Exclusive: Reform Ofsted post Covid ‘battle’, say heads


A commission involving heads should be set up to review accountability structures in wake of pandemic, say school leaders

In 1942, the Liberal politician William Beveridge presented a report to Parliament containing a detailed plan for post-war recovery.

“Now, when the war is abolishing landmarks of every kind, is the opportunity for using experience in a clear field,” he said.

His ideas went on to significantly influence the founding of the Welfare State, promising protection for citizens “from cradle to grave”. Now, in a new report in 2021, a group of headteachers say the “opportunity and imperative are comparable” with the post-war era as they call for major shifts in policy that they say are needed to fight a “very different battle” to recover from the Covid pandemic.

The report, from the think-tank Headteachers’ Roundtable, An Alternative Education White Paper, calls for reform of the schools inspectorate Ofsted, as well as funding shifts, as the “the current situation requires a move away from catch-up culture to a long-term, sustainable commitment to provision-led funding”.

The organisation conducted three listening exercises during the spring focusing on accountability, resources and assessment, with more than 150 school leaders from across the country taking part.

The think tank describes the resulting policy paper as a “sensible, practical and necessary” set of proposals from “respected leaders in the field” that the government should listen to if it is serious about “building back better” after the national coronavirus crisis.

Headteachers’ post-Covid proposals: Reform of Ofsted

The paper argues that the “high-stakes” nature of Ofsted inspection causes “unintended consequences” for schools, and that the grading labels can be damaging to school improvement.

Grading “distract[s] leaders from activities which will best serve their communities and have led to a loss of talent from the system,” it says.

It suggests that Ofsted grading should be removed, and that the purpose of inspection should “be to identify excellence, the capacity of an institution to assist in system-wide improvement, and the identification of areas requiring attention and support”.

Accountability judgements should be contextualised, and a headteacher recruitment and retention strategy should provide all new heads with an experienced mentor as well as access to professional supervision.

A national safeguarding service

It adds that a national safeguarding service should conduct a safeguarding audit of all schools and colleges on a similar basis to financial audits, arguing that “Ofsted cannot be tasked with more responsibilities, such as inspecting sexual abuse in schools and colleges”.

Review of heads’ accountability

Last week, new chair of the Headteachers’ Roundtable Caroline Derbyshire told Tes that “additional scrutiny on heads above and beyond what is necessary” was “going to an extreme” and that school grading under Ofsted “needs to be looked at”.

The paper adds that accountability for heads also needs to be reframed with a commission, including all headteacher organisations, being established to review the accountability surrounding headteachers  “and make recommendations to achieve a more coherent and purposeful accountability system”.

More funding for Covid ‘catch-up’

The paper says that “what is required now is substantial additional resource to match a substantial additional need; new money, not recycled and not short term”.

“We have become accustomed to doing more with less, but the current situation requires a move away from catch-up culture to a long-term, sustainable commitment to provision-led funding,” it adds.

The paper argues that schools should have income levels per pupil guaranteed over three years, allowing for catch-up and curriculum consolidation to be planned for properly over time.

More funding for training

There should be ring-fenced funding for staff training and development, the paper says.

The plans for newly-qualified teachers and the Early Career Framework must be funded, but “additional long-term investment is required to ensure teachers can access quality professional development at all stages of their careers to secure not just recruitment but retention, where workload is not fuelled by lack of resource or capacity”, it adds.

And it calls for three-year guaranteed enhancements to capital projects and maintenance funding, describing how there are “still too many schools who are sticking the fabric of their school together”.

Address the digital divide

The report says that addressing the digital divide is not just about supplying laptops, but will also involve IT infrastructure investment, long-term plans for replacements and improvements, and staff and technician training to ensure there is a tangible impact on learning.

SEND funding to match need

“We call for tangible actions to enable implementation of effective SEND resource and provision following the damming national SEND review,” the paper says.

It adds that “schools remained open to provide the resource that families and children with SEND and vulnerabilities needed”, and that, during lockdown, the national average for attendance to specialist provision was 30 per cent but that some providers had 65 per cent of pupils in attendance, demonstrating “the high importance of what school resource provides to its communities”.

The paper calls for SEND funding that matches “need not budget” to ensure that pupils in need of support have properly resourced education, health and care plans.

Establish criteria for each grade in each subject in external exams

“It is perfectly possible for the standards achieved by a school to rise or decline without the grades awarded demonstrating this, and likewise for a national cohort,” the paper says.

“In the chaos of the results in 2020, we saw how applying a statistical algorithm produces unrealistic outcomes,” it adds.

It says that, instead, there should be established criteria “for each grade in each subject at external examinations” so that improvements or declines in outcomes can be “accurately measured”.

And it adds that national testing in primary schools should be done through sampling and removed from accountability measures.

Improve oracy teaching

“The neglect of oracy in national assessment measures has a detrimental effect on its place within the curriculum; we know the very significant impact oracy has on the life chances of children and the lack of adequate attention and resource given to schools to develop this important and complex discipline is leading to limits on learners’ achievements in later years,” the paper says.

It calls for an implementation of the recommendations of the Oracy All-Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry (April 2021) and to “ensure a long-term, fully funded strategy to implement and embed oracy which includes ITT and CPD”.

Move some assessments online

The think tank says some shorter and more focused assessment could be moved online to give credits towards a full qualification, which would remove the pressure of final assessments in the system.

And it says that assessment design should be taught in initial teacher training, with a postgraduate qualification in assessment available for teachers, “with an expectation that by 2025 every school will have at least one ‘chartered assessor’ amongst the staff”.

University applications should also be moved to a post-qualifications admissions process.

The paper concludes: “Our system and our young people have experienced too much fragmentation and fracture. We have the experience and expertise to know how to craft an ambitious and healthy future for education in this country.”


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