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Improving school accountability: the next steps

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2018 Annual Report

Ofsted’s Annual Report was published this week, showing a school system that is performing well but is under significant strain.

Given the wealth of evidence about the school funding crisis, it was disappointing that the report didn’t contain a verdict on whether schools are sufficiently funded for the work they are expected to do.

The report touches on other areas, including the reasons why exclusions appear to be rising and fewer children are arriving at school ready to learn. Whilst the report has some data on these matters, the conclusions reached are little more than guesswork.  

NAHT’s research has shown that school readiness is at its highest when families have access to the support services they need and high quality early years education for their children before they make the transition to school. We’re currently seeing the impact of cuts in these areas and a lack of priority attached to early years settings and the people who work in them. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation now says 4.1m children live in poverty in the UK, and more children than ever before live in families with two working parents and yet are still below the breadline. Some families are in desperate need of more support.

We should also be wary of jumping to hasty conclusions about the drivers for exclusions and ‘off-rolling’. This is unlikely to be the result of schools acting unethically. Very few schools would exclude a child and risk them go missing from education, simply to nudge their way up a government league table – teachers and leaders are bigger than that. What we see instead is leaders holding on to children, way beyond what many would say is reasonable, without any support, because they are trying against the odds to protect them.  

Our Empty Promises report on SEN funding showed that children with additional needs are being failed by the system because the support services are threadbare and inaccessible. The issue is that schools are reaching the end of the line more rapidly because the support that they once relieved on, to intervene and manage problems earlier, has been stripped away through austerity cuts.

You can read the full Ofsted Annual Report here. 

2019 Inspection Framework

Over recent weeks the shape of Ofsted’s proposals for its 2019 school inspection model have become clearer.  NAHT’s response to the proposals is guided by the recommendations of our Accountability Commission, which reported in September.  You can read the full Improving School Accountability report here.

Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman joined a meeting of NAHT’s National Executive last week to discuss her proposals.  We welcome her recognition that inspection has become too data driven, and agree that there should be a stronger focus on providing a rich, broad curriculum for all pupils.  We also welcome Ofsted’s ambition to reduce the unnecessary workload associated with inspection.

However, we remain concerned that the time frame for implementation of significant changes to the focus of inspection is too compressed. A 12 week consultation will begin in January 2019. It is unlikely that schools will be informed of the final shape of the new framework until June 2019, leaving very little time for schools to get underneath what it means for them before inspections start in September. This could all too easily become a new driver of workload.

That’s why we’ve called for a pause on full implementation until January 2020, to allow sufficient time for the profession to engage on the substance of what has changed.  At the link below you will find a summary comparing the current framework to emerging proposals from Ofsted. 

This is not a time for knee-jerk reactions; school leaders should not feel bounced into undertaking wholesale changes or any other unnecessary workload. We have been assured by Ofsted that there is a genuine willingness to consider and act on comments received through the consultation – NAHT will provide full guidance for members on this in the New Year.

In the meantime, we’ve produced a ‘what we know so far’ document to keep you in the picture. (Please note, members are able to access this document by logging in and clicking on the text in bold.)

First published 06 December 2018