David Butler, the EBEA’s Advocacy Lead and past HMI explains the key features of the new OFSTED Inspection Framework and its implications for teaching economics and business.

Ofsted published its new inspection framework on 14 May 2019, following an extensive period of consultation and trialling of the draft proposals. The new framework will be introduced in schools and colleges in September of this year. The outcomes of the consultation (which the EBEA took part in), the framework and handbooks are all available on the Ofsted website (www.ofsted.gov.uk). The purpose of this article is to draw members’ attention to some of the main features of the new inspection process and to discuss its implications for teaching economics and business.

SOME KEY FEATURES

The inspection process

While the framework itself looks very different from the current one, the actual inspection process has not been radically changed. Ofsted’s draft proposal for inspectors to be on site during the afternoon before the start of the inspection to carry out preparation work was overwhelmingly rejected in the consultation and will not be implemented, at least for the time being. The duration of the inspection will normally be two days in schools and two to five days in FE colleges. Schools judged as outstanding will be exempt from inspections unless there are indications that their performance has declined or there are complaints from parent or others, for example, about safeguarding issues. There is an emphasis on reducing the amount of documentation schools and colleges are expected to produce. Inspectors will not evaluate lesson plans and will not use the institution’s own performance data to make judgements. As is the case now, lessons and the performance of individual teachers will not be graded.

The inspection framework

The key change is the shift in emphasis from schools and colleges being judged primarily on examination results and other performance measures to evaluating the quality of education being provided to achieve these outcomes. ‘Are results the outcome of a broad, rich curriculum and real learning, or of teaching to the test and exam cramming?’ (Preface to framework).  So it will be interesting to see how inspectors evaluate schools and colleges which provide a broad, rich curriculum and ‘real learning’ but have relatively poor examination results (possibly because they do not teach to the test or provide ‘cramming’)

There is also to be a new judgement for behaviour and attitudes, which will be separate from that for personal development. Inspectors will make only five graded judgements:

  • The overall effectiveness of the institution
  • The quality of education provided
  • Personal development
  • Behaviour and attitudes
  • Leadership and management

(Where schools have sixth forms, there will be an additional grade for post-16 provision.)

This is a far cry from inspection frameworks in the not so distant past that required inspectors to make a large number of subsidiary graded judgements, including the grading of teaching in each lesson observed, which were then combined according to particular formulae to produce key grades. The new quality of education grade includes the curriculum, teaching and learning, assessment and achievement. Quite how inspectors will weight these various aspects to reach a grade, remains to be seen. Similarly, the personal development judgement is very wide ranging, including British values, aspects of citizenship, preparing for next steps in education, training or employment and developing resilience, confidence and independence. The handbooks do contain ‘best fit’ grade criteria but the task of making these very broad judgements remains problematic and the suspicion must be that inspectors will inevitably need to make private subsidiary judgements.

THE IMPLICATIONS FOR ECONOMICS AND BUSINESS TEACHERS

The implications for teaching examination courses in economics and business.

The framework has few implications for the post-16 economics and business curriculum and there is nothing in the framework that might threaten existing A level and vocational courses.It is a rather different picture pre-16 because of the emphasis on the EBacc, which does not include economics or business. However, the precise wording in the handbook for school inspections is confusing in terms of how schools will be judged in relation to the EBacc. It cites the DfE’s aim of 75% of Year 10 pupils studying the EBacc subjects by 2022 and 90% by 2025 but it emphasises that this is an ambition and not a target for individual schools and that ‘inspectors will not make a judgement about the quality of education based solely or primarily on a school’s progress towards the EBacc ambition’. However, it goes on to say ‘nevertheless it is an important factor in understanding a school’s level of ambition for its pupils’ (para 175). One of the criteria for the judgment for the quality of education being good (or outstanding) is that ‘the school’s aim is to have the EBacc at the heart of its curriculum, in line with the DfE’s ambition, and good progress has been made towards this ambition’. The distinction between ‘ambition’ and ‘target’ appears to be splitting hairs. Inspectors will surely have to identify what proportion of Year 10 pupils are currently taking the EBacc, how that has increased during the past few years and how it is likely to increase in the future. It is difficult to see how inspectors will avoid using the DfE’s ‘ambitions’ as targets when measuring progress. All this is important as the more the EBacc is emphasised (or other measures of performance that do not include economics and business qualifications), the more GCSE and vocational qualifications in economics and business are threatened. It is true that the EBacc is not the whole curriculum but, once other compulsory elements are included, it leaves very little time for anything else. Numbers taking business related courses at key stage 4 have fallen in recent years and anecdotal evidence suggests that business teachers in 11-16 schools are frequently not being replaced when they leave or retire. The framework will do little to reverse this trend and may even exacerbate it.

