Ofsted recently launched a consultation seeking views on its proposals for changes to the education inspection framework from September 2019. NAEE has contributed to (and supported) the response to Ofsted made by the Natural Environment Sector Partnership [NESP], which is organised by the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom on behalf of the learning outside the classroom sector.
In making our own submission to Ofsted we have built on aspects of the CLOtC / NESP response, and on that of the Green Schools Project. In doing so we have made a case [i] for schools in England to have a much stronger curriculum focus on the environmental issues we face, and on what we can do about these, and [ii] for Ofsted to inspect schools in relation to this focus.
In particular, NAEE thinks that Ofsted’s quality of education judgement needs to take into account the imperilled nature of the biosphere and support and encourage a curriculum that helps young people understand the nature of the problems we face, and needs to help them prepare to play a part in taking positive action in relation to the problems. NAEE also thinks that any school not doing this in an age- and pedagogically-appropriate manner ought to be seen by Ofsted as offering an education of poor quality and therefore be judged as requiring improvement. Our full response is set out below.
Ofsted Proposal 1: Introduction of ‘quality of education’ judgement
We propose the introduction of a new ‘quality of education’ judgement built around our working definition of the curriculum. It will focus on a provider’s educational intent, implementation and impact. Inspectors look at teaching, assessment, attainment and progress under the current inspection framework, and they will continue to do so, but these considerations will contribute, viewed in the context of the provider’s curriculum, to a single quality of education judgement. In short, we propose to take a holistic approach to considering the quality of education rather than artificially separating the leadership of the curriculum from teaching, and separating teaching and the use of assessment from the impact this has on the outcomes that learners achieve. This will de-intensify the inspection focus on performance data and place more emphasis on the substance of education and what matters most to learners and practitioners.
To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposal to introduce a ‘quality of education’ judgement?
The National Association for Environmental Education [NAEE] is an educational charity whose purpose is to advance environmental education within early years settings, primary and secondary schools, and institutions responsible for teacher education. It operates across the UK and has an international reach.
NAEE welcomes Ofsted’s proposal to put the curriculum at the heart of the inspection framework and to adopt a broader view on the quality of education which pupils receive. However, as well as a goal of being of personal benefit, NAEE thinks that this needs to help young people understand that they ought to play a significant part in the great socio-political issues of our time, particularly climate change, the huge damage to the biosphere more generally (species, habitat, biodiversity loss), and the critical and urgent threats that these pose both in the UK and internationally.
NAEE thinks that in these difficult and unprecedented times a judgement on educational quality cannot be divorced from either the wider context in which schools operate or the content of what is taught in them. When significant numbers of young people are on the streets protesting about the inadequacy of government policy in relation to both climate change and the curriculum, the current Ofsted proposals have a worrying timeless and unworldly feel to them.
NAEE agrees that the curriculum should ensure young people are well prepared for life after school during their years as school students, not just in a personal sense but also in being able to play an active part in society. As such, we think that they must have significant opportunities to experience the realities of the world beyond the school. This point is well made in the comments from the Natural Environment Sector Partnership [NESP] Ofsted has received, and we unreservedly support making structured learning experiences beyond the school, mediated by professional educators including those in the third sector, an integral part of pupil’s experience.
NAEE would argue, however, that such experience should not just be used to augment, amplify or consolidate in-school activities, or contribute to pupil well-being – important though these clearly are. Rather, activity both within and beyond the school should enable pupils to get direct experience of the world’s life-support systems with a view to acquiring appropriate knowledge, understanding and insights into how it functions and its significance to all life on Earth. Ideally, this will result in the development of a willingness and the capability to act for and on behalf of the world that they and their descendants will have to live in.
