A lighter touch - inspections

02 April 2015

Leader logoSchools rated ‘good’ are the focus of the most important change to the Ofsted framework this year with more emphasis on professional dialogue, as Suzanne O’Farrell explains.

Details are beginning to emerge of what the new Ofsted inspection framework for September 2015 will look like following more than 4,000 responses to the consultation that closed in December.

Ofsted has also announced that it is ending the contracts of the three inspection service providers Serco, CfBT Education Trust and Tribal and that it will directly employ and train all inspectors. From September, they will be known simply as Ofsted inspectors (OIs).

Recruitment and training for inspectors are underway with Ofsted aiming to tackle the frequent criticisms we receive from members about the variability in the quality and consistency of inspections.

There will be four graded judgements – as there are now – and these will be applied across all settings through the introduction of the Common Inspection Framework. This framework will be supported by individual handbooks addressing the characteristics of each of the following sectors: maintained schools, further education and skills, non-association independent schools and early years. The four graded judgement areas will be:

  • effectiveness of leadership and management

  • personal development, behaviour and welfare

  • teaching, learning and assessment

  • outcomes for children and learners

Greater emphasis will be placed on safeguarding and the curriculum.

It does not represent a huge shift from the four current judgements, although Ofsted tell us that there will be some redefinition of what these areas mean. The inspectorate is also planning a series of national launch events in the summer to brief schools on the new framework with the publication of all documentation scheduled for June 2015.

What about the proposal for schools currently rated as ‘good’ by Ofsted?

This is the major change – the way in which ‘good’ providers are inspected through HMI-led shorter inspections. Short inspections will involve two inspectors on site for a single day and will take place every three years, so that parents can have much more up-to-date information about the school. The current half-day’s notice will still apply.

At the outset of the inspection, the assumption from the inspection team will be that the school continues to be ‘good’ and the key questions during inspection will be:

  • Are you as leaders, along with your governors, still sustaining the quality of provision in the school?

  • Is your school still a ‘good’ school and how do you know?

  • What difference is leadership making and does it have the capacity to sustain or improve the school?

Inevitably the focus will be on fewer areas and the rigour of the school’s own self-evaluation will be essential in determining the areas of focus.

Learning walks

The day is likely to start with a discussion with the leadership team on self-evaluation (SEF) priorities. Ofsted hope that this discussion will resemble more of a professional dialogue so that the inspectors, along with school leaders, come to a decision as to whether or not the school continues to provide a good education and good standards.

The format of the day will largely depend on the areas of focus but inevitably safeguarding, the curriculum, behaviour, outcomes for groups of students and the quality of teaching will all be explored. Visits to lessons will still take place, more in the form of the learning walks, similar to those that happen during the Ofsted monitoring visits, with the aim of validating or otherwise the school’s evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning.

If at the end of the intense (but not ‘cliff-edge’ day), the inspectors feel that there is the capacity in the school to sustain outcomes, parents will receive a letter to say that this provider continues to be ‘good’ and is maintaining good standards. There is no full set of judgements as such, although they may give pointers for improvement.

If the inspectors feel that the school is close to or performing at an outstanding level, then they can recommend a full section 5 inspection in due course.

However, if they are concerned about the school’s capacity to sustain its outcomes and there is evidence of a decline or that safeguarding is an issue, this can trigger a full section 5 inspection within a couple of weeks.

Ofsted carried out more than 30 pilots of this new format last term and are hoping to carry out another 60 in the spring across different sectors to test out the new inspection methodology. They also plan to ensure that there are ‘good practice’ support materials on their website.

Ofsted have repeatedly said how keen they are to have serving leaders as part of their workforce. At the moment they are reassessing all trained inspectors who will make up their team of Ofsted inspectors. Later in the spring, they will start to recruit more serving leaders but there will be a minimum expectation of days to be committed to undertaking inspections so that Ofsted keeps its workforce consistent and up to date. ASCL will publish details of these opportunities to train as OIs when they become available.

So can we look forward to a more proportionate and professional inspection that is ‘done with’ rather than ‘done to’? We shall have to wait and see.

Suzanne O'Farrell is ASCL Inspections Specialist.