Inspections are back

This article originally appeared in Leader magazine
Issue 120 | Autumn Term 1 2021

With Ofsted inspections resuming after 18 months, and after two summers of no performance data and several major Ofsted reports, what will inspections look like? Here, ASCL Curriculum and Inspection Specialist Tom Middlehurst shares his insights.

This term, routine Ofsted inspections resume 18 months after they were suspended. Of course, many schools and colleges were visited during this time as part of the autumn or spring visit programme or the more recent section 8 monitoring inspections. However, for most schools due a ‘routine’ inspection, it’s only now that they’re likely to see inspectors in the building. So what will this look like? Obviously, a lot has happened since March 2020 – not least two summers of no performance data and several major Ofsted reports, including the review into sexual abuse in schools and colleges (tinyurl.com/3dscjrnp).

While ‘preparing’ for an Ofsted inspection isn’t recommended, it’s useful to consider what inspection activity might look like in the coming terms – not least because many of the reports make important recommendations about the wellbeing and learning of young people.

Due an inspection? When can you expect it?

Because most routine inspections were suspended, Ofsted now has a backlog to get through. Furthermore, the removal of the exemption for outstanding schools means an even greater number are due an inspection soon.

Ofsted has been given six terms to ‘catch up’ with its normal inspection cycle. This means that whether you were due an inspection from March 2020, are due an inspection this year or are an outstanding school that is no longer exempt, your inspection could fall any time from this term to summer 2023.

Beyond this broad timeframe, it’s impossible to say when a school or college in a particular context may be inspected, highlighting again the importance of not trying to second-guess an inspection but instead focusing on the ongoing impacts of the pandemic on students’ learning and wellbeing.

Is Ofsted using the Education Inspection Framework (EIF)?

The EIF remains in place and a large core of the framework remains the judgement on the quality of education. Whereas published reports from September 2019 to March 2020 seemed to highlight areas such as the length of key stages and English Baccalaureate (EBacc) entry rates, we can perhaps expect a change in emphasis going forward, that is: How are you assessing and addressing lost learning? How are you adapting the curriculum to the needs of students? If ongoing disruption occurs, how are you maintaining the same quality of education?

However, the underlying principles are the same. Are you teaching a broad, balanced and ambitious curriculum for all? Is your curriculum, at a subject level, sequenced in an appropriate way that helps students learn and remember more? How are learning gaps addressed through the curriculum?

The best way to ‘prepare’ for an upcoming inspection is to ensure that you maintain a rigorous, robust and ambitious curriculum that is meeting the current needs of your students, especially given the differential impact of the pandemic on individuals and schools and colleges.

How will Ofsted inspect without any data?

Ofsted and the DfE have confirmed that no performance data for Key Stage 2, Key Stage 4 or Key Stage 5 will be calculated or made available in the inspection data summary report (IDSR) for 2019–2020 or for 2020–2021.

This means that inspectors will not have access to any performance data, even data that you worked out yourself and shared publicly from the last two years. For secondary schools, sixth forms and FE colleges, inspectors will have data about qualification entries, and destination data.

As before, inspectors will not look at internal data during an inspection, which includes mock or shadow performance measures such as Progress 8 that may have been calculated by third parties. A reminder that Progress 8 and Key Stage 5 progress measures do not exist for 2020 or 2021.

The EIF is already well-placed to inspect schools given this absence of data, as it looks at what is currently happening in your school or college, not just historical outcomes. Of course, you should be able to discuss and evidence the impact of your education on young people, and may need to find different ways of doing that for the past two years.

Does Ofsted expect you to have caught up with the curriculum?

In many ways the term ‘catch up’ is unhelpful; it implies that the curriculum is a set document that should be followed relentlessly, regardless of whether content is being absorbed or not.

The chief inspector has helpfully warned against any attempts to ‘race through’ curriculum plans to try to catch up; instead focus on the core knowledge and skills students need in each subject and ensure this is properly understood before moving on.

Curriculum leaders and teachers should build on the curriculum thinking they’ve already done and ensure that curriculum content addresses any gaps in learning, is usefully sequenced and prioritised for progression. Curriculum leaders might consider the following:

  1. What content/knowledge/skills haven’t been taught to each year group because of the pandemic?

  2. Are there areas that may be less firmly embedded due to the pandemic (for example, taught remotely or not taught to all pupils in the same way)?

  3. How do we identify gaps in learning and knowledge through low-stakes assessment?

  4. How do we prioritise content for progression, and sequence this to have maximum impact?

  5. How do we adapt curriculum maps in light of this evidence?

  6. Safeguarding and sexual harassment

The Ofsted review into sexual abuse in schools and colleges is hard – but compulsory – reading for all school and college staff. If you haven’t shared the review, and proactively responded to the outcomes, we strongly urge you to.

The review confirms what many already know: sexist bullying and homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) bullying is endemic, as is sexual abuse and harassment, and often not reported by victims.

Generation X and Generation Alpha (who now make up all of our school and college population) have grown up in a world of social media, and the pressure to send nudes and the expectation of receiving unsolicited nudes is sadly a given. This is particularly true for cis females, although other students also feel pressure.

The revised Ofsted handbook makes clear that schools and colleges must assume that sexual abuse and online harassment is taking place within their school community, whether on-site, off-site or online, even when there are no reports of such behaviours.

A failure to tackle this endemic issue is likely to result in an inadequate safeguarding judgement, which in itself is likely to result in an inadequate judgement on leadership and management, and an overall inadequate judgement.

Schools and colleges will need to consider how they are proactively combating sexual abuse through the curriculum, including the statutory relationships and sex education (RSE) curriculum, how they respond to any reports or complaints and how staff are trained in these issues.

Many of you have told us you think it’s too soon for Ofsted to resume inspections. We hear those concerns and have passed them on to the inspectorate. But if you’re due an inspection in the coming six terms, the best thing you can do is ensure that pupils are safe and that their learning needs are being met as fully as possible.

Concerns?

If you have any concerns about inspection, please contact the ASCL Hotline on 0116 299 1122.

Tom Middlehurst
ASCL Curriculum and Inspection Specialist
@Tom_Middlehurst

Related Pages

What are we fighting for?

  • Curriculum
  • Inspection
  • Ofsted
  • Remote learning
  • Performance measures

FE inspections: Ofsted Annual Report 2019/20

  • Post-16
  • Accountability
  • Inspection
  • Ofsted