We're often asked questions about inspections. Here, hosts Chris and Anna answer some of the most popular!




Chris Jones  0:08  
Hello, everybody, and welcome to this latest edition of Ofsted Talks the Ofsted podcast. My name is Chris Jones and I'm here with Anna Trethewey. Nice to be here, and a special podcast today because not only are we going through the offset mailbag, and answering some of your questions. It's Anna's last edition of the podcast. And so we're saying goodbye and thank you to Anna, for all her work on the podcast episodes that we've recorded up to now. And Anna, why don't you tell us a bit about what you're doing next?

Anna Trethewey  0:42  
Yes, sure. So I'm heading over to a Multi Academy Trust. I'm going to be head of change management over there. And it's been a delight to be at Ofsted. It's been a delight to do these podcasts too Chris. Not least because I get to chat to you, but also just the variety of experts and the breadth of our work has been been really interesting to dive in more to - but should we get cracking we've got a good few questions here from our listeners. 

Chris Jones  1:02  
Why don't you fire some questions? 

Anna Trethewey  1:03  
I actually am. So I get the luxury of asking the questions in this podcast and and unpicking where I'm not quite clear on things which is quite often why some of our inspectors do so let's hear more about this. So the first question is, what actually is curriculum intent?

Chris Jones  1:19  
This is a good question. So I think there are some misconceptions around curriculum intent. Curriculum intent is simply the curriculum you intend to deliver. So it's what's written on your curriculum map or in your schemes of work or your lesson plans. Something like a vision statement or an ambition. Lots of schools I see have the ambition to teach the best that's thought and said, or to create a love of learning, or whatever their version of that is, those things can also serve an important purpose, but they're not really what we mean by curriculum, which is simply what do you intend to teach? Why have you chosen those things? Why do you put them in them in that order? And intent obviously, is one aspect of how we look at quality of education. So the other aspects are around implementation and impact. So implementation, simply is the curriculum being taught as intended. How is assessment used to identify the gaps in learning? And how is the curriculum adapted? In the classroom in order to close those gaps? The how is the intent of the curriculum implemented in the classroom? And finally impact - so are the children learning what you intended them to learn? Can we see that say in standardised test scores? Can we see it in evidence? Can we see evidence of it when we look at children's books or talk to them? Those are the kinds of questions that inspectors to be asking themselves. I think it's also important to say that none of these elements will be judged in isolation. We look at intent implementation and impact for several subjects in each school. And inspectors consider the totality of that when they decide on a grade for the quality of education. They consider what's consistent and systematic across the school, and certainly not, for example, marking anyone down because a group of children could remember a key fact from their history lessons or anything like that.

Anna Trethewey  3:22  
I think is a really important one to them to just outline to stop some scare stories out there. So you've just at the end that it started to describe some are deep dives, what exactly is a deep dive, what happens during one?

Chris Jones  3:34  
So deep dive is the method inspectors use to gather the evidence they need around intent, implementation and impact within a curriculum subject. So it involves talking to the subject lead, observing several lessons often going with the subject lead to do that, talking to the teachers of that subject, looking at children's work, including those children who are lower attaining or have special educational needs. Talking to the children, again, often this is with a focus on the lower attainers. So we can understand the provision that's been given to them where appropriate, that will also include looking at the standardised test results as well. The inspector gathers all this evidence, and then they triangulate, which is a complicated word but basically means comparing evidence against other evidence to build up a consistent and fuller picture. And in fact, it might mean discounting some evidence because it isn't supported by anything else the inspector has seen. And only by completing all these activities, will inspect to have enough evidence to build that full picture of the school's strengths and weaknesses in each subject. And that process might take an inspector a full day to carry out

Anna Trethewey  4:53  
it's pretty big risk process that kind of looks at it from all angles. A jigsaw puzzle? I heard Amanda mentioned this just recently again, and we've said it all the way along the line, which is Mocksteds and consultants, you know pretty pretty much aren't a great use of money. Why do we think that? We need to keep saying it.

