Amanda Spielman – 2019 Speech on Knife Crime

Below is the text of the speech made by Amanda Spielman, the Chief Inspector of OFSTED, on 12 March 2019.

This is a timely report for Ofsted to be publishing. The related issues of knife crime, gang violence and child exploitation are rightly high on public and political agendas. The images of those recently killed with knives on the front pages of newspapers remind us all of the tragic cost of violence being paid by our children. Our first thought is of course with the victims’ families.

In a previous report, we highlighted the dangers of county lines drug operations, in which criminal and manipulative adults exploit children to travel from our major cities to all corners of the UK to distribute drugs, often leaving those children vulnerable to further physical and sexual abuse far from home. This is important context for this study.

This report looks specifically at school leaders’ experiences of knife crime in London, as well as the views of children and some parents of both victims and perpetrators. It makes recommendations for school and college leaders, local authorities, the police and other pan-London agencies about how to work better together to help keep children safe.

Use of exclusions

The most hotly contested issue when it comes to schools’ responses to knife crime is the use of exclusions. This study did not set out to prove or disprove whether exclusions lead to knife crime – a task that is beyond the realm of the possible. There is evidence that points to a correlation between the 2, but of course this does not prove causation. It seems just as likely that exclusions and knife crime are 2 symptoms of the same underlying problems, exacerbated by cuts to local authority children’s services.

There is a harmful narrative developing that exclusions must cause children to join gangs or carry knives because, when they are excluded, they are put in very poor-quality alternative provision (AP) or pupil referral units (PRUs), and eventually fall out of the school system altogether. In fact, over 80% of state-funded registered AP and PRUs are rated good or outstanding by my inspectors and, of those pupils not on a state school roll at age 16, few get there directly via exclusion from a mainstream school. See ‘The link between exclusions, alternative provision and off-rolling’.

What’s much more concerning is off-rolling or managed moves to unregistered or illegal AP or to no education, employment or training at all. We do not know whether children in these settings are safe, let alone being educated.

That isn’t to say permanent exclusions are never beyond criticism. What we found through our research is that exclusion decisions in cases of children bringing a bladed object into school do not always sufficiently take into account the best interests of the child, which have to be balanced against the wider needs of the school community. By law, headteachers should take contributory factors into account, consider intervention to address the underlying causes, and consider providing extra support to groups of pupils with high rates of exclusion, before they take the decision to exclude.

Similarly, we found that schools’ decisions about whether or not to involve the police in an incident can be based on a variety of factors, not always relevant. It seems sensible to reflect on whether the child has any known connection to adults with a criminal history, but it is much less relevant to consider, as some schools told us they did, the child’s academic record. Headteachers clearly need more in the way of information and guidance.

Permanent exclusions have risen in the last few years, and there is a shortage of registered provision for excluded children. Schools and local authorities need to work together to improve education and other preventative work, to reduce the need for exclusions. Exclusions are a necessary and important sanction, but it is not acceptable, or legal, to exclude without due regard for the impact on and risks to the child being excluded.

Working together to keep children safe

Schools have 2 very basic roles: to educate children with the powerful knowledge they need to thrive in and be connected to society; and to keep them safe. Doing the first well can be the best possible preventative experience when it comes to the second. Feeling a failure at school can lead to behavioural problems that may ultimately escalate into criminality. We know that nearly half of those who end up in prison have literacy skills no better than an average 11-year-old, so it is vital that primary schools prioritise teaching children to read at an early age. Children who cannot read well cannot access further learning, cannot discover their own unique interests and talents, and eventually will struggle to pass exams and get good jobs.

However, our report focuses on activities specifically designed to achieve the second basic role – to keep children safe. Some school leaders feel that they are having to act alone to develop a response to rising rates of knife crime. We know that the best response is a multi-agency approach and good, timely information-sharing, but too often this is not happening.

Spending per head on early help and preventative services has fallen by over 60% in real terms between financial years 2009 to 2010 and 2016 to 2017. Some of the funding that is available is only short term. Schools simply do not have the ability to counter the deep-seated societal problems behind the rise in knife crime. Some schools are valiantly trying to fund school-based early help services or other services that were once provided for free. But we cannot allow responsibility for this to be landed on schools in the absence of properly-funded local services.

There are other ways in which schools and local agencies can help each other. Too often, concerns about data protection get in the way of vital information sharing. GDPR allows agencies to store and share information for safeguarding purposes, including that which is sensitive and personal. If schools have information about children, or adults, relevant to the safety of them or of the children around them, they need to pass that on, including at transition points such as primary to secondary school, or school to college. And they need to share it with local authorities and the police. The arrangement needs to be reciprocated.

Educating about knife crime and gangs

Many school and college leaders we spoke to were trying to educate children about the dangers of knife crime and the risks of grooming and exploitation by gangs. However some are concerned that if they do this they will be seen as a ‘problem school’, and subsequently avoided by parents. Others were rightly prepared to be open with pupils and parents about the issues and how to deal with them.

As well as educating children, schools and others can play a vital role in educating parents. The parents of both victims and perpetrators that we spoke to were unanimous in their call for policy makers and local leaders to talk more to parents about grooming, criminal exploitation and knife crime. These parents could sense that something was wrong with their children, but did not have the knowledge to link that to criminal exploitation and therefore do something about it. Instead, and tragically, they thought their children’s increasingly challenging behaviour was due to their own divorce or even, in one case, suspecting their child was being sexually abused.


I hope this report is a valuable input into the current discussions about how to tackle knife crime in London and other UK cities. This is too serious and complex an issue to reduce to binary debates about exclusions, or over-simplified views about the quality of AP or PRUs. Schools can and should play their part, and many are. But this has to be as part of a broader coalition, with the support of local partners and the police.

Amanda Spielman – 2019 Speech at the Youth Sport Trust 2019 Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Amanda Spielman, the Chief Inspector of OFSTED, at the Youth Sport Trust Conference held on 28 February 2019.

Good morning. I’m delighted to be joining you today. Thank you for inviting me.

This morning I’m going to talk about the new Ofsted inspection framework that we’re consulting on, and what that might mean for PE and sport. As well as some of the research that lies underneath that framework, and how it links with the Youth Sports Trust’s own research on what’s happening to PE in schools.

Exercise and sports are hugely important for children. That should go without saying. Schools and colleges have a vital role to play in inspiring the next generation to lead healthy, active lives and to build resilience. But it’s more than that. The pursuit of sporting excellence is a fine thing in itself. While there isn’t a single definition of excelling, a good PE education can take each child down different pathways to find what they’re really good at. And on a bigger scale, it can take the whole of humanity forward.

But of course, schools are not a silver bullet. The responsibility for making sure children have ample opportunities to exercise and to live healthy lives cannot rest just with schools: a point I made when I published obesity research and reiterated in my annual report. By the way, when I say schools, I do use that as shorthand for all the different providers we inspect – from nurseries to schools to colleges – but I’ll say schools for the sake of brevity.

Inspection of PE and sports

Given that importance, how do our inspectors currently look at PE and sport? I know that some of you may have concerns that they haven’t always had the focus they deserve, especially the shorter Section 8 inspections. Ultimately this goes back to a government decision back in 2004 to simplify inspection, to take it away from being a subject-by-subject review and to focus inspection on the core subjects. Short inspections by their nature can’t provide a full review of all aspects of school life, and have to be driven by lines of enquiry.

