when school inspections recommence, schools will not be judged based on their response to COVID-19 in terms of education standards. Here we explore this in more detail, as well as other key takeaways from the meeting.
Inspecting schools after COVID-19
Amanda Spielman reiterated at this hearing that, as always, schools will continue to be judged based on how well they are helping pupils to progress from their starting point.
As there is currently no government guidance on the quality of home learning, the priority for schools should be the safeguarding of every child. When questioned by Dr Caroline Johnson MP, Education Committee member, about why exactly Ofsted won’t be looking into school responses to COVID-19, Spielman explained that inspections are to look at the state of how a school is working at a particular time, and that it won’t be possible to hold schools to a standard that simply didn’t exist through this period.
Though there is still no solid plans for when schools will re-open, or when inspections will start, Spielman highlighted that it is in children’s interests to return to school as soon as possible, both to gain motivation as well as to have access to the full range of learning opportunities. There is recognition that an inspection backlog will be building up through this time, and Ofsted are currently in very early conversations with the Department for Education on how and when inspections might take place to account for this.
Reflecting on the new Education Inspection Framework (EIF)
A number of comments and questions were made regarding the EIF, and Spielman noted that from feedback Ofsted have received so far, schools were pleased that their contexts are taken into account as part of the new inspection framework.
She also hopes that the EIF, which has already helped schools think more deeply about what they teach, when and how, will continue to do so as they plan and structure the curriculum for when schools re-open. With more capacity to examine the breadth of the curriculum, there is some hope this focus will help close the attainment gap. The move away from exam grades and more towards subjects was also warmly noted by Committee member and former teacher, Jonathan Gullis MP.
Looking at wider issues
Committee member Ian Mearns MP questioned whether the current lack of structure to inspect multi-academy trusts (MATs) as a whole is making Ofsted’s job more difficult during this time, particularly in comparison to the noted cooperation of local authorities with Ofsted. Matthew Coffey however, Ofsted’s Chief Operating Officer, offered reassurance that cooperation and collaboration extended across the entire schools sector, with all stakeholders pulling together through this time to share as much information as possible. These collaboration efforts are also something Spielman chose to commend during her closing remarks.
Spielman was also questioned on what the 1,700 Ofsted staff are doing through this lockdown period, as Committee Chair Robert Halfon MP suggested that perhaps a programme could be set up, with the help of additional staff in the education sector, to provide additional educational support for pupils, particularly those who are most disadvantaged. While this was recognised as a useful idea, and Spielman assured the Committee that Ofsted staff had been surveyed about their wider skills which could be made use of through this time, she referred to polling by Teacher Tapp showing that a high number of teachers themselves are already working far less than normal, and so “there isn’t demand from the school sector at the moment for additional support.”
Around 230 staff are however working with local authorities through this time to “support, protect and identify vulnerable children,” clarified Coffey.
The Committee also questioned Spielman and Coffey on what was being done to continue the work on research being done and discussions had around other key issues prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, including SEND provision, Alternative Provision, off-rolling, and the teaching of Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) in faith schools in particular. With Spielman’s sustained responses to a long morning of questions, noted by Robert Halfon MP as he closed the meeting, it suggests these important matters have not dropped off the priority list for Ofsted, and the Department for Education, despite having to face, and adequately respond to, the effects of this unprecedented health crisis.
You can find the schedule for upcoming Committee meetings here.
In the meantime, find more resources, interviews and updates in our School’s Out Series.
This article was written by Lauren Powell, IG Schools Hub