Brief encounters

14 September 2015

InspectionsThe impact of leadership is the key evidence that inspectors will be seeking under the new shorter Ofsted inspections. Suzanne O’Farrell explains this and other significant changes to the framework.

No doubt Ofsted’s latest framework was top of your summer holiday reading list as it was published just as the last GCSE exams were being sat by pupils and is optimistically called Better Inspection for All.

Ofsted prides itself on three fundamental changes. First, all schools currently graded ‘2’ will fall into Ofsted’s new ‘short’ inspection process, that is, a day’s visit by two HMIs in a secondary and one HMI for a primary school.

Second, all providers, including primary, secondary, further education (FE) and non-association independent schools, will have the same common inspection framework to make sure that comparable judgements can be made across all sectors.

Finally, the inspection workforce has been reorganised into regional teams of HMIs who support and are supported by regional Ofsted Inspectors (OIs).

This close working relationship between HMIs and OIs is being hailed by Ofsted as the key to consistency in the future as the new structure will allow a more regular and fluid transfer of information between the teams. However, with slimmer guidance, a shorter timeframe and an increased emphasis on inspectors’ professional judgement, will the outcome depend on how well leaders articulate their current data, make the case for ‘good’ or better and manage the inspection themselves?

Leadership focus
There is no doubt that the impact of leadership is the key evidence that inspectors want to evaluate. Sir Michael Wilshaw, in his speech launching the new framework in June, said that the focus of the new short inspections was predominantly leadership and determining the school’s capacity for sustaining outcomes.

This means that school leaders need to be armed with their self-evaluation, their improvement plan, their story to tell and their ‘compelling one-siders’ of evidence to support the narrative of the journey they are on. Ultimately, inspectors will determine school leaders’ capacity by judging whether leaders are evaluating themselves honestly and analytically and that a school’s self-assessment includes evidence of the impact of all leaders’ actions and is informed by a range of users’ views (including staff). The quality of the school’s improvement plan with targeted actions linked to the achievement of specific groups of pupils is another key piece of evidence to support a school’s capacity to improve.

So what else is crucial when inspectors are considering this judgement? As the title ‘Effectiveness of leadership and management’ indicates, this means impact – demonstrably on outcomes for groups of pupils, particularly disadvantaged pupils. In this new framework inspectors will evaluate the ambitious vision and culture of high expectations created by leaders.

How will they judge this? In part they will be looking at whether everyone in the school shares the vision and has a clear line of sight as to how it will be achieved and their part in achieving it. In determining the expectations they will inevitably focus to a large extent on the expectations pupils have of themselves – the completion, presentation and pride in their work.

Safeguarding in the new framework focuses on more than compliance; it is about evaluating the culture of safeguarding to ensure there is no complacency and that the policies are understood and practised by everyone in the school. Schools need to ensure that they are doing everything they possibly can to ensure the safety of their pupils from a wide range of risks, including extremism and radicalisation.

Converting inspections
Of course, these short inspections may have a sting in the tail if, by lunchtime, inspectors have not seen the evidence to convince them that the school is still ‘good’. If this is the case, the Lead Inspector can convert the short inspection to a full section 5 inspection (within 48 hours) leading to a full set of graded judgements. The Lead Inspector will stay at the school and inspectors from a nearby contingency pool will make up the full team for an additional day. The school will have the opportunity overnight to collect evidence and make the case for good. Sounds familiar?

Equally, however, the evidence the school presents early in a short inspection may be better than that warranted by a ‘good’ judgement and the Lead Inspector may again decide to convert the short inspection to a full section 5 with the possibility of an ‘outstanding’ judgement. Ofsted estimates that about a third of all short inspections will be converted. Inevitably, the onus will be on schools to present and articulate their evidence in such a way that inspectors can unpick it quickly and determine the school’s capacity to sustain and/or improve its outcomes.

The key evidence schools will need to present will be focused on the current progress of all groups of pupils from all starting points and across all subjects (particularly English and maths for primary). There is less reliance on historical published data and a deliberate attempt to focus on the progress of pupils currently on roll in the school.

However, inevitably, trends in the progress of groups of pupils over time will also be scrutinised. The replacement of ‘Achievement’ by ‘Outcomes’ and the clear reference to performance ‘information’ opens the door to schools to present any evidence they may consider relevant, such as the destinations of their pupils or the skills and attributes they have developed through the curriculum and extended curriculum.

Schools may also want to present evidence relating to how well prepared pupils are for the next stage of their education and their literacy and numeracy developments (transition information between key stages may well be relevant).

Assessment systems
As schools are at liberty to develop their own assessment systems, inspectors will want to determine the effectiveness of a school’s assessment information in terms of teachers’ planning, identifying those in need of support and enabling pupils to progress. The robustness and veracity of a school’s assessment system will be a key area to establish during the early professional dialogue with inspectors.

Relating to teaching, learning and assessment, the methodology for collecting evidence has not changed and inspectors will observe learning activities and gauge how well pupils articulate their knowledge and understanding. Their role is to validate the senior leaders’ own evaluations about the quality of teaching and learning and assess the impact of professional development in improving classroom practice. Inspectors will also focus on the challenge of work (particularly at Key Stage 3), how well pupils use teachers’ feedback to help them improve and pupils’ efforts and success in completing their work.

The only completely new judgement is ‘personal development’ and this and ’behaviour and welfare’ are judged separately but the lower of the two determines the overall judgement. Schools have the opportunity to demonstrate the impact of their wrap-around care in supporting the emotional well-being and welfare of their pupils in order to help them be confident and successful learners who are ready for the next stage of their education or training.

Just a final point on leadership: for those heads or system leaders helping to transform schools beyond their own institution, this will be recognised through a letter from Sir Michael Wilshaw and copied to the Secretary of State. However, the criteria are quite challenging, so don’t buy the frame just yet!

Suzanne O’Farrell was former ASCL Inspections Specialist and is now ASCL Curriculum and Assessment Specialist.

Ofsted: Understanding the September 2015 Framework
ASCL Professional Development is running a series of half-day briefings in September and October to provide colleagues with a better understanding of the new inspections framework, including understanding the criteria Ofsted will be using to make judgements in key areas. For more information or to book your place, see the ASCL website, www.ascl.org.uk/ofstedframework

Self-evaluation tool from ASCL
Working with ASCL, Tony Thornley, an Education Consultant and a former headteacher and HMI, is updating our self-evaluation tool and guidance for schools in line with the new framework. Details of the new versions will be published later this year.