That being said, many of you will know that under our current common inspection framework, before making a final judgement on overall effectiveness, one of the things we look at is the cultural development of pupils and, within this, their willingness to take part in and respond positively to musical, cultural and of course sporting opportunities.

And within our leadership and management judgement, we also look at a school’s extra-curricular opportunities.

And we look at the use of the primary PE and sport premium and consider its impact on pupil outcomes, and we look at how well primary school governors hold schools to account for this.

These areas give us some insight into the quality of physical education and school sport, but it is fair to say that, as with quite a few other aspects of the curriculum, PE and sport has tended to play second fiddle to the areas with more readily available performance data. Six weeks ago we published a consultation on our new draft framework, which I hope you’ve seen. We’re now halfway through the consultation, which runs until 5 April. This really is a proper listening exercise, so I would encourage you all to respond. We want your collective wisdom and expertise to help us make what I think are already a strong set of proposals even better. And we want to start working with this in September.

Read the education inspection framework consultation and have your say by 5 April 2019.

Rebalancing inspection to focus on substance

Our new framework, which I’ve described as an evolution rather than a revolution, aims to tilt the focus of our inspections slightly away from performance data and more towards the real substance of education, seen through the lens of the curriculum. In this way, we hope to get back to discussing not just the results a school or college has achieved but how they have achieved them. We want to make sure inspections are professional dialogues between school leaders and inspectors about what matters to children. What are they being taught and how? How are they being set up to succeed in the next stage of their lives?

Now don’t get me wrong – when data is used well it’s a very good thing. And test and exam results matter enormously. You can’t tell teenagers that their GCSEs don’t matter, and I wouldn’t want to tell parents that we’re not interested in how well their 11-year-olds do in reading tests. But when the balance tips too far toward data, problems emerge.

Over the past 2 years, we’ve been researching the curriculum and our findings have highlighted some of these problems. When data is allowed to overtake substance, it’s the curriculum that suffers. It gets squeezed and narrowed. Teachers are incentivised to teach to the test. And it’s children from disadvantaged backgrounds, who have fewer opportunities generally for learning outside school, who most lose out.

So a key principle of the new framework is to shift inspection back to where it belongs – complementing published performance data, rather than putting pressure on providers to deliver ever higher numbers. Because it matters how results are achieved. Achieved in the right way, they reflect a great education. Achieved in the wrong way, they can give a false sense of assurance that children have achieved and can move on. Leaving them ill-prepared for the next stage of their lives – any employer or university will tell you that.

So the new framework is about the substance of education – making sure that children get to grips with mathematical concepts, master the art of passing on the football pitch, learn why the world is as it is, harness the beauty and power of the English language, develop their front crawl and learn to dance. If you take care of teaching a broad and balanced curriculum and teaching it well, the test results and performance table outcomes should take care of themselves.

New quality of education judgement

So, let’s unpack that a little. The new framework, with its focus on a rich and balanced curriculum should give a greater platform to individual subjects, such as PE and sport, and allow more time for conversations about subjects during inspections. But how will this work in practice?

There isn’t and there won’t be an Ofsted curriculum. The research that we published last year demonstrates that we can recognise and evaluate a range of different curriculum approaches in a way that’s fair.

And of course a high-quality education is made up of many parts, not just a good curriculum. We distinguish the curriculum – what is taught – and pedagogy, which is how the curriculum is taught. It is also distinct from assessment, which is about whether learners are learning or have learned the intended curriculum.

So we will approach the curriculum in 3 ways. First, we’ll consider the framework for setting out the aims of a programme of education, including the knowledge and skills to be gained at each stage: the curriculum intent.

Secondly, we’ll consider the translation of that framework in practice and the contribution that teaching makes to the intended curriculum: the implementation.

And thirdly, we’ll look at the evaluation of the knowledge and skills that students have gained across the curriculum and the destinations that they go on to next: the impact.

We propose a new quality of education judgement to capture the most important aspects of curriculum intent, implementation and impact. The judgement still recognises the importance of outcomes, but in the context of how they are achieved.

Inspectors will take a rounded view of the quality of education that all children get across the whole range, including every kind of advantage and disadvantage.

We’ll continue to look at teaching, assessment, attainment and progress, much as we do now, but through the lens of the curriculum implementation and impact.

We won’t grade intent, implementation and impact separately, individually. Instead, inspectors will reach a single graded judgement for the quality of education, drawing on the totality of the evidence they have gathered, using their professional judgement.

And it will be important to consider intent, implementation and impact in the context of physical education. As for, all other subjects, PE subject leads will need to think about their curriculum. The most fundamental question of all is:

What do you want pupils to know and to be able to do?

And then, are there any physical competencies that pupils need to get better at, such as balance, agility and co-ordination? If so, how will we help them to improve?

How do you make sure that pupils are physically active for sustained periods of time? Are activities chosen inclusive and enjoyable?

How do you make sure that pupils can compete in an enjoyable and inclusive way? And how do you make sure that PE is helping all children to be fit and active?

The national curriculum sets out the content that must be covered in maintained schools and is a benchmark for the breadth and ambition of the curricula that academies devise. The new handbook makes clear that inspectors will have this in mind.

There are of course other questions to ask and you are the experts in this area and know how to design a curriculum to meet the needs of the pupils in your community. I know that Matt Meckin HMI, our national lead for PE and sport, has been working closely with the Youth Sports Trust to make sure that we increase our inspectors’ familiarity with these questions.

Personal development judgement

And for another of our judgements, personal development, we want to look at how the curriculum helps pupils to develop in different ways, moving beyond the core timetable. We’ll look at schools’ intent, and the way this translates into practice. What we won’t do here is to second guess the impact of the parts of the curriculum angled towards personal development. A lot of the likely value that schools add here will only be realised in pupils’ lives many years down the road. No school and certainly no inspector can definitively say from an inspection what has been achieved in this area.

I am sure, for example, that all of you put on a range of extra-curricular sporting activities and enrichment. These are vital for pupils. But we can’t measure on inspection whether these opportunities have encouraged pupils to lead healthy and active adult lives.

While a school has its children for 6 or 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, these same young people are influenced by their home environment and their community. Schools can teach in ways that build children’s confidence and resilience, but they can’t determine how well they draw on this. Schools can teach young people sports but as I say, the impact may not be seen for years. Which is why I think calls to use average pupil Body Mass Index, or even ‘performance on the bleep test’ in coming to our judgement probably don’t make sense.

We are instead being careful to ask the inspection question in the right way. A key criterion in the proposed personal development judgement is that:

The curriculum and the school’s wider work support pupils to develop resilience, confidence and independence and lead a healthy and active lifestyle.

So, on inspection, inspectors will look to see what the school does to help pupils keep physically and mentally healthy and maintain an active lifestyle. Are pupils getting ample opportunities to be active during the school day and through extra-curricular activities? These are the kinds of conversations we’ll be having, and for evidence, we’ll look, for example, at the range, quality and take-up of extra-curricular activities offered.

