The implications of yet more Ofsted reforms

Written by: Peter Henshaw | Published:
Photograph: iStock

A consultation published by Ofsted has set out further significant changes to the inspection regime. We take a look at the proposals and consider whether they represent positive fundamental reform.

Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw is still at the helm, just, and continues to set his mark with a new consultation, Better Inspection For All.

The last major change of the inspection framework was in 2012 and this latest set of proposals represents a focused attempt to put some of Ofsted’s well-documented problems behind them.

The consultation closes on December 5 and the new arrangements are expected to be implemented in September 2015.

In his introduction to the document, Sir Michael emphasises this new “common” inspection framework as placing a greater emphasis on safeguarding, curriculum breadth and the quality of early learning.

With acrimonious accusations ping-ponging between the chief inspector and the Department for Education (DfE) what is needed more than anything is a framework that invites support from the profession and provides a real blueprint for the future. So is this framework up to muster?

The judgements

Alongside the judgement of “overall effectiveness”, the four new judgements are proposed:

  • Effectiveness of leadership and management.
  • Quality of teaching, learning and assessment.
  • Personal development, behaviour and welfare.
  • Outcomes for children and learners.

There is no specific grade for disability and special needs but inspectors must consider how well provision meets the needs of all children. Reference to “personal, social, moral, cultural and spiritual development” is included in the “personal development, behaviour and welfare” judgement.

We might wonder whether SMSC will now become PSMCS and if the change in order reflects a change in thinking.

Subjects, aspects and themes will be inspected during these inspections rather than as a standalone activity and the consultation asks whether a separate graded judgement should be introduced for the curriculum.

Professionalism

What most education professionals will welcome is the end of outsourcing of inspection. From September 2015, inspectors in your classrooms will be directly employed and trained within the inspectorate itself.

Sir Michael promises that more HMIs will lead inspections and that the expertise of serving practitioners will be particularly valued.

Schools experiencing HMI monitoring visits sometimes comment on the benefits they have found in a system where a dialogue can be established with the inspector. Recent years have seen the erosion of the stark separation between inspectoral and advisory roles and there is a sense in this consultation that professional dialogue will be opened up even more.

As schools have been increasingly encouraged to seek autonomy and independence from their local authority there has been perhaps a growing unease that some were becoming too distanced from surrounding schools and community.

The proposed leadership and management judgement emphasises that schools should work with other providers and aim to influence improvement.

It will come as a relief to many that the threat of routine no-notice inspections has once more been passed over. Any perceived advantage perhaps outweighed by the possibility that the headteacher might not be present on the day.

A common approach

A strong thread through the consultation document is the bringing together of inspections across sectors. The proposed framework is described as being a “common inspection framework”. Maintained schools, academies, further education and skills providers, settings on the Early Years Register and non-associated independent schools, can all expect the same treatment.

However, there is an exception. Although Sir Michael has made it clear that he supports the inspection of academy chains there is no firm indication that this is about to happen. An omission that Nicky Morgan was harangued for by the Education Select Committee.

It is hard to see, as Graham Stuart (the chairman of the committee) pointed out, the justification for treating local authorities differently to academy chains or inspecting the frontline without talking to the generals.

Although the proposals are for unity in inspection arrangements there will still be adjustments for different age groups. A separate inspection handbook will be published specific to each phase that reflects their needs and expectations. We are promised that inspectors’ credentials will match the sector they are inspecting.

Will this be enough to appease? Some of the principles might be the same between early years and further education but practice is hugely different. Some of those in the early years lobby, such as the National Day Nurseries Association, are anxious in case the new framework will lead to an even more formal approach to early years teaching and learning.

Proportionate

The time lapse between the inspection of variously achieving schools has constantly been debated. What is the best combination if standards are to be preserved but the inspection schedule is to be manageable and affordable?

The proposals advocate shorter inspections at three-year intervals for “good” schools. The focus will continue to be on those schools that need to improve and those that are struggling. An approach that makes sense, provided it isn’t the inspection regime itself that is part of the problem.

The shorter inspection will usually be carried out by two inspectors for one day and will focus on the performance of the school and its leadership and management, including the teaching, curriculum and ethos.

A full inspection might be scheduled if inspectors think that either the school is no longer good or that it might be judged to be outstanding.

Outstanding schools retain their special dispensation and will not be routinely inspected. This is in spite of some evidence that, just like good schools, they can quickly succumb to a changing environment or variations in leadership.

Addressing the gaps

Some of these proposals must be seen as a reaction to recent events and the subsequent headlines. Ofsted has spectacularly failed to spot some serious safeguarding errors in schools, with tragic consequences.

The schools currently at the centre of the Trojan Horse accusations, had previously been inspected without their apparent weaknesses being recognised.

Under the new framework there will be a greater emphasis on safeguarding, the suitability of the curriculum and preparation for life and work in Britain today.

Behaviour had retained its high status throughout the changes of inspection schedules. However the profile of personal development and welfare had plummeted and these are now set to have a welcome return to the judgement table.

However, those with a particular interest in special needs might raise an eyebrow at its very low profile, at least in this consultation. How long before this becomes an issue that requires a new set of guidance for inspectors?

Grounds for optimism

As the consultation points out, it is more than 20 years since inspection became known as “Ofsted”. It has changed many times since then, each time having a direct impact upon the practice in our schools.

It has suffered some recent blows to its reputation and it is now essential that the next framework provides a more resilient and durable base.

This is only the outline framework and the more detailed handbooks will provide us with greater insight into what inspection in 2015 will look like in practice.

There are grounds for optimism and the expressed emphasis on the quality of inspectors will be welcomed by schools and other settings.

It is intended that the inspection system improves education and care for all children and learners. Let’s hope this latest draft signals an inspection process that is not only fit for all but fit for purpose too. 

Further information

The consultation document, Better Inspection For All can be downloaded from http://bit.ly/1zz3Nsl


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