Ofsted: What is changing and how?

Written by: Justine McNeillie | Published:
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Are you ready for the changes to inspection from September 2015? Expert Justine McNeillie looks at what is ahead and offers her advice to school leaders

From September 2015, there are some key changes to the ways our schools and colleges will be inspected.

These changes were announced earlier this year after an extensive consultation with the sector and stakeholders in Better Inspection For All, where the proposals made by Ofsted received significant support by the vast majority of respondents.

The first of the major changes focuses on making inspections more proportionate to need. Good schools will now be inspected approximately every three years but only for one day.

These inspections will be led by HMI, probably one in a primary school and two in a secondary, and will be checking to see whether the quality of education has remained as good, has declined or has improved and that safeguarding requirements are effective.

If HMI judges there to be a change or safeguarding concern, further action will be taken.
Where the school is deemed to have improved, headteachers will be given an opportunity to request a full inspection so that they can move to the next stage, although this may not happen immediately.

If performance is thought to have declined, or if there is a safeguarding concern, HMI will request a full inspection within two to five days.

The change means that schools judged to be previously good will no longer be left for three to five years (and further education and skills for six years) without a full inspection.

Outstanding schools are still exempt from Section 5 inspections by law but will be subject to the existing risk-assessment arrangements whereby if there was, for example, a drop in performance or safeguarding concern, the school could be inspected.

Providers who are not judged to be good or better, will continue to be the focus of more regular inspection activity so that the quality of provision can be driven up for all pupils.

For HMI to be able to judge how well leaders are maintaining good provision the inspection activities are likely to consist of a number of sharply focused meetings and other gathering of evidence that will test the school's effectiveness.

Observation of teaching, gathering the views of parents, pupils and staff and discussions with leaders at all levels are the most probable activities on the one day. With such a small window to provide evidence, inspectors will want to test out how well the school knows the quality of education that it is providing, at classroom practitioner level through to governors, and will be using short inspection-specific handbooks.

Providers involved in short inspections will not be given individual grades on the main four aspects.

Furthermore, from September 2015, a free text box will be introduced to Parent View to enable parents to write more widely on their views of the school.

The second major change to inspection is the introduction of the Common Inspection Framework, where inspectors will make judgements on the same areas across all sectors: schools, further education and skills providers, non-association independent schools, and registered early years.

While each will have its own sector inspection handbook that reflect the requirements of each, the terminology of the main judgements will be the same in the hope that this will support parents and other stakeholders in understanding the effectiveness of the different education opportunities available. At the time of writing, the detail of the judgements is not yet in the public domain, but the judgements will be:

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

The criteria for leadership and management will continue to focus on issues such as the effectiveness of safeguarding, the vision for the school and the rationale behind, and effective delivery of, the curriculum.

The consultation feedback states: "The new framework will place a greater emphasis on the breadth and suitability of the curriculum and the type and range of courses and opportunities offered by providers." (Para 67.)

This suggests that, just as now, schools should be mindful of their statutory duties or funding agreements regarding publishing details of their curriculum online. They should also have a statement on their rationale for the curriculum on offer.

The existing judgement criteria for the quality of teaching looks at assessment and teaching and learning over time in schools but the descriptor name now mirrors the one for further education and skills.

A sector-specific example of the criteria for this judgement might be to provide clear details of expectations of the quality of vocational education in further education, but in the early years the expectations of child-minders would be key.

The criteria are expected to move away from the term lesson observation to observing teaching and the grading of individual lessons during a school inspection will not be reintroduced. Consultation with further education on this issue is continuing.

As the inspection criteria currently make clear, schools should also be mindful of considering how effective their different assessment methods are, rather than just focusing on marking.

However, a new reference is expected on how well teaching prepares pupils to be an effective member of society beyond education.

Similarly, the criteria for the personal development, behaviour and welfare judgement would be quite different dependent on key stage, although there will be new common themes such as having a greater awareness of how to be a successful learner and how to keep healthy. The outcomes judgement will focus on the progress of pupils and pupil groups. As expected, in the consultation school leaders were concerned about the evidence that would be used to reach this judgement in the "world without levels" and that short inspections may become too data-heavy.

Ofsted's response was: "They will continue to (look at data) in full and short inspections under the new Common Inspection Framework. They will use a range of data to judge a school or provider's performance. In all cases, the school or provider will have an opportunity to present their own data and also explain the context around those data to inspectors." (Para 91.)

As ever, the changes have implications for schools. While the schools involved in the one-day inspections will have a phone call from midday the day before, just as schools do currently for a Section 5, they will have an even shorter window in which to provide the evidence that Ofsted will be looking for.

School leaders will need to be inspection-ready. Theoretically, schools should not need to produce information just for Ofsted but they will only have a short time to prove to inspectors that they can self-evaluate accurately and provide high-quality education throughout the school.

Ofsted is likely to provide some support materials in the latter half of the summer term while the SSAT has just produced a toolkit to provide leaders with best practice in the effective observation of teaching and learning for school improvement.

The toolkit consists of a detailed guidance section, case studies and exemplar documents from outstanding schools and those with high-quality practice, training activities and associated PowerPoints and hand outs, four lesson films, resources and inspector critiques. 

  • Justine McNeillie is programme coordinator for accountability at SSAT.

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