Narrowing of curriculum

I’ve talked a little about the narrowing of the curriculum. This links with research you published a year ago.

Your research in secondary schools found that:

Timetabled PE time is decreasing and the cuts get bigger as students get older. You found that at KS4, 38% of schools had reduced timetabled PE in the past 5 years and nearly a quarter had done so in the past year. By the time young people are sixth form, they’re doing barely half an hour a week.

You also found that nearly 40% of teachers said their PE provision had declined because core or eBacc subjects have been given additional time, with students taken out of timetabled PE for extra tuition in those subjects.

And PE teachers feel sport needs to be more valued by school leaders, parents and young people for what it offers.

This chimes with our own two-year research programme on the curriculum, which was divided into 3 phases.

In phase 1, we wanted to understand how schools were thinking about the curriculum. We did find many of them teaching to the test and teaching a narrowed curriculum in pursuit of league table outcomes, rather than thinking about the careful sequencing of a broad range of knowledge and skills. PE is likely to be a subject that’s been affected by that curriculum narrowing.

Curricular thinking

In phase 2 of our research, we chose schools that were invested in curriculum design and aimed to raise standards through the curriculum. We went to schools that had very different approaches, but we found some common factors relating to curriculum quality, including the importance of subjects as individual disciplines, and using assessment intelligently to shape curriculum design.

In phase 3, we wanted to find out how we might inspect aspects of curriculum quality, including whether the factors we’d identified can apply across a much broader range of schools. We found that inspectors can indeed have professional, in-depth conversations about curriculum intent and implementation with school leaders and teachers across a broad range of schools. And crucially, we found that inspectors were able to make valid assessments of the quality of curriculum that a school is providing.

We visited 33 primary schools, 29 secondaries and 2 special schools. Within each school, inspectors looked at 4 different subjects: one core (English, science or maths) and 3 foundation – arts, humanities, technology, PE or modern foreign languages.

This allowed us to find out more broadly which subjects, if any, had more advanced curriculum thinking behind them. Inspectors also gave each school a banding. Only around a quarter of primary schools scored highly overall, as against over half of secondaries.

For PE, of the 33 primary schools we visited, 7 out of 10 scored well on our scale. Of the 29 secondaries, two-thirds scored well. This means PE actually came out better than some other subjects, especially at primary: for example, we’ve recently published our findings on science curriculum, which in primary didn’t come out nearly as well. There is some good practice out there in PE and some work still to do.

We also unpacked intent and implementation. Most of the schools that scored well for intent but not so well for implementation were primaries. It is not hard to see primaries, particularly small ones, being less able to put their plans into action. It is difficult in many areas to recruit the right teachers. In small primaries, it is asking a lot of teachers to teach across the range of subjects and even across year groups. Of course we’ll consider these challenges when making judgements on inspections.

In contrast, those schools that scored much better for implementation than for intent were all secondaries. Again, it is not hard to see why that might be. Weaker central leadership and lack of whole-school curriculum vision are more easily made up for in some of the secondary schools, especially large ones, by strong heads of departments and strong specialist teaching.

So in our new framework, we hope that judgements of quality of education and personal development will allow us to look more on broader and deeper subject content, at how well the curriculum is being thought through and sequenced, and what knowledge and skills children are acquiring.

The curriculum research that we’ve been doing has had a PE strand. Last autumn we carried out 12 research visits looking specifically at PE and sport. This will feed into the development of some subject-specific training for inspectors.

And with a proposed extra day for our shorter section 8 inspections, we should have more time to have those conversations that will really help us get underneath what’s happening.

Primary PE and sport premium

What we don’t expect to be doing from September is checking a PE and sport premium plan and looking at its impact. I know this is a disappointment for some of you, but we simply don’t believe that the current approach is leading to improved PE and sporting outcomes. Inspection doesn’t have the greatest positive impact in schools when it’s about checklists or processes. Inspection drives real improvement where the inspection conversation really helps leaders think about the education they provide. As we have seen more widely with the use of data, checking only specific pieces of data or information encourages strange behaviour that is directed more towards compliance and hoop jumping, which can be at the expense of providing really good education.

We would like to bring about a shift in thinking, moving to: “How effective is the intent, implementation and, where appropriate, impact of the PE curriculum?” rather than “how is the money being spent?”

Attitudes to PE in secondary schools

Another piece of research I’d like to draw attention to is the 2015 Sport England survey. It’s sobering stuff. Their survey of older teenagers showed that a fifth of them hated or disliked PE at school. And that a bad experience at school can put children off physical activity for life – with girls more likely to dislike or hate PE.

So it was heartening to hear Sport England announcing from than £13 million from the National Lottery to train secondary school teachers to teach PE and sport. That is a significant amount of investment in secondary school PE and I hope it will support children develop and maintain that love of sport that will carry them into healthy and active adult lives. Your own 2018 impact report showed that more than 80% of young people were not meeting the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines of more than 60 minutes of activity every day.

This secondary teacher training will, I hope, do a great deal to raise the profile of PE and sport in school and to make it more appealing and inclusive. I applaud the work that you are doing here to help make this a reality.

Obesity research

Our own research on obesity was published last July. I’m sure you’re familiar with the figures – according to the National Child Measurement Programme, almost a quarter of children in England are overweight or obese at the start of primary schools and it rises to over a third by the time children leave primary school. Obesity happens for complex reasons. Children are influenced by many factors and we don’t fully understand how these factors interact when it comes to individual children.

What we did not find was that schools could have a direct and measurable impact on a child’s weight. There are too many factors beyond the school gate that make this impossible for them to control. Obesity is too complex and schools cannot do it alone. Schools cannot become a catch-all for everything that’s going wrong in society. That distracts them from their core purpose: educating children and getting the curriculum right.

Our research also looked at what parents wanted – and as well as wanting more information on what their children were learning about at school, and what they were eating, parents wanted to see more time in the curriculum for PE. Obviously some of this can happen in after-school clubs, but a quarter of parents said their child couldn’t access all the clubs and activities they wanted, often because not enough spaces were available. Then there were some issues with cost or the school had not taken into account parents’ work and childcare patterns.

Obviously some activities are more expensive. Not many primary schools have swimming pools, for example. But we found one activity pupils wanted to do more of was dodgeball, where all you need is some space. Many schools were really making the most of the school day for PE and offering the daily mile or purposeful play. But I think it’s fair to say many schools could do more to listen to parents about what they need to know about and what parents want for their children.

Teacher confidence at teaching PE

And we also picked up that some schools, especially primaries, need to do more to help their teachers get more confident and skilled at teaching PE. Coaches are great – but we worry that some schools have become over-reliant on them and I’m sure you’re concerned about this too.

Coaches can add value when used in the right way, but we must not forget the importance of teacher training in primary schools. This is something that we at Ofsted will look into further when we reconsider our approach to inspecting initial teacher training. Is there enough time devoted to PE training?

So to finish, I’d like to reiterate the importance of PE and sports in schools for helping children lead healthy lives, building their resilience, making them strong, and giving them a lifelong love of being active and simply the pleasure of excelling. I hope that our new framework will allow us to look more at the brilliant work that PE teachers and sports coaches do across the country, and that our focus on the curriculum will bring PE and sport the greater focus that it deserves. Please do join in with our consultation.

