Free article: Attendance and the new Ofsted framework

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The consultation documents are out. Educators can finally see in print what the inspection service is proposing for the new framework in September. Suzanne O’Connell identifies some of the key issues for the attendance officer.

Summary

  • There is a change of emphasis in the draft Ofsted framework.
  • Attendance is included in the Behaviour and attitudes judgement.
  • Exclusions will be closely examined.

They said it would arrive in January and Ofsted were true to their promise. A draft inspection handbook, framework document and research overview were published and comments are invited until 5 April.

There are now four judgements underpinning the Overall effectiveness judgement:

  1. Quality of education.
  2. Behaviour and attitudes.
  3.  Personal development.
  4. Leadership and management.

There are some marked shifts in emphasis in the draft framework. As was widely expected, the curriculum is much more prominent and is included in the Quality of education judgement. This judgement is divided into Intent, Implementation and Impact, although there will not be separate judgements for these different strands.

Personal development is now separate to Behaviour and attitudes, and incorporates spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. Safeguarding is within Leadership and management and to achieve an Outstanding judgement here, the grade descriptor states:

‘Staff consistently report high levels of support for well-being issues.’

The framework recognises how important the home environment and community are in influencing Personal development:

‘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.’

This framework is no longer just about the outcomes, but instead examines the broader picture of the efforts of the school and even the context in which it works.

Attendance

Attendance is now covered in the Behaviour and attitudes judgement. This judgement considers how leaders and staff create a safe, calm, orderly and positive environment in the school and the impact this has on the behaviour and attitudes of pupils.

Factors that are considered important include:

  • a calm and orderly environment enabling pupils to learn
  • clear routines and expectations
  • strong focus on attendance and punctuality so that disruption is minimised
  • clear and effective behaviour and attendance policies which clearly define consequences that are applied consistently and fairly by all staff
  • pupil motivation and positive attitudes to learning
  • a positive, respectful school culture in which staff know and care about pupils
  • an environment where pupils feel safe, in which bullying and discrimination are not accepted and in which they are dealt with quickly, consistently and effectively whenever they occur.

In the Behaviour and attitudes section of the draft framework, there is clear reference to attendance and behaviour of pupils with particular needs. Inspectors will:

‘evaluate the impact of schools’ high expectations, the consistent, fair implementation of policies, and their impact on the demonstrable improvement of the attendance and behaviour of these pupils.’

The proposals suggest that inspectors will analyse absence and persistent absence rates for all pupils and for different groups in relation to national averages for all pupils. Punctuality is also mentioned, as is inspectors’ interest in low attenders improving their attendance over time. This is very similar to previous inspection judgements.
The grade descriptor for Good and Outstanding schools is less detailed than previously. It simply states that:

‘Pupils have high attendance, come on time to school and are punctual to lessons.’

This is in comparison to the previous grade descriptor:

‘Pupils value their education. Few are absent or persistently absent. No groups of pupils are disadvantaged by low attendance. The attendance of pupils who have previously had exceptionally high rates of absence is showing marked and sustained improvement.’

The grade descriptor for ‘Inadequate’ states:

‘Attendance is consistently low for all pupils or groups of pupils and shows little sign of sustained improvement.’

This grade descriptor is exactly the same as in the previous framework. If the attendance officer was hoping for a shift from quantative to qualitative evidence of a school’s attendance work, there is little to suggest that here.

However, the draft framework acknowledges that:

‘The school may be working with pupils with particular needs in order to improve their behaviour or their attendance.’

Inspectors will expect to see improvement in the attendance and behaviour of these pupils, ‘taking account of the individual circumstances of the school’. This sentence could make a big difference to some schools and perhaps gives some hope that inspectors can be a little more flexible.

Safeguarding is part of the Leadership and management judgement. An ineffective judgement here might be given if it’s considered that:

‘Pupils are frequently missing from school (including for part of the school day) but this is not addressed appropriately by staff.’

Attendance officers will still need precise records of exactly how pupil absence is followed up and acted upon.

Exclusions and alternative provision

There is a clear concern evident in this proposed framework with the practices of off-rolling pupils and ‘gaming’. It is made clear that a school could be judged Inadequate if it’s found that they engage in these activities.

Inspectors will be expected to look long and hard at rates of exclusion and the work that schools are doing to prevent it. Schools will be expected to demonstrate that they follow up and support fixed-term excluded pupils.

In order for a school to be judged Good or Outstanding, it must be shown that fixed-term exclusions are used appropriately. Inspectors will be on the look-out for schools removing pupils from the school site on the day of the inspection and internal exclusion will also be checked.

However, the inspectors’ handbook does acknowledge that permanent exclusions are permitted and can have an important role in ensuring the quality of education provided. What is clear is that any exclusion that takes place must be backed up by evidence of how the decision was reached and with strong justification for it.

Inspectors will visit off-site units that the school runs either in partnership or on its own, for pupils whose behaviour is poor or who have low attendance. They will assess:

  • safeguarding procedures
  • the quality of teaching
  • how effectively the unit helps improve pupils’ behaviour, learning and attendance.

It is important that the school has clear measures in place to show that they consistently follow up the well-being of pupils who have been sent there. 

A welcome change?

The education service has consistently twisted and turned under the pressure that school inspection has exerted on it. For those frustrated by the assumption that the quality of a school can be judged solely by its outcomes, the change of emphasis will be welcome. However, it is likely that attendance will continue to be an area where the statistics tell most, if not all, of the story.

Further information

About the author

Dr Suzanne O’Connell is a freelance writer specialising in education. Prior to this she taught for 23 years and was a headteacher of a junior school in Nuneaton for 11 years.

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About Author

Dr. Suzanne O'Connell

Dr Suzanne O’Connell is a freelance writer specialising in education. She is also the Managing Editor of Attendance Matters Magazine. Prior to this she taught for 23 years and was a headteacher of a junior school in Nuneaton for 11 years.

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