Crewed by some 2,000 inspectors and carrying the weight of policy makers’ expectations, reform of Ofsted is no easy task. But there are signs in today’s short inspection consultation that a new course is being charted. September’s consultation proposals have been partially adopted and revised proposals have been announced.
The tone at Ofsted since Amanda Spielman took over has certainly suggested a fresh tack. From curriculum to safeguarding, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector has talked about the need to rebalance and refocus inspection, but with the outcome of Ofsted’s curriculum review still to be published and seemingly little change to the inspection handbook in 2017, it would be easy to dismiss such ideas as rhetoric. Until now.
Buried within the detail of Ofsted’s report on the recent short inspection consultation is a telling statement of intent regarding their latest proposals. Today’s consultation suggests that inspectors will not immediately convert short inspections to full inspections (with some exceptions), which could give some schools as long as two years to work on identified priorities before their full inspection.
This is important as a school’s judgement can only be changed in a full inspection. Effectively, this will give schools which are potentially facing a change in their rating a significant period of time to make or consolidate improvements.
According to Ofsted:
“In line with our new corporate strategy, Ofsted can be more of a force for improvement through the short inspection process … by giving these schools some clear areas in which to improve and some more time to make those improvements before returning to the school to carry out a full section 5 inspection. This approach will also allow schools to seek support from, for example, their multi-academy trust, local authority or appropriate school improvement bodies before their next inspection.”
The subtext is that in order for some schools to make necessary improvements, they need more than the sword of Damocles . They need time and they need support, not a 48-hour ticket to a ‘requires improvement’ judgement.
Another model on the horizon?
Potentially, this signals a welcome change of direction, although these latest proposals are not without risk for the inspectorate. A superficial analysis of the proposals might leave the inspectorate open to the accusation they are ‘softening up’, but that would be to miss the point. Just as now, inspectors would retain the right to convert to a full inspection within 48 hours if the school might be deemed ‘inadequate’.
Rather, what the proposal seems to be acknowledging is that the interface between ‘good’ and ‘requires improvement’ judgements is not neat. Schools, and by extension the communities they serve, may be best served by a longer term view.
The proposals are particularly interesting when viewed alongside Sir David Carter’s promising schematic tool, which is being used to identify the journeys schools are on over time. He argues that school improvement and performance is more nuanced than the pervading thinking on school accountability has allowed in recent years. Could it be that another model of school accountability is on the horizon, with both HMCI and the National School’s Commissioner helping to steer their ships to more sensible waters?
Whatever the final destination of Amanda Spielman’s reforms at Ofsted, there is a sense of building momentum. There may be challenges to overcome and there will need to be wider reforms than those offered in today’s proposals, but the broad direction of travel is encouraging. Just like a supertanker, it will take time and patience to turn, but it is vital that Ofsted stay the course.