Thank you.

Amanda Spielman – 2019 Speech at Wonder Years Curriculum Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Amanda Spielman, the Chief Inspector at Ofsted, at the Wonder Years Curriculum Conference on 26 January 2019.

It’s a real pleasure to be here today at the delightfully titled ‘Wonder Years’ conference. I’m also pleased to be here and able to talk to you all so soon after we’ve published the draft new Education Inspection Framework.

Some of you might have taken a look at our proposals – the download stats tell me quite a lot of you probably have – and you may already have fired off your thoughts. If not, you’ve still got another 10 weeks to do it.

And I said when I launched them, this is a genuine listening exercise. I want your collective wisdom and expertise to help us make what I think are already a strong set of proposals even better.

And for me, the new framework really is about making sure that children’s time in education are their wonder years. The time when they get to grips with the power and flexibility of the English language and the fundamental mathematical concepts, when they learn about the scientific principles that shape the world around them and the universe, and the events that have forged history.

It should also be the time that children discover the possibilities of foreign languages, develop an appreciation of music and the arts, as well as the rudiments of some principles and practice of design and technology. Those opportunities should be a basic expectation for all children during their school and college years. And that, more than anything else, is why we’ve designed a framework that rewards those who deliver them.

Put another way, a high-quality education, built around a rich curriculum, is a matter of social justice. We know that those who are born in more advantaged circumstances get a major head start in life. All of you know the much-cited findings about language disadvantage for children from poorer families. Time in nursery and primary school is the best opportunity to tip the playing field back towards the level. That is why we have stressed, in the draft schools handbook, the importance of reading to young children frequently, and of introducing new vocabulary in contexts that stimulate their understanding and thinking.

But the role of education in delivering social justice doesn’t stop at the beginning of children’s education. We know from our curriculum research that it is disadvantaged pupils who are disproportionately affected by the narrowing of key stage 2 and the shortening of key stage 3, or who in various ways become less likely to take more academic subjects in key stage 4.

And though this is on the face of it plainly wrong, I understand why it happens. If you’re a school in a challenging area, and you feel that outcomes data is the sole proxy for measuring the quality of what you do, your job inevitably becomes oriented towards finding the best way to secure those grades and in turn those performance tables points. Especially when you face the double whammy of an intake that starts some way behind, and the difficulty of recruiting teachers to some of our most deprived towns.

But the consequence of this narrowing is that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds do lose out on building that body of knowledge that should be every child’s entitlement. For that reason, if we really want to reduce economic and social inequality, the place to start is what is taught in the classroom.

That isn’t a personal prejudice of mine, but has been well demonstrated. For example, I’ve mentioned before Cristina Iannelli’s finding – that most of the advantage associated with attending a selective school is accounted for by the curriculum studied there, and in particular the greater likelihood of taking the core academic subjects. And this doesn’t just apply to economic disadvantage either.

Serious attention to curriculum is just as important for the children with special needs and disabilities. One of the occasional frustrations I have when it comes to children with special needs, is that we sometimes seem to forget that as well as having particular needs, they are still children. A child with severe or complex needs may well take longer to acquire and build that knowledge than other children.

But that doesn’t mean we should assume it is irrelevant for them, or limit our efforts to help them achieve it. For children with SEND, the decisions that leaders make about the curriculum make a huge difference. They can’t afford for leaders to get it wrong. Even more than other children, they haven’t got the time for leaders to get it wrong.

Quality of education

Many of you will have seen that our draft handbooks talk about the importance of developing cultural capital. I know this can be a contested phrase.

But to spell out what that looks like in practice for Ofsted, it means our inspectors will consider how schools are equipping pupils with the essential knowledge they need to be educated citizens: how they are introduced to the best that has been thought and said, and how they are helped to a real appreciation of human creativity and achievement.

At the same time, I know that given PTE’s strong focus on standards, some of you have worried that removing the outcomes judgement might allow schools to take their foot off the pedal when it comes to attainment. But nothing could be further from the truth. Outcomes have not become irrelevant or unimportant to Ofsted. Try telling any teenager that their GCSEs don’t matter, or telling parents that we shouldn’t care how well their children do in reading tests at age 11.

Schools should be held to account for how well their pupils achieve and that will not change. What this framework does, however, is to make sure that outcomes are considered in their proper context, to understand whether they have been achieved in a way that sets young people up to succeed in further study and life beyond, rather than just to pass a particular set of exams.

Again, I believe that is how we will not only level the playing field for the most disadvantaged, but also how we make sure that we drive forward the real standards agenda.

And I am also fairly sure, to return to the ‘Wonder Years’ title, that the way to kill a real love of knowledge and learning is to give children 12 years of jumping through mark scheme hoops, with some nods towards developing some desirable but ill-defined skills thrown in alongside. If we really want to develop all children’s intellects and curiosity, they need to be taught the right, connected knowledge about Shakespeare, about the Battle of Trafalgar, and about the structure of the cell – that will pique their interests and passions!

Concepts and accessibility

The audience here is full of people I very much admire and respect. Many of you – speakers and audience – have been part of the fascinating recent discussions, such as those about substantive and disciplinary knowledge, which I am sure will get plenty of airing today. But, and I hope you won’t mind me saying this, it is probably fair to say that your levels of interest in education research and theory are probably not entirely representative of the teaching profession as a whole.

Which is why, in order to be successful under these draft proposals, we are not expecting every head to become an expert on Michael Young or Daniel Willingham, or to match the erudition that you will hear from many speakers today. Our evaluation of the quality of a school’s curriculum will reflect the quality of their practice, rather than their ability to use the ‘right’ curriculum language. Indeed we have also shown, through the third phase of our curriculum research, that we can quite quickly distinguish between those who have a genuinely good curriculum, implemented well across a school, and those who simply talk a good game.

To demystify the proposed new process we have tried to make our language and definitions in the handbook as straightforward as possible. Alongside the handbook, Sean Harford, our National Director of Education, has also put out a special edition of the school inspection update (SIU) that gives some further clarification and definition in the schools context – remember, the main framework covers everything from childminders through to adult education.

That update explains that when it comes to learning, we have used the definition from cognitive psychology, as a change in long-term memory. So “if nothing has altered in long-term memory, nothing has been learned”. That leads to our understanding of progress as knowing more and remembering more. The connections between knowledge give rise to understanding, and as pupils develop unconscious competence and fluency, this will allow them to develop skills, ie the capacity to perform complex operations, drawing on what is known.

We also know that we learn by relating new knowledge to what we already know. Therefore, the more pupils know, the more they have the capacity to learn.

This won’t be new to you, and I hope that the clarifications in that update help to put to bed any suggestion that we are asking too much of teachers. Alongside the SIU we have also put out a series of curriculum videos, further explaining our thinking – but if you think there is more we can do to shed light on the process, please do let us know.


I also want to address another worry that I have heard being expressed around curriculum diversity. Some of the people here are at the forefront of innovative curriculum design in your schools. To that I say, all power to you. This draft framework is absolutely not about trying to put a straitjacket on innovation in schools’ curriculum or to impose an Ofsted model.