- 86% agreed that all schools and colleges should be doing things to help the environment
- 85% agreed that all schools and colleges should be encouraging and helping “pupils like me” to do things to help the environment
- 80% said that it is fairly or very important for world leaders to do more to tackle climate change
- 68% were interested in learning more about the environment
- 49% said that they would like to be involved with projects or activities at their school or college that help the environment
In the light of this NAEE thinks that a ‘quality of education’ judgement needs to take into account the imperilled nature of the biosphere and support and encourage a curriculum that helps young people understand the nature of the problems we face, and needs to help pupils prepare to play a part in taking positive action in relation to them.
NAEE thinks that any school not doing this – in an age- and pedagogically-appropriate manner – ought to be seen by Ofsted as offering an education of poor quality and therefore be judged as requiring improvement.
The National Association for Environmental Education fully agrees with the two recommendations made by the Green Schools Project:
 that the personal development section  of the inspection framework should reference the natural world; ie,
Inspectors will make a judgement on the personal development of learners by evaluating the extent to which:
- the provider prepares learners for life in modern Britain by: equipping them to be responsible, respectful, active citizens who contribute positively to society and the natural world; 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.
 that this should be backed up by a bullet point in the maintained schools and academies handbook in section 202 (and corresponding sections in the other handbooks):
“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:
- Contributing positively to the natural world by understanding the impact of climate change and playing an active role in protecting the living planet.
Ofsted Proposal 2: Separation of judgements
We propose to judge ‘personal development’ separately from ‘behaviour and attitudes’ to enhance the inspection focus on each and enable clearer reporting on both. This approach recognises the very different elements in focus. We believe that the behaviour and the attitudes learners of all ages bring to learning is best evaluated and judged separately from the provision made to promote learners’ wider personal development, character and resilience.
To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposed separation of inspection judgements about learners’ personal development and learners’ behaviour and attitudes?
The National Association for Environmental Education strongly agrees that a separate focus on personal development supports the importance of helping young people prepare for life beyond school. However, NAEE does not think that such development should be wholly focused on the individual. Rather, it also needs to focus on the informed contributions they will need to make through social and cultural engagement if they are to help bring about much needed social and environmental change.
NAEE knows, as part of this, that developing pupils’ resilience is important, and agrees with the Natural Environment Sector Partnership [NESP] that experiences beyond the classroom are useful in bringing the curriculum alive and preparing young people for the world and its challenges. NESP has cited numerous studies to support this contention which we do not duplicate here. NAEE does, however, wish to focus on the Gill paper they cited, which argued for the development of a sense of responsibility:
“Education in its broadest sense is not just about delivering a curriculum. It is about giving children the chance to extend their life skills. It is about developing confidence. It is about fostering resilience and a sense of responsibility. And – let us not forget – it is about the enjoyment, engagement and excitement about venturing out into the real world, with all its capacity for uncertainty, surprise, stimulation and delight.” [Gill, 2010 Nothing Ventured … Balancing risks and benefits in the outdoors. EOC, p22]
NAEE agrees with this but argues that responsibility has to relate not just to the self and family, but in addition to society more generally, and this is difficult when so much emphasis is placed on personal development. We think that the issues that we have highlighted (above) will not be resolved by just taking responsibility for personal actions, but by getting involved with other people and organisations and taking social actions of many kinds. We think that Ofsted needs to influence schools to help young people do this.
Ofsted Proposal re draft school inspection handbooks
The National Association for Environmental Education [NAEE] agrees with the Natural Environment Sector Partnership [NESP] that the language used within the draft inspection handbooks implies to inspectors (and therefore to those being inspected) that it is normal for learning to take place in a classroom setting and that this is likely to have a limiting effect on creativity and initiative when it comes to designing learning experiences that encompass more inclusive and diverse spaces and thus engage a greater proportion of students. Consider the following text, for example:
“Lesson observation is also useful for gathering evidence that contributes to thebehaviour and attitudes judgement by providing direct evidence about howbehaviour is managed within individual classrooms and how pupils respond to thismanagement.” (Point 87 – Draft Maintained Schools and Academies Inspection Handbook)
We suggest, therefore, replacing ‘classroom’ with ‘learning contexts’.