Fears that Ofsted’s 15-day plan will add to school inspection burden

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: iStock

Planned changes to the short inspections of ‘good’ schools could see a wait of up to two weeks if HMI decide that a conversion to full inspection is required. Pete Henshaw takes a look

Proposed changes to the short inspection of schools rated as good will see a 15-day period introduced for those converting to full inspection.

The proposal is one of two significant changes set out for consultation by Ofsted this week.

However, some school leaders fear that the change, which is being trialled this summer, will increase the burden of inspection for these schools and their staff.

Short one-day inspections of schools rated good were introduced by Ofsted in September 2015. The visits begin with the assumption that the school remains good. However, if there are concerns, it can be converted into a full inspection, to be carried out within 48 hours.

Ofsted is now proposing two significant alterations to the process.

First, it wants around 20 per cent of schools rated as good to face an automatic full inspection instead of a short visit.

Ofsted said: “A full inspection will automatically take place in around one in five cases where Ofsted has prior evidence that a school is in complex circumstances. Ofsted will select these schools through the standard risk assessment process.”

This proposal has been put forward because Ofsted says that for roughly one in five schools it is “already clear” that there are complex circumstances that warrant a full inspection.

The second proposal is to extend the period within which a full inspection takes place if concerns are raised during the one-day visit – from 48 hours to 15 days.

Ofsted said: “This will allow Ofsted to give (inspectors) five to 10 days’ notice of an inspection, and provide more certainty about the number of days they need to be away from their own school.

“The decision to convert a short inspection is usually taken mid-afternoon, and a team of inspectors then arrives on site early the next day. School leaders tell us this experience can be overwhelming. It can be a particular burden on large schools, where up to eight inspectors are needed for the full inspection.”

However, where an inspection converts because of safeguarding concerns, the full inspection will still take place within 48 hours.

Ofsted is piloting the proposed changes with around 35 schools this term and its consultation closes in August.

The proposals have split the leadership unions, with the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) voicing its support, while the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has raised concerns.

ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton said: “We understand the reasons behind Ofsted’s consultation. The rapid conversion from a one to two-day inspection has proved logistically difficult – with problems assembling the right inspection team quickly enough.

“If the proposed change of approach leads to more consistent, more reliable inspections, underpinned by an attitude which is helping a school or college to improve, then we support the rethink.”

However, NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby said: “Short inspections were welcomed by school leaders as a step towards reducing the burden associated with inspection. These proposals could have the opposite effect. Huge pressure would be loaded on to staff in the weeks between short and full inspection. It will be akin to extending the period of inspection from three days to over three weeks. This hardly reduces the burden.

“Ofsted are now saying that the logistics of short inspection are untenable. The solution to this issue may not be obvious to Ofsted but the answer cannot be loading more pressure on to school leaders. In potentially solving one problem, by creating greater certainty for inspectors over working patterns, another much bigger problem would be created, that of equity. If one school is given three weeks to put in place changes, and another just a few days, can we really say the inspection system is being fair?

“This proposal is to be consulted on, giving school leaders the chance to highlight the problems behind such a change. We welcome the open way in which Ofsted is consulting on this, but question whether our inspection system should be driven by administrative convenience, rather than what is best for our schools.”

Defending the proposals, Ofsted’s national director of education, Sean Harford said: “We’ve heard concerns about the practicality of the 48-hour conversion window. We’re determined to keep the benefits of the short inspection model. But as we continue to develop an inspection programme that embraces the knowledge and skills of frontline practitioners, we need to make sure it works for those who give up their time to support us.

“We are confident that these changes will ensure we use limited inspector time as efficiently as possible, while also reducing the burden on schools. These are not fundamental changes – the inspection methodology will stay the same. And most good schools will still receive short inspections, and most will stay good.”

The Ofsted consultation closes on August 18. For the full proposals and information on how to respond, visit http://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/short-inspections-of-good-schools


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