Instead we are using the statutory expectation of a broad and balanced curriculum and the national curriculum, which all maintained schools are expected to follow, and which academies are expected to match in ambition, as our baseline. So long as schools achieve that, they are free to design and build their curriculum as they see fit, and Ofsted will reward the curricula that demonstrate thought and care about how to build rich and deep learning. Similarly for those who want to adopt existing designs, textbooks or other products that work well, that is equally fine and very often to be encouraged.


That concept of breadth will necessarily mean different things at different stages of young people’s education. We’ve been clear in the handbook, for instance, that the priority for key stage 1 is for children to master early reading and mathematics. Otherwise so much of what comes later will be inaccessible.

For that reason, and building on what we’ve learned through our ‘reading champion’ programme of inspections over the past year, inspectors will be looking at the extent to which pupils in key stage 1 learn to decode text through systematic synthetic phonics and whether they develop into fluent confident readers.

Similarly in early mathematics, inspectors will be looking at whether primary schools have considered the sequence in which mathematical concepts are taught and whether there are opportunities for recall of facts, concepts and procedures, which should lead, for example, to automatic recall of number bonds for addition and subtraction, and of times tables.

I want to be clear: no school will be criticised by inspectors for focusing its key stage 1 curriculum on literacy and mathematics. But that said, equally no school will be criticised for providing greater breadth: primary schools are best placed to know what it takes to get their children reading early, expand their vocabulary and to put in place the fundamentals of maths.

As children move through primary school, we will expect to see that focus on the fundamentals maintained, but that should be alongside broader learning across all the foundation subjects. These are subjects which we know, from our inspections and curriculum research, are too often being squeezed in many primary schools. Of course the statutory tests remain important, but here again, our inspectors will be looking to see that children’s performance in English and maths is achieved through proper teaching, practice and reading, rather than simply learning how to sit SATs papers. That, after all, is what will set them up properly to succeed in secondary school.

And when it comes to secondary school, that rich breadth of curriculum should continue. For almost all children, there is no reason to start narrowing down their learning before the age of 14. It really does pain me to think about how many potential historians, artists, linguists, musicians and designers we’ve lost because we made them drop subjects almost before they’d begun, so they may never have discovered their talents in them.

Now that does not mean that Ofsted believes that there is only one approach to structuring key stages 3 and 4. There may well be a good rationale for starting some GCSE content in year 9, especially in linear, core subjects, or because it offers pupils the opportunity to study a broader curriculum right through year 7 to year 11.

Where our concerns arise is when the desire to start teaching GCSE content early either comes at the expense of a broad and rich curriculum, or when it is used as an excuse to dedicate excessive time to drilling exam technique at the expense of the learning of new knowledge.

Knowledge versus skills

This is also probably the right place for me to address the vexed arguments about whether teaching of knowledge sits in opposition to teaching skills.

From a pragmatic inspection point of view, opposition between knowledge and skills is unnecessary. Yes, we want to see pupils being taught powerful knowledge, but it is also clearly essential for pupils to develop skills. We consider a skill to be the capacity to perform, whether cognitively or physically, drawing on what is known, and the new framework directs inspectors to consider what schools are doing to develop both pupils’ knowledge and skills.

That is why we want pupils to be able to analyse, evaluate and solve problems using what they have learned. And there are clearly desirable physical skills and capabilities that develop in the sports, arts and also technical and vocational capabilities.

What the evidence does show, however, is that these skills are largely domain-specific – evaluation of evidence in science is not the same as evaluation of evidence in history; being creative in dance is not the same as being creative in mathematics. And we would expect schools’ approaches to curriculum design to reflect this.


In a similar way we have made it equally clear that knowledge must not be reduced to or confused with simply memorising facts. A pub quiz is not a curriculum.

Nor, and I hope we’ve made this clear by now, is a curriculum simply a list of subjects to be studied. Which is why I disagree with those who claim that references to the EBacc in the new inspection framework represent Ofsted dictating the curriculum. They do not.

The government has decided that its ambition is for the EBacc subjects to be studied by the vast majority of young people up to the age of 16. It is an ambition I support.

In almost every other OECD country, young people study an academic core that includes their home language, maths, science, a foreign language (most often English) and a humanity up to the age of 16, if not 18. We also know that the very wide latitude given to both schools and pupils in England came to mean too many students, particularly disadvantaged and lower-attaining pupils, giving up core academic subjects at a startling early age.

Even when, as I have said before, getting a grade 3 in history GCSE may ultimately prove more beneficial than a Merit in a BTEC. I also happen to think that if you were to ask the proverbial woman on the street whether young people should study these 5 subjects up until 16, most would be shocked to find out that this is not already a requirement.

So the draft new inspection framework proposes that we will be looking at the extent to which schools are working to increase EBacc uptake. What that does not mean is that we will expect every school to be at the same stage, or even to be heading towards the same end point in terms of EBacc entries.

The government has been very clear that the 75% and then 90% targets map out the national expected picture, not requirements for every single school. Schools in disadvantaged areas will be starting from a lower base, and many will have struggled with recruitment, especially when it comes to modern foreign languages – our inspectors will take account of this. In the same vein, they are likely to look unfavourably on a leafy grammar that is not already securing high levels of uptake in these subjects.

So yes, we will be playing our part, as required under statute, to support government policy, but we will not be applying a blunt instrument to do so.


And that means I do not want to see schools rushing to quick solutions – such as hiring consultants to help them prepare in some way for the new framework. No school should have to spend a single penny on consultants to prepare for it.

That is why we have put out so much explanatory material, and why we continue to run events on the proposals across the country. You already have enough demands on tighter budgets without the supposed necessity of preparing for a new Ofsted framework adding more.

I hope you will agree, that we have been consistent over the past 4 years in communicating the message that inspection is not a hoop-jumping exercise.

I was pleased to see from our latest polling of teachers that our myth-busting campaigns have reached so many of you. That will continue with this new framework.

In fact, I strongly believe that by focusing on the substance, rather than performance metrics, we have created something which is far less gameable by supposed inspection experts than any framework which has come before it.

My hope is that once embedded, this framework will help to sound the death knell of a school improvement industry that has too often pushed approaches to improvement that are designed to push results without necessarily making any improvement to real standards. If anyone tries to sell you the ‘Ofsted inspection curriculum’ I hope that you will – politely – tell them where to go.


I want to leave some time to get to your questions, so all that remains is for me to thank you for inviting me here today, and to thank all of you who have already played a part in shaping the draft framework.

As I started by saying, I hope that many more of you will send us your thoughts in the weeks to come, so that we really can make sure that every child’s years in nursery, school and colleges really are their wonder years. Thank you.

Amanda Spielman – 2018 Speech to Annual Apprenticeships Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Amanda Spielman, the Chief Inspector of OFSTED, to the Annual Apprenticeships Conference on 22 March 2018.

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today.


This is a very important conference, at a critical time for the development of apprenticeship provision. It is gratifying to see apprenticeships on the news agenda regularly: whether as mentions in Prime Minister’s speeches or the subject of thoughtful newspaper columns from journalists you wouldn’t normally expect to care. Apprenticeships are, quite rightly, recognised as a vital component of our education and skills sector. Less gratifying, perhaps, is that too much of this recognition is about the system, not yet, working as it should.

