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7 Cognitive Science things we noticed in the new Ofsted framework

7 Cognitive Science things we noticed in the new Ofsted framework

4 min read
  • Becoming evidence-informed

Ofsted have just announced their new proposed framework, which is the first change since 2015. It covers a range of areas, such as behaviour, teaching and curriculum. But the part that really caught our eye here at InnerDrive mainly relates to their sections on how people learn.

Given that we have a book due out in a month called The Science of Learning, [EDIT: it’s out now!] we were keen to see what research they were using as the foundation of their advice. We have to say, we think they have done a very impressive job. Here are 7 things in the new Ofsted framework that caught our eye:

Retrieval Practice

They explain that retrieval practice “involves recalling something you have learned in the past and bringing it back to mind; it is far more effective than more frequently used strategies such as re-reading”. Retrieval practice strengthens memory and makes it easier to retrieve the information later.

As well as the benefits they mentioned, a recent study found that students who studied using retrieval practice are more likely to recall that information under pressurised conditions (i.e. for students taking final exams).

For tips on how to use retrieval practice, our blog on ‘How to Actually Use Retrieval Practice’ and ’Using Retrieval Practice to Improve Metacognition’ may help.


Ofsted state that it is “becoming increasingly clear that using spaced or distributed practice, where knowledge is rehearsed for short periods over a longer period of time, is more effective than so-called massed practice, where we study more intensively for a shorter period of time”.

Little and often will always trump a lot at once, as memory is enhance the more the content is revisited just before it gets forgotten, as confirmed by this seminal study.

For more tips on this, our ‘Introductory Guide to Spacing’ should help.


Ofsted note that “traditionally, most schools use blocking, where practice of particular knowledge happens in blocks (e.g. AAABBBCCC). In interleaving, we instead mix practice of A, B and C (e.g. ABCABCABC). There is growing evidence that this can improve retention, and research in mathematics is particularly promising”.

One fascinating study that looked at this found that ‘blocking’ was more effective if the test was done straight after the revision session. This tends to give the illusion of knowledge. However, for exams that were taking at least a day after the revision session, interleaving led to far higher retention and grades.


Ofsted state that dual-coding theory “suggests that representing information both visually and verbally enhances learning and retrieval from memory. The principle underlying this is that visual and verbal information are processed through different channels in the brain, creating separate representations for information processed in each channel”.

The seminal study on dual-coding found that students who revised with words and pictures performed twice as well in a problem solving test compared to those who had just revised with words. Students can use dual-coding by asking themselves “what words describe what are in the visuals?” and “what visual representations can I make to reflect the key messages in this text?”. Some visuals work better for different contexts so, for example, a timeline may be suitable in history whereas a mind-map may be better suited to remember different psychological theories.

High-impact CPD made easy. Develop evidence-informed CPD at your school, using our exclusive online collection of courses and resources.

The Pygmalion Effect

The Pygmalion Effect is used to describe the impact that high teacher expectations have on student performance. They cite this famous study, which launched this area of research. The opposite of the Pygmalion Effect is called ‘The Golem Effect’ which states that people tend to underperform if there are low expectations on them.

Other research worth knowing in this area states that high teacher expectations alone are not enough. This effect is magnified if both students and parents share those high expectations. It is also worth noting that aspirations are not the same as expectations; the former is what you want to happen, and the latter what you believe will happen.


In the Ofsted framework, resilience is explained as “adjusting to adversity when it happens and bouncing back afterwards. It has been defined as: ‘The process of effectively negotiating, adapting to sources of stress, or managing significant sources of stress or trauma’”.

We think schools should pay attention to a similar but distinct concept, that of ‘Academic Buoyancy’, which looks at the ability to manage specific day to day challenges that school brings. The main difference here is that it is more relevant and applicable to the everyday lives of our students. For schools interested in resilience, then focusing on creating a challenging and supportive environment along with individual skills such as self-talk and self-regulation probably offer the best bets.

How to do CPD

Finally, the report looks at how to help make CPD more effective. They draw on a comprehensive review which offers numerous tips. They note that effective CPD often has some external input, as external providers can “make the knowledge base in their field available to participants (…) introduce participants to new knowledge and skills, help teachers believe they can make a difference to pupil outcome and act as mentors and facilitators”.

Final thoughts

The landscape of teaching is changing. Over the last few years there has been a significant drive to become more research informed. In our next book, we write that the Scottish poet Andrew Lange once said that “some individuals use statistics as a drunk man uses lamp-posts — for support rather than for illumination“.

We think the same can be true for psychology research paper. This applies as well to this Ofsted framework. It doesn’t seek to provide a definitive answer, however it does offer much needed guidance in how people learn. Well played Ofsted!

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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