Chris Jones  5:11  
So, in general, we think that schools are better served when it comes to their real life inspection. By working on that curriculum and teaching rather than paying someone to essentially pretend to be an inspector. We all know that time for CPD and money for CPD is really limited. And in our view, giving say the English department a day together to review their curriculum, or sending a year for teacher on a course to build their science knowledge. We think those things serve children in the school, far better than a Mocksted, and we'd expect those things to also contribute really positively to an inspection outcome.

Anna Trethewey  5:55  
And even in a way that a leadership team might go and see outstanding practice elsewhere. And yeah, so another purchase or I'm just hitting you with all these,

Chris Jones  6:04  
it's fine, you can come in.

Anna Trethewey  6:06  
The next question is we hear this quite a lot. We've done some blogs about it to alleviate concerns, but someone here was asked I work in a small school. How would the intersection reflects our context?

Chris Jones  6:18  
So you're right. We do get this a lot. And it's important to say I think the inspectors do understand the challenges small schools are facing, many of our inspectors will have worked in small schools themselves. Many will be working in small schools currently because if we draw upon it people who are serving in the sector, and they understand that leadership in a small school means balancing a huge number of different roles. And we're no less ambitious only anyone is any less ambitious for what pupils in those schools can achieve. But of course, smaller schools may have gotten to those outcomes by different rooms and we're clear in the inspection framework that bringing in a curriculum off the shelf can be just as good as designing it yourself. We also know at schools with challenges such as teaching multiple year groups in each class. They have to think hard about how to plan that curriculum. In any case, whether it's an Ofsted requirement or not. And actually these schools should, should naturally be well prepared when it comes to an inspection because of that thinking.

Anna Trethewey  7:24  
I'm just going to put a shout out there to some of the schools you're quite right. They've got to think really hard. If you're teaching a year five and six class together. You certainly have to reflect and update you can't rely on doing the same thing each year. So actually, I think it's a hats off to those people doing some really sterling work. Absolutely. If we're looking to you know, speak to a particular teacher and a subject in a small school and they're not available, what's the best thing to do?

Chris Jones  7:49  
So there are really practical challenges when it comes to inspecting small schools. As I said, a number of staff members in smaller schools have lots of different roles. So the head teacher may also be the DSL they may also have responsibility for curriculum subjects. And of course, they do the day to day running of of the school. So inspectors know that they have to work with the school to plan the inspection really carefully. So for example, they'll minimise the amount of time one particular teacher might have to spend outside of class because of course, that means someone else has to has to cover for them. And the number of deep dives we've carried out in a smaller school would typically be fewer than in a larger school. And this kind of practical consideration also extends to key members of staff who are not present at the inspection for whatever reason that that might be. And that would certainly could impact which subjects are chosen for for a deep dive. Part of the part of the initial conversation between head teacher and inspector is working out some of these practical challenges and we're particularly alive to that in smaller schools. So obviously COVID has had a huge impact. 

We know that we don't need to kind of rehearse all the reasons why, but but inspectors are carefully considering that impact. It will always form part of one of the initial conversations with leaders and inspectors will listen to leaders accounts of how the pandemic has impacted them has impacted us staff has impacted the teaching on pupils learning in their school. And we shouldn't forget that. We have had inspectors in schools since September 2020, which from the vantage point of April 2022, feels really close to the start of the pandemic. It wasn't actually long that we had inspectors not in schools at all. So those inspectors have visited many schools in the time since then, whether that's been to research visits, monitoring visits, or more recently, doing the full suite of inspections again. And of course, as I said earlier, many are serving school leaders and they understand all too well, the impact that pandemic has had, and the inspection outcomes for this academic year are strong actually and more schools than previously are improving their greater good. And this I hope gives us all some reassurance that inspectors are taking that impact into account and certainly not marking schools down because of the COVID impact

Anna Trethewey  10:25  
and linked question and one that I think we've had a few rumblings about so how would Ofsted use the data from SATs and GCSE inspection?