That’s why I am so pleased to be here today. I see it as essential that providers, policy makers and employers can have open and frank discussions about what works and what needs to be improved.

It is almost a year now since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy–one of the most significant changes to apprenticeship funding that we have ever seen. Alongside the slow but inexorable move from apprenticeship frameworks to apprenticeship standards, providers and employers are working to secure the training and support that businesses need to develop a well-trained and productive workforce.

And at Ofsted, we carry on supporting the reform programme. Indeed we’re putting our money where our mouth is, with our own award-winning band of 29 business administration apprentices.


We know that it has been a challenging year for providers. The levy has required a different relationship with employers. There have been challenges in applying for, and receiving, non-levy allocations. There have also been problems getting on the Register of apprenticeship training providers. And, in too many instances, in finding a replacement standard for a framework–particularly at levels two and three.

I suspect that the fall in apprenticeship starts is due to a combination of these factors. Nevertheless, any barriers that prevent employers taking on an apprentice, or standing in the way of good providers delivering high quality training, must concern us all.

The first quarter of 2017 to 2018 saw almost 50,000 fewer starts than the same quarter in 2016 to 2017. There is no denying, that the low number of starts continues to be a concern, which is why I was heartened to see Anne Milton’s recent confidence that numbers will pick up in the new academic year. We all have to hope that this is true.

It is not just about overall volumes though. We are also experiencing some unintended consequences from the emerging trend towards higher-level apprenticeships. Of course, I understand, indeed applaud, more apprenticeships at higher levels, especially when there is clear progression in an occupation, from level 2 through to degree level. However, around 40% of the standards approved or in-development are at higher and degree levels, while only 7% of apprentices work at these levels.

This shift may be good for the economy in the long run, but the reduced number of apprenticeships at levels two and three is another destabilising factor in the system. To put it more brutally, there is a risk that young people, fresh from school, get squeezed out of apprenticeship routes because employers prioritise higher level programmes. This makes it more difficult for young people looking for entry-level employment straight from GCSEs.

In this context, I am pleased to see that the Institute for Apprenticeships is upping the rate at which it develops and approves apprenticeship standards. Up till now, this process really has been too slow. I am also pleased that there is now more flexibility to include qualifications within apprenticeship standards. I see these positive developments as a sign that the institute is listening to the concerns expressed by employers and training providers. However, I would still like to see a greater focus on achieving a set of standards that really reflect the balance of training and development needs of the economy.

Ofsted’s role

With all the change, and uncertainty in the system, I am sure you want reassurance about Ofsted’s agility and ability to adapt inspection to fit the new reality.

We know the challenges you face. We are working hard with you to make sure that inspection takes account of the changing landscape. But, let me be absolutely clear, we will not be excusing poor performance. Regardless of the changes that we are all dealing with: apprentices deserve high quality training at, and away from, work.

Pilot inspection findings

We have already carried out a number of pilot inspections to make sure that we are looking at the right things in this new environment. And we found a need for inspectors to focus on the bottom line, not the money, but what knowledge, skills and behaviours apprentices actually develop and acquire.

Now I hope many of you will know that one of my big interests as Chief Inspector is looking at the substance of education. By this, I mean the entirety of what is actually learnt, whether at school, college or on an apprenticeship.

As I said at the launch of my first Annual Report, our early research has shown that, all too often, the knowledge that we want young people to acquire is lost in the dash for grades and stickers.

These pilot inspections of apprenticeship providers have revealed that many of the concerns we have uncovered at a school level are also evident in apprenticeships.

We are seeing an over-emphasis on simply ticking the box to show that the next part of the qualification has been achieved. There is not enough focus on the actual skills, knowledge and behaviours learned.

Indeed, most providers in our pilots found it difficult to demonstrate what actual progress their apprentices were really making. As providers, you need to consider how you make sure that apprentices are making progress. This isn’t for inspectors, not for Ofsted, but for apprentices’ and employers’ benefit. It is also to inform the training and development programme that apprentices need to be following to pass end-point assessments.

The findings from our pilot inspections are informing changes to the inspection handbook. We will carry on iterating and adapting these as the systems develop.

Inspections of apprenticeships

More broadly, we are now developing our new education inspection framework for September 2019. How we inspect and report on apprenticeships are important considerations in our thinking and planning for this new framework. What we learn on inspections now, and what we learn from our work with organisations like AELP, the British Chambers of Commerce and the CBI, will inform our development. And of course, we will consult on our proposals.

But the changes in the system aren’t just about new frameworks and new ways of inspecting. I know that many of you have concerns about the number of untested providers entering the market and the effect this could have on quality. Well, rest assured, we are not standing idly by and waiting for new providers to fail. We are doing all that we can to make sure that no apprentice’s future opportunity is ruined by poor provision. It is essential that poor quality provision is spotted and tackled quickly, so that it doesn’t damage an individual’s prospects or the overall apprenticeship brand.

We have already begun a series of early monitoring visits to assess the quality of these new providers. Some of you will have heard about our first monitoring visits, which hit the headlines, at least in the trade press, last week. There is no hiding the fact that what we found at Key6 Group was worrying. And I’m very pleased that there has been a prompt reaction by ESFA [Education and Skills Funding Agency].

But, it is important that we don’t over-interpret this one result as a judgement on all new providers coming on stream with the levy. We are doing more monitoring visits of this type. And I very much hope that positive results will significantly outnumber the disappointments.

Besides these monitoring visits to new providers, we have increased our inspection focus on subcontractors, many of whom are providing apprenticeship training. We are doing this in two ways. Firstly, as part of our standard inspections, where providers have a significant proportion of subcontracted provision, we are increasing our focus on this part. This will mean that teams can evaluate and report, in more detail, on the quality of education and training in individual subcontractors.

In addition, we are making monitoring visits to a number of directly-funded providers to look specifically at subcontracted provision. This way, we can make sure that apprentices are getting the best possible training. We expect the first of these to be published in the next couple of weeks.

Our message here is simple. As the direct contract holder, you are responsible for your learners. If you subcontract, for whatever reason, you are still responsible for making sure your apprentice gets high quality training. If you are sitting back and collecting the money, without taking proper responsibility for quality, you are failing your apprentices. We are determined to expose this in the system.

And, just in case, any of you were being kind enough to worry about us, and whether Ofsted has the resources to deliver this increased volume of inspection, please don’t worry: we are being equally robust in our approach to government for funding. Indeed the DfE has already acknowledged that it needs to fund us properly for this work.


With the experience of Learndirect still prominent in all of our minds, I have no doubt that you are all acutely aware of the risks when large sums of money flow into a system.

It is sobering, in that respect, to look at recent inspection outcomes. Between September 2017 and February 2018, we made a judgement on the apprenticeship provision at 55 providers. We found three-fifths of them to be good or outstanding, with 16 requiring improvement. Six were inadequate. This means that 4 in 10 providers did not offer high quality training for apprentices. There is no way of dressing this up – it is not good enough.

But looking at it another way, the good and outstanding providers were generally the larger ones, so 33,000 apprentices were in good or outstanding provision – almost 80% of the overall places. And this is a lot higher than the provision looked at in the previous year. Then, only 60% of apprentices were being trained in providers of the same quality, we have excluded Learndirect from those figures. To be clear, it is not a perfect year-on-year comparison because inspection priorities and scheduling decisions affect which providers are selected for inspection. However, I do believe the figures are cause for optimism about quality in the sector.

