Ofsted: Key advice on the Common Inspection Framework

Written by: Elaine Long | Published:
Image: MA Education

The Common Inspection Framework is now in its second term of operation. Inspections expert Elaine Long gives a useful overview of the key requirements and duties that schools and their leadership teams should be on top of

Is there such a thing as a school satellite navigation system? If there was, who would choose to use it? Could one system suit everyone? Would the system just require a leader to type in their desired destination, choose the route – fastest, shortest or a route which avoids motorways and tolls – and then just simply follow the instructions as given?

I am sure that there are many out there, involved in education, who would think it really is this simple and that regardless of type of school, area, particular circumstance and need, you couldn’t really lose your way if you followed the instructions.

As we all know, however, if we are following such a system and enter an area with which we are really familiar then we sometimes question whether the route we have been given is actually the most suited or effective? It takes courage to disagree with the instructions, intervene and then change direction. Are you this type of leader?

Leaders who are confident they know their school best and are prepared to take bold steps will maximise the opportunities that shorter inspections offer in the Ofsted Common Inspection Framework (CIF).

I believe there is much to be gained for leaders who take control of the evidence they present, the discussions they initiate and the shape of the overall inspection.

All leaders have a vision for their school and then embark on a journey towards it. They will calculate the time this might take and in doing so will no doubt take into consideration the various challenges particular to their school. To help them they might speak to others who have embarked on a similar journey, read and consult widely.

Ultimately though, the decision rests with them and they need to take those initial steps with confidence. Of course there will be unexpected delays, hazards and a detour or an alternative route might need to be taken, but good leadership will ensure that the ultimate destination is still the same.

It is this mind-set of it being your school and your journey which will allow you to present a compelling argument for where you feel your school should be in terms of category. Leaders should present their schools confidently, challenge assumptions, be prepared to question the inspection team’s hypothesis: take the steering wheel!

Inspection is an event which will happen in the life of every school – fact! This does not mean, however, that the work of a school revolves around it. I detest phrases such as a school being “inspection-ready”– what a school should always be ready to do is provide the best education possible for all of its students and ensure that staff are supported well, in order that they can deliver quality outcomes.

When “An Inspector Calls”, the school should be able to present itself confidently, sharing its vision and where it is on their journey.

A school needs to ensure that all its stakeholders are fully aware of where the school is – its strengths and its areas for improvements; it will find ways of providing information which is manageable, understandable and suitable for a variety of audiences.

One stakeholder will be an inspector/HMI and so ensure that this information is accessible to them too and hence avoid the need to reproduce additional formats solely for them. Spending time developing formats which are accessible, yet suitably detailed, is well worth doing. Implement a system where key responsibility holders regularly up-date their areas and then ensure that these are shared, discussed, amended, improved, as necessary on whatever your agreed format is.

Map-out clearly where the school stands against its priorities and how it has improved since the last inspection. Ensure that all its work is keeping abreast of the very rapid, almost daily changes which are being made by the policy-makers in central government. It is well worth investing time on a regular basis to ensure that you are as up-to-date as you need to be. The School Inspection Update Newsletter (see further information) is well worth a read and there are specific safeguarding sites which will email you with latest developments too. Some of the most recent potholes that schools have fallen into are worth consideration.

Safeguarding

If your safeguarding policy is reviewed annually then there is a risk that your current policy is not compliant, as there were so many changes in March 2015.

There were updates to the Department for Education documents Working Together to Safeguard Children and Keeping Children Safe in Education.

Non-statutory rewrites/revisions to What to do if You’re Worried a Child is Being Abused and to the information-sharing guidance are worth reading too and offer some solid advice about what constitutes best practice.

In the 2014 version of Keeping Children Safe in Education, there had always been a duty to have a staff Code of Conduct, but revisions last year include the following:

  • Use of social media by staff with very specific directions about relationships with parents and young people.
  • A policy around teacher/pupil relationships.
  • Position of Trust Offence from the 2003 Sexual Offences Act.
  • Ensuring a whistle-blowing policy is readily available.
  • Ensuring child protection files are transferred securely and a receipt obtained saying that the school has received them.
  • Making a referral to child services and social care about children missing in education (can be made directly by staff only in exceptional circumstances).