Chris Jones  10:34  
So at the moment, we don't have up to date data from standardised tests. The last time standardised tests were done, as we all know, in the normal way was back in 2019. So actually at the moment, very little was being made of SATs and GCSE scores on inspection. But it is true to say that from next year we'll have access to the performance data from the exams taking place in summer 2022. We know of course, as everyone does that the pandemic hasn't affected everybody equally. Some schools will have had more days where they've had to close than others have. Some will have had fewer children who can properly access remote learning whether that's because of it kit or not having somewhere quiet to work at home or not having internet access or whatever. The cause of that is, of course some schools have been disrupted by incredibly tragic events over the last few years, whether that's among staff or students. So the impact has been uneven and inspectors are there for when they have access to performance. Data from this year will be really sensitive and that in their use of that data. So inspectors will know that the 2022 exam data is not comparable really with earlier years. They won't be looking at the kind of 2019 to 2022 trend won't be that word make huge amount of sense. And of course there'll be there'll be aware of the uneven impact of the pandemic on pupils and schools. So, like this year, exam results will play less of a role in judgments made about schools next year as well. Of course we know that data is only ever one input among many into inspections. I've described the deep dive process which can touch on data when that's kind of external and standardised but involves so much more than that as well. 

Anna Trethewey  12:38  
Yeah, and I think it's so you put me in the picture. It's part of the wider picture, isn't it? and foremost the questions that inspectors want to ask but of course, it's only part of the story that comes out through through that professional dialogue and inspection. So a similar question around attendance data, how we'll be using that. So...

Chris Jones  12:55  
in the same way as the exam data, in all honesty, with with sensitivity and and with care, I think you know, inspectors approaching inspection, looking to capture school out whether that's on attendance day to exam date. Or or anything else they understand what's happened over the last two years and and they are doing and they will continue to tweak that carefully.

Anna Trethewey  13:20  
And so some schools have needed to alter their curriculum plans due to the pandemic will that be taken into account as well.

Chris Jones  13:27  
Yeah, absolutely. So people will remember that when we launched the education inspection framework back in 2019. We included what we call transition statements which recognised at that time that some schools would be developing that curriculum and it wouldn't necessarily be having the impact that they might have hoped yet. So we said in the inspection handbook, that if those curriculum plans look good, I'm on track to be delivered. Essentially, that was okay by us. And we would we would take that into account and after the pandemic The same principle applies schools, many schools are re planning and redesigning their curriculum to address the gaps in learning that are resulting from the pandemic or in fact further, further reasons. Many schools will have been planning and replanting, and so those transition statements remain in the handbook, although serving a slightly different purpose now, so if schools are in that process of of planning their curriculum or replanting their curriculum, they do still have the protection if you'd like from those transition statements, which says if your plans are in place, they look good, they're on track to be delivered. Then that's that's okay.

Anna Trethewey  14:42  
And I don't think any of us imagined that we'd be using the transition statements for such a purpose. So question about special schools will welcome inspectors consider the impact on special schools as these have had to operate under different parameters. To mainstream schools.

Chris Jones  15:00  
So the CIO inspector leading every inspection will want to understand the impact of the pandemic on the school no matter what type of school it is. And of course, we know that special schools have had more restrictions than others. At times this is meant that they haven't had the ability to take children and young people into the community, for example, to get some of the skills they might need to move towards living independently of the children would have had severely curtailed access to services like speech and language therapy. So we understand all that and in fact, we've we've published various bits of, of research and analysis that describes this. So So inspectors know that but we also know of special schools that are doing fantastic work to get these aspects back up and running and we want to be able to sing their praises and reporting on the good things that are happening as well.

Anna Trethewey  15:52  
Last COVID question and actually last, last question overall for the podcast. Will the inspections look at how staff and students mental health is supported following the COVID 19 outbreak?

Chris Jones  16:02  
Yeah, I think we all know that mental health both children and adults is is a really important part of the post pandemic landscape. And as part of the personal development judgement on an inspection, inspectors will absolutely look to understand how schools are supporting pupils mental health, and we also know that often that will be best done through giving them as normal a school experience as possible. With good structures, good routines, well behaved peers. And of course, sometimes there'll be specific issues that need a school wide response, such as misuse of social media, and inspectors will ask pupils and teachers about these issues. It will remain a big focus of the person development judgement,

Anna Trethewey  16:52  
then we've seen some of the impacts on physical health as well haven't we?