So, while we rightly shine a light on concerns in the system, and I do have to talk about where things are going wrong. I also believe it is important to celebrate where things are going well. We see outstanding apprenticeship providers like National Grid and Craven College and Fareham College. There we see leaders and managers who work very closely with local employers to make sure that apprenticeships meet the needs of the local economy. They expect the best of their apprentices who show exemplary skills, getting the qualifications and competencies they need.

And whether it’s TTE Training with 160 engineering apprentices on various pathways, Busy Bees Nurseries and its range of early years apprenticeships or CITB supporting 10,000 apprentices in the construction industry–these very different types of outstanding provider are similar in one thing: the determination to give their apprentices top-notch training and to set them on a path to a successful and fulfilling career.


So, to conclude, we cannot escape the fact that this is a testing time for apprenticeships, a period of significant change that has inevitably brought a level of uncertainty alongside great opportunity.

There is still a way to go before we can confidently declare the new approach a success, but it is possible to see it beginning to take shape.

My inspectors are seeing some excellent provision around the country, but not enough of it and we need to see more. The sector is adapting confidently to change, but we need to make sure that the pace doesn’t slacken.

Ofsted’s overarching goal, as set out in our corporate strategy, is to be a force for improvement in all the sectors we inspect and regulate. This is as relevant for apprenticeship provision as it is for schools or child protection. Through our work, we will provide the evidence of what is working and the early warning of where things are going wrong. For a system in the midst of change, this could not be more vital.

After all, success of this ambitious apprenticeship programme is essential, not only to the needs of our wider economy, but for the young people and adult learners so desperate for the right opportunity to prosper.

I know all of you in this room are working hard to ensure this success. I am delighted to be joining all the winners of the inaugural AAC apprenticeship awards at tonight’s ceremony in recognition of that commitment.

Thank you.

Amanda Spielman – 2017 Speech at Nursery World Summit

Below is the text of the speech made by Amanda Spielman, the Chief Inspector of OFSTED, on 8 November 2017.

Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me here to speak you today.

It’s great to be part of such a rich programme of speakers and discussions. You certainly pack a lot into a day. Apprenticeships, Brexit, workforce strategies – all before lunch – that’s some work ethic.

When I took on the role of Chief Inspector, I was clear that every part of our work was of equal importance. I made a commitment to myself, and others, that I would engage with every aspect of our broad remit.

In particular, I wanted to get a better understanding of the issues affecting early years. After all, you are responsible for the crucial first stage of a child’s development. I am grateful, therefore, to the nurseries that welcomed me as a visitor during my early months in post and the time the leaders in your field took in getting me up to speed.

So thank you to all of you, particularly members of our National Consultative Forum, for your efforts in educating me. And of course a tribute to Ofsted’s own Gill Jones, our early years supremo, and her team who have helped me immeasurably.

One of the clearest messages I took away from those early discussions was the importance of the honest dialogue, from both sides, that exists between Ofsted and the sector. Through the work of our consultative forum, grassroots initiatives like the ‘Ofsted Big Conversation’ and the myriad of events like these, it is clearly ‘good to talk’. I know that countless issues have been raised and resolved as a result of these efforts, from concerns about complaint-driven inspections to consistency of inspections. Long may the dialogue continue.

And in that spirit of openness, I wanted to share with you a bit of my story and what brought me to the post of Chief Inspector. My early career was spent in business and finance, but after 15 years, and having children, I realised that education was my real passion. So I took the plunge and did a Masters in comparative education, and a year or two later got involved in the Ark academy chain, just as it was starting out. A chain, incidentally, that built in primary education from the very beginning.

The work at Ark was very much focused on turning around tough schools. It was about making sure that children who had been getting a raw deal started to receive a proper education. The education they deserved. The experience of Ark’s primary schools demonstrated first-hand how a solid early education sets young people up for life.

After Ark, I spent five years at Ofqual, steeped in the reform of assessment and qualifications. And then at the start of this year, I joined Ofsted as Chief Inspector.

And it has been an incredibly rewarding year so far.

Ofsted turned 25 this autumn. And although the educational, political and economic landscape is now very different, our mission to raise standards in education and care remains unchanged. Because, despite momentous social and cultural shifts, our work to improve children’s lives is as important today as it was quarter of a century ago.

As you would expect, much has changed in Ofsted since 1992. Today, we are more focused on what works and far more engaged with all of the sectors we inspect.

As part of our continuing evolution, at the end of September we published our new corporate strategy, which will guide every area of our work, including early years, until 2022.

The strategy centres on one fundamental principle: that Ofsted will be ‘a force for improvement through intelligent, responsible and focused inspection and regulation’.

Being intelligent: that means that our work will be evidence-led, and our judgements will be valid and reliable.

Being responsible: that means our findings will be clear and accessible, and we will be fair in our expectations of others.

And being focused: that means our time and resources will be targeted, as far as possible, where they can lead directly to improvement.

And just like you, we will always put children first.

I appreciate that talk of ‘corporate strategies’ and ‘fundamental principles’ might seem a bit removed from your daily concerns. You may well ask: ‘all very nice but what does it mean for me and my nursery business?’

Perhaps I can unpick it a bit for you by relating it to the work we are doing specifically in your area.


So starting with intelligent.

For inspection to be intelligent, it must be led by a professional, highly skilled and well-trained workforce. With our early years inspectors back in house, we are in a better position to ensure the quality of training and support given to our teams. As these teams move into our established regional structures, I am confident that we will see further benefits through the sharing of insight and intelligence with colleagues from schools and social care.

We will also be using inspection evidence to offer perspective and insight to those we inspect. That doesn’t mean ‘how to’ manuals, but it does mean making the most of our bird’s eye view of the totality of children’s experience in education to help lead improvements right from early years to college. We will publish more research on what we learn about what works so that we can help others to improve.


Then being responsible. I am, of course, intensely aware of the impact of Ofsted judgments. We must use our power responsibly. In your industry, perhaps more than any other area, a poor judgement can have significant financial consequences. There can be big impacts on funding and the ability to even continue in business.

Now, as you would expect, I will reiterate that first and foremost our concerns are for the education and welfare of children. We will always report honestly on provision that is not good enough. But our responsibility to you is to make sure that our expectations of you are clear. That they are not constantly changing. And that you have fair recourse when you believe something has gone wrong during an inspection.

That’s why we recently expanded our successful myth-busting campaign into the early years sector. And why we will carry on being open about any future changes we plan to make to inspection. It is also why I have committed to there being no major changes to the common inspection framework until 2019, so that you can have certainty about what is coming and when. When I say ‘major’, I don’t mean to sound weasely, but simply need to acknowledge that sometimes changes are needed to make sure things are clear or because of new legislation.

Our duty to act responsibly also lies behind a major revamp of our online registration and payment systems. I know that our current systems aren’t good enough. I appreciate that time and effort of your staff spent on working through these clunky and sometimes impenetrable systems is time away from children. That simply isn’t good enough. That’s why we are investing in a major overhaul.

