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What is personal development? Part 2 - Understanding the 2019 Ofsted Framework

In the lead up to the launch of the new Ofsted framework in 2019, the chief inspector of schools Amanda Spielman outlined the philosophical and political impetus behind the newly delineated ‘personal development’ judgment in the framework. Among other strands of rationale, it was argued convincingly that a specific judgment was needed to recognise the “work that schools do to prepare children and young people to take their place as adults and active citizens in modern Britain”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the immense influence of the inspectorate, the addition of this judgment lit a fire under many school leadership teams. However, despite six pages in the Section 5 school inspection handbook (the guidance governing ‘full’ inspections of schools) there remains a lack of clarity about exactly what Ofsted expect to see from schools in terms of their PD provision, and moreover about what constitutes ‘outstanding’ practice in an Ofsted context.

In this blog, the second in a series addressing the question of ‘what is personal development?’ I’m going to draw out some of the key features of Ofsted’s conception of PD, attempt to make inferences about what is most important, and look at how Ofsted are likely to measure the quality of PD provision.

It’s worth saying that I have not been through an inspection under the new framework and that my interpretations of the framework are exactly that; an interpretation cobbled together from a close reading of the framework, related documentation and research, and reports both written by Ofsted and teachers and leaders who have been through the process. I will include significant extracts from Ofsted’s own guidance in this blog and I encourage any reader to draw their own conclusions and critique mine.

What are the key features of Ofsted’s ‘personal development’ judgment?

The Education Inspection Framework 2019:

The first thing to note is that there’s a significant jump in detail between what the Education Inspection Framework 2019 (EIF) states it will evaluate, and what is included in the more detailed Section 5 School Inspection Handbook 2019 (SIH). Of course, the EIF doesn’t seek to be exhaustive, but it’s definitely important to read both documents together.

I have included the full section below to allow you to draw out your own conclusions about priorities:

  • the curriculum extends beyond the academic, technical or vocational. It provides for learners’ broader development, enabling them to develop and discover their interests and talents

  • the curriculum and the provider’s wider work support learners to develop their character – including their resilience, confidence and independence – and help them know how to keep physically and mentally healthy

  • at each stage of education, the provider prepares learners for future success in their next steps

  • the provider prepares learners for life in modern Britain by:

  • equipping them to be responsible, respectful, active citizens who contribute positively to society

  • developing their understanding of fundamental British values

  • developing their understanding and appreciation of diversity

  • celebrating what we have in common and promoting respect for the different protected characteristics as defined in law.” (EIF)

My own interpretation is that at the heart of the PD judgment within the EIF are five strands:

  • Extra-curricular opportunities (“discover their interests and talents”) in particular around the arts

  • Character education (“develop their character”)

  • Health and wellbeing education (“help them know how to keep physically and mentally healthy”)

  • Careers education (“prepares learners for future success”)

  • Citizenship education (“prepare learners for life in modern Britain”)

So, so far so good! These are likely the priority areas for many a PD lead, and it’s gratifying for them to be given their own judgment in which to shine.

However, it’s perhaps a little strange that there’s no direct mention of ‘SMSC’ or ‘PSHE’ within the EIF. Indeed, there’s only one sentence (in the ‘intent’ section of the quality of education judgment) mentioning cultural capital. While this may be rooted in a desire to avoid an overly prescriptive framework, it does seem incongruous given the emphasis on SMSC and in particular RSE within wider legislation, and adds to the feeling that school leaders need to consume a lot of documentation in order to build a secure understanding of the expectations on their curricula and their schools.

The school inspection handbook (section 5) 2019:

The section 5 handbook delves into some greater detail, and it’s in this document that the breadth of the PD judgment becomes clearer. Between pages 58 and 61, a significant body of content that will be focussed on is identified.

This judgement focuses on the dimensions of the personal development of pupils that our education system has agreed, either by consensus or statute, are the most significant. (SIH)

While a full commentary would be excessive and the handbook is pretty good on the detail, the scope of the content can be a little daunting given that the majority of the points included are hardly simple. If anyone knows how to develop “responsible, respectful and active citizens who are able to play their part and become actively involved in public life as adults” securely and with limited time and resources, let me know; that’s only bullet number one!

I find it useful here to try and draw out the overarching themes. In the first section, which could be said to be the ‘core content’, these are:

  • Citizenship

  • British Values

  • Understanding of equality & inclusivity

  • Character

  • PSHE (including health, wellbeing, safety and risk)

  • Relationships and sex education

  • Careers education

The handbook goes on to discuss SMSC and define a range of characteristics, dispositions and values that are also outlined for assessment. There’s a great deal of detail here, and the handbook specifies all four elements of the acronym. This specification includes things like:

  • Reflectiveness

  • Respect and tolerance

  • Imagination and creativity

  • Ability to recognise right, wrong and consequence

  • Ability to socialise and participate, including through volunteering

  • Engagement with democracy

  • Understanding of and appreciation for diversity

  • Knowledge of our democratic system

I think it’s here that things start to get messy. As different elements begin to intersect and the judgment starts to look less like a judgment about a curriculum and school strategy and more about the deeply-held dispositions and attitudes of the young people attending a school, it’s easy to be daunted by the scale of the work at hand – especially in disadvantaged schools and those in which curriculum time is already stretched on activities from literacy catch-up to behaviour interventions. It’s easy to claim that robust PD education will go hand-in-hand with these activities, and I’d agree, but the reality of the situation can cause such claims to ring a tad hollow.