Chris Jones  16:55  
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So yeah, we'll be really key to understand how schools are getting back up to the full range of PE and extracurricular sports and all the kinds of things that really things that really have an impact on on the physical health, which, as we all know, can quickly translate into into more positive mental health as well. And I just want to mention the leadership and management judgement as well because of course that concerns how well leaders are doing for their staff. So we talked to staff about the support they get with workload, for example. And if either pupils or staff are concerned that their welfare is not being supported, they would be able to tell an inspector in confidence. And whilst inspectors can't investigate an individual incident, they would certainly look to understand whether this was more widespread. So I think more important than ever, as we all know, that inspections focus on these issues as well as the core academic.

Anna Trethewey  17:53  
And something that we also heard on those early research visits was about how lonely it can be as a leader, particularly during the pandemic. So how will we talk to how we kind of looked at that issue on inspection? That's

Chris Jones  18:05  
absolutely right. And we know from various bits of data and survey work that we've done and the others like teachers have done, that the burden of the pandemic has really fallen on leadership in schools. So we will talk to governors and trustees on an inspection and one of the things we might well ask them is how they're supporting the leadership in the school to deal with all the challenges that remain, kind of as we emerge from the pandemic, right.

Anna Trethewey  18:35  
Okay. Thank you. Well, those are all the questions I was going to throw you so well done to those of you who carry on listening because now you've made it to the clarification parts. So there's a few kind of Ofsted does Ofsted doesn't pieces that waft around in the ether. This is a chance to fast some of those myths. Chris, do you want to just give a bit of a rundown of some of the things that we commonly hear is misconceptions.

Chris Jones  18:54  
Sure. And we can never do too much myth busting. And these are all things that are are in the school inspection handbook. So please do look them up there and use that as a tool if if you need but I'll just pick out some of the ones that I think it's important to get across. So there are some things that often will not do, we're committed not to doing so we're not great individual lessons. We don't advocate a particular method of planning or lesson planning, or an advocate a particular method of teaching or assessment because of course, it's up to schools to determine their practices. And it's up to inspectors and leadership teams to have a conversation on inspection about those on the merits of the things that they have chosen to do. So we will not advocate a particular method of planning teaching or assessment for things that we certainly don't require schools to provide. And it's important to say this because we do hear repeatedly that Ofsted has demanded this that or the other and in most cases that's not the case. So Ofsted doesn't require schools to provide evidence in any specific format. All that we need is for you to be able to explain it to an inspector. It doesn't need to be in a specific format. And that includes curriculum planning, as well. curriculum planning doesn't need to be in any specific format. We don't need any evidence for inspection beyond what's in the handbook and the types of things that I've described to date. We don't need a written record of teachers or or feedback to pupils. We know that whole class verbal feedback can be an extremely effective method of providing feedback to pupils. You don't need to write down for offset that that's what you've done. We are not going to ask for individual lesson plans. We're not going to ask for predictions of attainment and progress scores. And we're not going to ask for performance or pupil tracking information. We've done away with any requirements as you know to to look at schools internal data. And finally, there are some things that we were not kind of looking to specify. So we don't specify how planning including curriculum and lesson planning should be set out the length of time it should take to do that or the amount of detail it should contain. Or we don't specify the frequency type or volume of marking and feedback. And we don't specify the content or approach to head teacher and staff performance management. Those are just some of the edited highlights from the mythbusting. As I said, you can see all that in the school inspection handbook. And more.

Anna Trethewey  21:36  
It's good to raise it because sometimes it helps us set out exactly this what we do and don't do. Great. Well, I think that's everything, Chris, thank you for letting me grill you thoroughly. Thank you to listeners out there. Obviously if there are more questions, please do get them in but for now, I'll say thanks very much, Chris.

Chris Jones  21:52  
Thanks very much. Good luck!


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