The project is only part way through, but I am confident that when complete, your experience will be transformed.

It is only by learning what you need that we can design a service that is right for you. So we are testing and refining the service as we go, with input from the sector at each stage, to make sure that working with Ofsted and completing tasks online is simpler, clearer and faster.


And thirdly, being focused. Like all public sector organisations, Ofsted faces the challenge of doing more with less.

This challenge can be met, in part, through greater efficiency but we also have to be honest and realistic about the choices we face about how we target inspection. We have to ask ourselves how finite resources can be put to best use.

This isn’t just about deciding which nurseries and childminders we prioritise for inspection. It means working out how our models should evolve to match the changes taking place in the sector. As with the growth of multi-academy trusts in the school space, with the trend towards chain operators of nurseries I want to be sure that inspection properly reflects how things work. That it allows us to get the best assurance about young people’s education and well-being, at minimum burden to providers.

So, over the next year we will be developing our conversation with you about how we can improve our regulation and inspection. And we will use your knowledge and insight to focus our inspections where they will have the most impact. Indeed, that conversation has already started.

Making sure our work is focused is not just about who we inspect and when. It also means thinking about what we look at during inspection and where the role of an inspector has the biggest impact. We need to ask: what are the elements of provision that are genuinely best explored through inspection?

As we work towards a new inspection framework for 2019, there are a number of areas that we are reflecting on.


One of these is risk. Earlier this year, I wrote about the importance of achieving the right balance when it comes to keeping children safe. That we must be careful not to deprive children of fulfilling educational experiences for fear of ‘what if’.

For those of you who saw the piece in the news, I had more feedback, and it’s been positive feedback, about this than anything else I’ve said or written before or since. It is clearly a debate that generates significant interest and passion. I believe it is debate that is just as relevant to the early years as any other part of the education world.

The welfare and safety of children, of course, are at the very core of all early years provision. For parents, handing over their precious child into the care of strangers is a hugely emotional act. We should never underestimate the level of trust those parents are placing in childcare providers. First and foremost, parents want to be sure that you can keep their child safe from harm.

And of course you must be able to assure them of that. But my concern is that in doing so, and through the best of intentions, we are creating overly risk-free environments. Young children do need to have the opportunity to explore the world around them, to develop their physical skills or even sometimes just to run around until they are exhausted.

I am acutely aware that Ofsted hasn’t haven’t always got this right in the past. I want to be sure that our inspections and our inspectors aren’t driving any of the risk-averse behaviour.

So please understand that of course we expect you to take risk seriously and supervise young children properly. But we don’t expect you to take away the climbing frame in case someone falls or avoid journeys to the park for fear of crossing the road. It goes without saying that children need physical exercise to develop their muscular strength and dexterity but it is also important that their natural instincts to discover and explore aren’t stifled. This is, after all, one of the ways they learn.

Many of you are already striving to get this balance right. Happily, from what I observe, trends in the sector are also in the right direction. Indeed, I see one of your workshops this afternoon features forest nurseries. I know at least one of my children would have loved to spend their early childhood at one of those!

In the next few weeks, our inspectors will be doing some refresher training on how we look at safeguarding. And I do expect future inspection frameworks to be more explicit about the balance between risk and safety, always keeping in mind the requirements of the EYFS [Early Years Foundation Stage]. In the short term, we will be continuing our myth-busting campaign to make clear what we look at during an inspection and how we reach our judgements.

Speaking of myths, there is one that may be helpful for me to debunk right here, also in the spirit of being clear about what inspection does and does not focus on.

On my travels, I have had a lot of discussions about snack time and what Ofsted expects to see. I believe there are such things as ‘rolling snacks’, ‘self-serve snacks’, ‘free-flow snacks’, ‘continuous snacks’, ‘communal snacks’ – I could go on.

At first, I was perplexed. Why should the way a nursery organises its snack time be so important to Ofsted? Then I discovered that advice from various sources recommends the sort of snack that Ofsted prefers. That might have been born of a well-intended comment from one inspector to a single setting at some point, but it seems to have escalated into an enormous and pervasive myth.

So I will say here, inspectors do not expect to see any particular way of organising snacks. Communal snacks may be a useful way to introduce children to good table manners and help them to learn courtesy words, such as please and thank you.

But it is really a decision for you as providers to make. If children have other opportunities to pour water in play time, then self-service pouring is less important, and vice-versa. Ofsted is more interested in why you choose activities and the effect that they have on children’s development.

Something else that I’d like to be clear on are my comments to the Education Select Committee last week. As you may be aware, I gave the view to the committee that the quality of care in early years was very good but that of education not quite as good. I certainly was not intending to trash an entire sector, which might be the impression left from some of the follow-up coverage. I also made the point that, in my view, the problem lies, in part, with the EYFS. In the next few weeks, we will be publishing research on this issue which I hope you will find of interest.

Language development/the vital role of nurseries

This brings me to the final point I would like to raise today. There is a very important discussion to be had about the role of nurseries and childminders in preparing children for school.

The curriculum (or, to use EYFS terminology, the programme) that children experience in their early years is vital in this task. We know that young children are especially receptive between birth and age 5, when their brains develop at the fastest speed and they learn more rapidly than at any other age.

This means that the choices we make for very young children about the play things we provide, the games we play, the words we use, the stories we read and the songs we sing are all hugely important. I know that many of you here will have given the curriculum and the way you provide it much thought and I encourage you to do so.

I imagine most of you in the room today could stand with me now to recite ‘Sing a song of sixpence’ or ‘The grand old Duke of York’. But I don’t know that we can say that is still the case for children in lots of nurseries today.

That is a shame, because of the other great joy of nursery rhymes. They are a unifier. Providing a collective memory and experience for young children across the country. And often teaching a little bit of social history to boot. Which is why I would hope that every nursery and childminder would find the time for a nursery rhyme.

Nursery rhymes also help with vocabulary and we all know the huge value in helping young children develop their language skills. Put simply, the more words a child has heard by the time they start school the better. You have such an important job here, particularly to fill the gaps for those children who might not be exposed to the same range of vocabulary at home.

Children need to hear new language all the time. It might be taking the opportunity with a child looking at a pretty flower to talk to them about all the different parts of the plant. Or being more basic, talking to them while washing their hands, making suds from the soap, turning on the tap, running the water, oh dear too fast, too slow… I could go on because everything we do with children is an opportunity to introduce them to more words. Children are so open to absorbing new language. I remember when my younger daughter was 4, she had an Australian Reception teacher. I would often hear his voice in what she said – I must confess I wasn’t always thrilled about it!

So please don’t be afraid to teach them things. And before I get shouted down by the ‘save our childhood’ brigade, of course I don’t mean long lists on blackboards in formal lessons. I mean passing on new words, ideas and skills. Encouraging curiosity and rewarding inquisitiveness. Everything that helps a young child develop and be ready for school.


I know every one of you in this room shares the same ambitions that we all have at Ofsted. We all want the very best for young children across the country.

At Ofsted, we want to give you the space to do the right things. And we certainly don’t want to waste our time and yours inspecting the wrong things. We are on a journey of change, much as you are as you adapt to the new 30-hours programme. There will always be room for all of us to improve, Ofsted included. I hope we can be on that improvement journey together.