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One Headteacher’s solution to the new Ofsted judgements

Ian Norton


New Ofsted Common Inspection Framework (CIF) headings:
A wake-up to thinking anew?

By Headteacher, Ian Norton, Vranch House School, Exeter



The Common Inspection Framework (CIF) always has, and probably always will, require a healthy dose of liberal interpretation to prevent it from becoming a noose around a school’s neck.  Curriculum and assessment tools are too often designed dogmatically to key headings of the present CIF:


  • quality of teaching, learning and assessment
  • outcomes for children and learners


When schools use success criteria from these assessment tools as guiding principles to curriculum design, they often narrow and constrict a ‘broad and balanced curriculum’ Ofsted say they want to see to a ‘Teach(train)-Test-Analyse’ conveyor belt approach to teaching and learning. This is because this unimaginative approach sets teachers in ever-decreasing circles, trying to capture evidence of ‘learning and progression’ in the classroom before feeding it into assessment software tools to produce numerical data, statics and comparisons.

The individual pupil progress is lost is a miasma of ‘trends’ and differences between key demographic groups e.g. boys/girls, free school meals/SEN and EAL.  And who benefits from this exercise, the teachers, Senior Leadership Teams, Headteachers?  No, it is an all-consuming, often de-motivating task with often misleading output.  It is most certainly not the pupils benefit; pupils who tried so hard to produce their best work, only for it to become a ‘number’ in an endless data stream, being pour over by a teacher feeling equally deflated by the effort it took to produce said ‘number’.  It is time for this counter-productive cycle to stop.  The new planned judgement headings for the next iteration of the Ofsted CIF could in fact be seen as a wake-up call:


  • personal development
  • behaviour and attitudes
  • schools’ leadership and management


The word ‘assessment’ is crucially missing, which could be viewed as a permission to ditch obsessive ‘data’ driven curriculum design and delivery, which could in-turn free teachers up to do what they have known for years is the important part of their job: looking at the whole child, how they learn and how much they develop as individuals over time.  One can never truly escape assessment, but we can all be smarter about what that involves, and we are highly likely to be asked by the new Ofsted CIF to make our assessments more ‘personal’, ever more individual.


In my school, we have used Earwig Academic to ride the waves of change, past and present.  We started our journey in designing a needs-led, bespoke curriculum just over two years ago and Earwig has been a crucial partner in bringing our vision to life.  They have remained flexible each time we have developed our curriculum further and even adapted the assessment module in Earwig to enable us to assess the way we wanted to.


For our Ofsted Inspection in June 2018, we were graded ‘Outstanding’ in all judgement areas. This was in no-small part because all evidence of pupil progress against our unique curriculum, with real-time accompanying assessments against this curriculum, were all in one place: Earwig.  The Inspector was readily able to see within Earwig how our curriculum and assessments were interlinked and individualised for every last pupil.

When they asked to see the evidence of the progress being made and rationale for the teacher-judged assessments, there was no desperate scrabble through endless ring-binders of data, print-outs or pupil workbooks; I simply showed her pupils’ ‘timelines’ then clicked on ‘Assessment’ within Earwig.  My teachers work from, and conduct their assessments against, a purely qualitative framework and Earwig’s assessment module creates the quantitative analysis for them, no more ‘feeding the ravenous data machine’ for the benefit of no-one in particular.


We should, as teachers and Head teachers, perhaps all be asking ourselves not ‘What assessment data will I need under the new Ofsted CIF?’, but: ‘How do I capture and demonstrate the unique progress of each pupil in a more meaningful way?’

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