Keeping Children Safe in Education is due to be updated again for September 2016 to include specific duties tackling radicalisation and sexual exploitation, with a consultation on proposed changes having closed on February 16. We now await the final version of this updated guidance.

The final piece of the jigsaw is the section on Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 which brings in new duties for schools. The school needs to look at local threats and their risk to young people, then specify whether there are risks for individual children and produce plans to safeguard their welfare.

Has your school conducted an audit of children who may be at risk of radicalisation? What are your plans to deal with this?

Elsewhere, if your staff have not received training on female genital mutilation then it needs to be a priority. Would your staff know what signs to look out for? There are also new policies out there with regard to growing numbers of children with mental health needs which are very helpful. And new guidelines regarding medication in schools need careful consideration. Do you meet them?

Data and assessment

Good inspectors have always taken account of current data, alongside RAISE and the CIF reinforces this, which is a positive move. RAISE was only ever a signpost and not a destination – where is your school currently? Schools need to track the attainment and progress of significant groups and the most successful systems involve all staff, who are very clear about their role and the school’s expectations.

Schools should now be embedding their new arrangements for assessment and it is important that there is clarity and consistency.

Pupil Premium

Pupil Premium funding needs to be reported on the website, providing a clear outline of how much the school receives, what it plans to do with it and why, and then whether or not it has been effective. Too many reports are vague and do not focus on impact.

The CIF makes it very clear that the gaps between all pupils and Pupil Premium pupils need to be reducing. Schools need to ensure that they focus on their “within school variation”. Close analysis of progress and attainment, over time, with timely and appropriate interventions, as required, should reduce this variation, leading to significant improvements in achievement overall.

Websites

School websites are very important and there are minimum expectations set out which must be followed. Schools, however, could and should utilise their websites more to provide a really comprehensive overview and feel of the school. This is helpful to parents, but also a really useful tool for inspectors prior to their visit.

An effective website will enable them to gain a flavour of spiritual, moral, social and cultural education and the curriculum. They can read key policies, results, look at the school diary, extra-curricular opportunities. If this is done prior to the visit then it provides a good context and allows more time to be spent on looking at teaching and learning and leadership in practice.

Other considerations

Within the CIF there are guidelines about the teaching of mathematics which point to a “Mastery curriculum” as a strategy. As a school have you considered how this fits into your approach? What are the positives and the downsides? How are you delivering it?

At a time when many schools struggle to recruit and retain subject specialists there is the emphasis, in the CIF, on teachers having “deep learning and understanding of their subject”. If you have non-specialists in post, how are you as a school supporting them in this? During inspections, dialogue around this whole area will certainly take place with individual staff and with leaders – so be prepared.

Conclusions

The CIF, particularly the short inspections for good schools, provides leaders with a real opportunity to take control of the relatively short period of time where judgements will be made. I really hope that they do take control and present convincing and compelling evidence as to why their school can now be considered outstanding.

While a satellite navigation system can be a useful tool I do hope that leaders will be prepared to question the system and have the courage to “take the road less travelled” and then are able to proclaim that this has made all the difference.

  • Elaine Long is an educational consultant and director of BEST4Solutions. Elaine was a teacher for more than 35 years, 17 of which were spent in a wide range of senior management positions. She is a former inspector for Ofsted, including experience as a lead inspector of early years and primary.

Further information

  • The Common Inspection Framework, Ofsted, September 2015: http://bit.ly/1NwzQOF
  • The School Inspection Update Newsletter, Ofsted: http://bit.ly/1Ok5U5z
  • Safeguarding guidance and policy documents from the Department for Education (DfE), including Keeping Children Safe in Education, Working Together to Safeguard Children and What to do if You’re Worried a Child is Being Abused (all March 2015): http://bit.ly/1iVHC91
  • The DfE’s proposed updates to Keeping Children Safe in Education guidance: http://bit.ly/1ZekyAC
  • Supporting Pupils At Schools with Medical Conditions, DfE: http://bit.ly/1VwC1b5
  • Prevent Duty: Guidance for UK home nations, Home Office (September 2015): http://bit.ly/1kcoR2s
  • The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015: http://bit.ly/1EXe565
  • What Maintained Schools Must Publish Online, DfE (December 2015): http://bit.ly/1Ne476u


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