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What is personal development? Part 2.5 – What can we learn from Ofsted’s first term of reports?

After a burst of inspiration I spent a sleepy Sunday afternoon diving into the wonderful work of Philip Carr (@philiptcarr) and his compilation of Ofsted reports. This is the result!

Ofsted reports are now far from as ‘instructive’ as the previous generation for leaders outside of the inspected schools. This is likely a good thing – Ofsted were never intended to function like a common law framework, with precedent dictating future judgements and schools closely basing their decisions on the successes of others in a bid to recreate standards deemed as ‘outstanding’ in the past. The new reports are significantly briefer, and less detailed.

In most cases, it is my understanding that leaders receive far more detailed and incisive feedback from inspectors, and that this is simply not published. This presumably covers all areas and not just those draw out as priorities in reports. This is as it should be, but doesn’t tell those of us outside these schools much about how Ofsted are inspecting PD in schools.

However, that which is mentioned in the reports may still be useful, in directing our attention towards key areas that have ‘risen to the top’ in the reviews of the provision of other schools.

An important caveat: I do not think that schools should do things ‘because Ofsted says so’, and an analysis like the below should certainly not be the starting point for a leader looking at PD. That way lies tokenistic, box-ticking madness! I do live in the real world of leadership though, and accountability matters (I’m not so enlightened as to not care what Ofsted thinks of my work) so I think this is a useful activity if only to cross-check the quality of our fledgling PD curricula against what has already been judged by Ofsted.

I am grateful to the fantastic work of Philip Carr (@philiptcarr) in drawing the first term’s Ofsted reports together in one place; it is from this compilation that I have drawn together the below in one place.

Personal development grading analysis:

I have looked at a compilation of 116 Ofsted reports conducted during the Autumn term of 2019-20. I have only looked at reports for which the breakdown of judgments was available.

It’s also interesting to look at the relationship between the PD judgments and the overall effectiveness (whole school) judgments:

Not surprising: all Ofsted reports bar one that I had access to take the lowest grade awarded at OE (there is one Good school with an RI in leadership, that’s it)

Looking at this a little bit more, it’s interesting to see the impact of an ‘outstanding’ PD judgment.

I still don’t think many conclusions can be drawn from this relatively small set of data; however, it does drive home what we already most likely knew: that your school is only as good as your personal development! (Although this can be said for all the judgments…)

One other area of interest is the discrepancy between judgements for ‘behaviour and attitudes’ and ‘personal development’. Judging from some of the language in the framework, and in Ofsted’s research informing the framework, I had expected these judgments to be closely linked.

Again, without wanting to go too far in drawing conclusions, this does perhaps imply that the behaviour judgment forms the foundation of the PD judgment – or at least that you can’t have great personal development if students aren’t behaving well. Something to think about!

What do reports that grade PD as ‘Outstanding’ say?

I’ve looked at the reports for the 13 schools graded Outstanding for PD, and tried to look for patterns in order to learn a little more about what the most important elements of PD are. I’m not looking to game the system; in the same way that we know that curriculum is likely the ‘leading’ theme of the QOE judgment, it’s fair to look at whether PD also has its key themes and priorities.

*I have counted references to democracy, rights & liberty, tolerance & diversity and the rule of law as ‘British values’, although most reports make explicit reference to either BV or ‘prepared for life in modern Britain.

**Like with BV, the theme of SMSC is made up of a heap of interconnected ideas. Also lots of cross-over with BV – my interpretation but generally includes specific reference to the words social, moral, spiritual and/or cultural

I also looked at references to ‘character’ (2 mentions), charity (2 mentions) and debate/discussion (3 mentions).

In the most glowing reports, by far the greatest emphasis was on breadth and quality of extra-curricular offers, and the general theme of ‘preparing students for life in modern Britain’. If nothing else this reminds schools that extra-curricular offers and coherent Citizenship education have been crucial foundations to strong PD judgments during these early months.

What do reports that grade PD as ‘Requires Improvement’ say?

I also looked at the areas most often noted as areas of weakness amongst schools whose PD was graded as RI. I looked at 13 of the 17 schools.

*By PD curriculum, I refer to comments specifically focussing on the planning, organisation, structure and content of the PD programme. This includes comments about general teaching (e.g. one report complaining that students do not remember what they are taught as part of PD)

The most interesting thing to come out of reading these RI reports was that there is relatively little reference to specific areas of weakness in PD, and in most of these reports a significant number of strengths are noted also.

Of the schools with RI judgments for PD, 11 have specific references made to PD in their ‘what does this school need to do to improve?’ comments. Most of these are general comments about the quality of the PD curriculum. Below is an example of what I mean from one report:

“Leaders have introduced a new personal development programme. While it is improving the provision, it does not yet sufficiently support pupils’ understanding of being a citizen in modern Britain. Leaders should make sure that all pupils gain sufficient knowledge about life in modern Britain.”

So what can we learn?

In all honesty I don’t think we can draw any solid conclusions from this for a number of reasons, the most significant of which is that we know that Ofsted’s approach to inspections under the new framework remains in its infancy.

However, if we were to draw out a few key themes that seem likely to stick around, I would point to:

  • PSHE and SMSC, despite perhaps not getting pride of place in the EIF, remain central to what Ofsted conceive as ‘preparing students for life in modern Britain’ and rightly so

  • The extra-curricular offer of schools is anything but extra; schools need to pour serious time and energy into this area of school life (and not just sport)

  • An explicit understanding of British values and ‘what it means to be British’ is looking like something inspectors are going looking for; leaders need to be mindful of this and construct their curriculum accordingly

  • The overall organisation and quality of the personal development curriculum is important; there needs to be strong leadership of this area

So far, so good!

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