Read Ofsted's reply to London students' open letter

Reimagining Education

Mon, Sep 28, 20

The UK's Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills replies to students who voiced their concerns over our education system.

In 2019, a group of students from London colleges wrote a powerful open letter to Ofsted about the impact of school experiences on mental health and personal development. Ofsted sent a reply to the students, which we’re sharing here today.

2 July, 2019

Dear Julia, Afruza, Fatima, Sadia, Reya, Maheen, Iqra, and Bea

Thank you for your letter to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman. Amanda has asked me to respond because, as Deputy Director for Schools, I led the development of the new framework and the consultation. It’s great to see students responding to our consultation. As you say, the views of students aren’t always given the prominence they deserve, so I value having your unique insight into the education system.

It is interesting that your letter expresses your very serious concerns about schools placing too much emphasis on tests and exams, and simply teaching what is needed to pass them. This too is the central focus of our new education inspection framework. We have designed it in a way that we will spend less time looking at exam results and test data, and more time considering how schools achieve their results. So, we will look at whether results are the outcome of a broad, rich curriculum and real learning, or whether the school has actually been teaching to the test and cramming for exams. Schools that focus on tests rather than the substance of what students and pupils learn are not going to be judged favourably under the new framework.

Our new framework will encourage schools to teach a broad, rich and well- sequenced curriculum that ensures pupils are receiving a high-quality education that puts them on a path to future success. The order in which we learn things really matters, as we each seek to build an ever deeper and more expert understanding of the object, subject or discipline that we are studying. I am glad to see you emphasising the importance of valuable knowledge, as this is the foundation of education. When we learn to do something complex, such as a musical or dramatic performance or writing an essay about the origins and causes of the cold war, we are using skills that draw on essential knowledge. A skill is a complex performance, drawing on what is known.

Much of what you talk about in your letter is supported by our own research, which, for example, shows that a good education supported by high-quality pastoral care is a strong ’protective factor’ for pupils that enables them to develop into resilient individuals with good mental health. Therefore, as you suggest, the well-designed curriculum our new ‘Quality of education’ judgement encourages, also promotes better pupil wellbeing and good mental health.

We also agree that a school should be judged on more than simply how pupils learn, although that is clearly a very important aspect. We have introduced two new judgements alongside ’Quality of education’; ’Personal development’ and ’Behaviour and attitudes’. Schools will, therefore, also be judged on what they do to develop young people in areas beyond the purely academic, technical or vocational, such as building resilience, confidence and independence and keeping them healthy, both physically and mentally. Schools will also be judged on how well they set high expectations for pupils’ behaviour and encourage positive attitudes to working.

Finally, I note your suggestions regarding work experience. Following our consultation, we have increased the focus placed on ensuring pupils receive careers advice and experience. We have made it clear that all pupils should receive unbiased information about potential next steps and high-quality careers guidance alongside good quality, meaningful opportunities to encounter the world of work. We have also set an expectation that good schools need to use the benchmarks produced by the Gatsby Foundation to develop and improve their careers provision.

Thank you so much for taking the time to write in and engage with important changes to our education system. Keep making your voices heard.

Yours sincerely, Matthew Purves Deputy Director, Schools (Ofsted)

States of Mind is working with UCL Institute of Education to develop our youth-led research project, Breaking The Silence, exploring the impact the education system has on young people’s mental health and personal development. Read more about it here, and watch this space as we share more about our findings in the coming weeks.