Lessons in economics and business may or may not be observed – there is no set number of lessons that inspectors are expected to observe and no particular pattern of visiting. While individual lessons will not be graded, inspectors’ observations will help them to form (non graded) judgments about the quality of teaching which, in turn, will inform the grade for the quality of education. Many teachers will welcome the shift in emphasis from examination results per se to how these results are achieved. However, the term ‘teaching to the test’ needs some unpicking. Many would agree that a narrowing of the curriculum in primary schools to focus almost entirely on getting the best possible SATs results or secondary schools starting GCSE courses in key stage 3, is detrimental to providing a broad and balanced education. However, the term becomes more problematic when considering the teaching of examination courses, which often takes up the entire timetable for economics and business teachers. Teachers may well say that their main aim is to educate pupils, rather than get them through exams but the reality is often rather different and for good reasons. Teachers are heavily judged on exam outcomes and pupils and parents mainly see exam results as the only outcome that really matters. This means that teachers often stick almost entirely to what they expect examiners to ask, spend considerable time on exam technique and provide additional support and revision sessions outside of lessons, which might well be construed as ‘cramming’. Teachers will often have little time for developing deeper understanding and exploring issues in greater depth if there does not appear to be a pay off in terms of examination results. If the blame for this lies anywhere it is not with Ofsted but with the content of exam courses and the nature of the questions that are set. An example of this is the requirement for pupils to manipulate supply and demand graphs in GCSE economics courses without requiring an understanding and questioning of the assumptions that underlie them. This results in bad economics education but which is not necessarily reflected in the grades pupils achieve. Teachers will inevitably ‘teach to the test’, so the trick is to ensure that the test is fit for purpose and encourages good education. Unfortunately, the reform of A level and GCSE economics and business courses have in many ways failed to achieve this.

The implications for developing economic, business and enterprise education as part of the core curriculum.

The new framework might at first sight appear to give encouragement to the promotion of economic, business and enterprise education for all pupils and students. There are worthy statements in the handbooks about schools and colleges having curriculums that prepare young people for their futures and equipping them with the knowledge and cultural capital to succeed in life. Having a separate graded judgement for personal development and a statement that ‘the curriculum promoted by schools should extend beyond the academic, technical and vocational’ might also give hope to those who favour the provision of economic, business and enterprise education as part of the core curriculum. After all, many would argue that having basic economic understanding, including financial literacy and key enterprise skills, are vital to succeed in and participate fully in 21st century Britain. However, such optimism is dashed by reading the detail of the handbooks and evaluation schedules for schools and colleges. There are a few mentions of careers programmes and the need for older pupils and students to encounter ‘the world of work’ but absolutely no mention of economic and business understanding, employability and enterprise skills and financial literacy, all widely supported across political parties and by organisations such as the CBI and trade unions. This is equally true of the college inspection handbook and evaluation schedule where, arguably, these aspects of the curriculum become even more essential. The EBEA, along with other organisations, argued strongly for the E (economic) in PSHE education to be given greater prominence in the evaluation schedule, even though the DfE had failed to make it statutory. Alas, despite the case being well made, it was not reflected in the published framework and evaluation schedules. However all is not lost as Ofsted states that there is no Ofsted curriculum (despite its emphasis on the EBacc at key stage 4) and that it will ‘judge schools taking radically different approaches to the curriculum fairly …… (and) recognises the importance of schools’ autonomy to choose their own curriculum approaches’. (para 173, school inspection handbook). So, there is no reason preventing a school providing a curriculum that emphasises business and enterprise as part of a broad and rich overall educational provision. According to the evaluation schedule, provided the curriculum is well thought through, takes account of the needs of all learners and is effectively delivered, it should be judged favourably.

CONCLUSION

The new framework is intended to be a radical departure from previous incarnations. Whether it proves to be will only become clear when evidence is gathered from inspections of a range of institutions, including those that adopt radically different approaches to the curriculum. For those who had hoped that it might give greater credence to economic, business and enterprise education as part of the curriculum and personal development, it is a huge disappointment. The promotion of the EBacc, which many would argue is outdated and fails to effectively prepare young people for their futures, means that the position of business and economics at key stage 4 is increasingly under threat. However, the new framework does provide scope for schools and colleges to adopt different approaches to the curriculum to meet the needs of all learners. As has always been the case, it will be up to economics and business teachers and leaders to ‘fight their corner’ and convince senior managers of the vitally important role these subjects play in preparing young people for life in the 21st century.

David Butler – Advocacy Lead, EBEA