Finally, relationships and sex education (RSE) is identified and, given the statutory nature of this content from September 2020, naturally “if a school is failing to meet its obligations, inspectors will consider this when reaching the personal development judgement.”

As such, Ofsted’s conception of the content of PD seems to look something like the below:

How will Ofsted judge personal development?

So, we have much of the domain being judged laid out for us – brilliant! But how does Ofsted claim they will actually measure, scrutinise and judge the delivery of this content?

There have been many leaders across the country that contest the fairness of Ofsted judgments on the grounds that schools serving deprived and disadvantaged or socially fragmented communities are at a significant disadvantage. The data bears this out and it is a bleak picture (great blog about this from Stephen Tierney here: . It’s easy to see how the PD judgment could quite easily, given the emphasis on so much that many students from middle-class and advantaged backgrounds gain at home, further entrench this unfairness.

Perhaps mindful of this, Ofsted offer instead a sustained and I think genuine focus on the personal development curriculum offered by schools rather than a judgment on the extent to which children leave the school ‘more developed’. While only more time under the new framework will tell us the truth of this, this suggests to us two things:

  • That affluent schools cannot coast when it comes to personal development because of the ‘quality of their cohort’

  • That all schools need to be thinking deeply about the quality of the personal development curriculum that they are delivering.

Rightly, Ofsted are sceptical about the ability of the inspectorate to draw valid conclusions about the impact of personal development in schools. In the Section 5 handbook it is recognised that:

“the impact of the school’s provision for personal development will often not be assessable during pupils’ time at school.” (SIH)

Indeed, because of this limitation the handbook makes clear that:

“In this judgement, therefore, inspectors will seek to evaluate the quality and intent of what a school provides… but will not attempt to measure the impact of the school’s work on the lives of individual pupils.” (SIH)

What this seems to suggest is that, unlike other judgments which seek to look at impact and progress, the judging of PD will be based primarily on the quality of the curriculum itself. In other words, the priority is intent.

However, the sources of evidence identified in the Section 5 handbook don’t fully bear this out. Again, included in full:

“Inspectors will use a range of evidence to evaluate personal development, including:

  • the range, quality and take-up of extra-curricular activities offered by the school

  • how curriculum subjects such as citizenship, RE, and other areas such as personal, social, health and economic education, and relationship and sex education, contribute to pupils’ personal development

  • how well leaders promote British values through the curriculum, assemblies, wider opportunities, visits, discussions and literature

  • how well leaders develop pupils’ character through the education that they provide

  • where appropriate, the quality of debate and discussions that pupils have

  • pupils’ understanding of the protected characteristics and how equality and diversity are promoted

  • the quality of careers information, education, advice and guidance, and how well it benefits pupils in choosing and deciding on their next steps.” (SIH p.61)

This section seems to suggest that, alongside leaders’ accounts of personal development activities and an overview of the personal development curriculum which pulls together links to themes like PSHE, Citizenship, British Values and Careers, the following kinds of more objective evidence may still be sought:

  • Data on extra-curricular attendance and uptake (“range, quality and take-up of extra-curricular activities”)

  • Evidence relating to pupils’ own views on and understanding of protected characteristics and diversity (“pupils understanding of the protected characteristics…”)

  • Monitoring, evaluation and review of post-16 and post-18 destinations and pathway decision making (“how well [careers education] benefits pupils in choosing and deciding their next steps”)

As such, while it might be overzealous to recommend abandoning a focus on ‘impact’ entirely, it seems clear that the majority of evidence around PD will be evidence related to the curriculum and it’s implementation, rather than artificially produced data on outcomes. This seems a positive move, although I’d argue that it’s significantly more challenging for disadvantaged schools to, for example, maintain extremely high levels of participation in extra-curricular activities or secure ‘outstanding’ destinations across the board. Only time will tell whether inspectors take a sensitive and ‘fair’ view of this kind of data; the framework certainly seems to imply that inspectors could draw conclusions from it in any case.

Implications of the Ofsted framework for leaders of PD in schools:

Overall then the framework has a range of implications for leaders, some of which I’m going to develop in the third and final blog in this series:

  • Deep curriculum thinking (i.e. thinking about what’s most important to teach and include in the school experience) is crucial given the emphasis on intent.

  • It’s important to have a clearly developed, broad and holistic programme which is implemented fully and links to the full range of strands identified (it won’t be good enough to fall back on, say, robust destinations data or excellent GCSE progress as evidence of student ‘development’)

  • It’s not good enough to take as given that students will develop, say, kindness, creativity or an appreciation for diversity (even if most will). Explicit opportunities need to be built into the PD curriculum to ensure that all students have the opportunity to develop these qualities and we need to be able to articulate and justify how we do this

  • While data gathering exercises and over-the-top MER focuses around PD should be avoided where possible, there are some sources of objective data that we should seek to gather. It’s therefore important to think from day one about how our programmes include this.

In the final blog in this series I’m going to propose a model for organising and thinking about the ‘personal development curriculum’ and make some recommendations for leaders attempting to draw this all together.

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