Ofsted chief gives insights into surviving one-day inspections

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: iStock

After more than 300 one-day inspections of good schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw reveals some of the reasons behind the successes and failures so far. Pete Henshaw reports.

Ofsted’s chief inspector has revealed the reasons why “good” schools have retained or lost their rating under the new shorter inspections system.

In the latest of his regular commentaries – a series of essays published via Ofsted every month – Sir Michael praises the attitude of headteachers whose schools have been inspected under the new one-day approach.

Introduced in September, a key part of the new Common Inspection Framework is the shorter one-day inspections of schools rated as good, which are to take place every three years.

The inspections start from the premise that the school is still good and focus on “leadership and culture” and any identified pockets of weakness.

Since September, more than 300 good schools have been inspected under the new regime and Sir Michael said that the majority have retained their good rating.

He wrote: “I am pleased that headteachers have generally been open and candid with inspectors about the relative strengths and weaknesses of their schools. Just as important, most have robust and practical plans in place for addressing their particular areas of concern and can show how these plans are making a difference to performance.

“HMI usually say that within a few hours they know whether the culture of the school is orderly and positive, and that the school is well led. One key characteristic shared by many of the schools that retained their ‘good’ rating last term was that headteachers had created a culture in which pupils were, for the most part, well behaved and showed respect towards teachers and each other.”

In the commentary, Sir Michael echoed his previous promise that the new shorter inspections would “take a pragmatic view of any isolated pockets of weakness as long as the school was heading in the right direction and that leaders had identified what needed to be done”.

He cites one example of a Staffordshire secondary school that had “acted swiftly” to halt a decline in standards in the English department caused by a period of staff turbulence. He added: “Inspectors were reassured that while there was still more work to be done to improve reading across the school, leaders demonstrated that they had acted quickly and decisively to turn round the quality of teaching in such a key department.”

In an East Midlands secondary, previous problems with behaviour and high exclusion rates had not been solved completely, but had been made a priority, with work underway with parents, pupils and external agencies.

Sir Michael added: “Things weren’t perfect but inspectors heard from children that behaviour in the school had much improved and, as a result, they were learning a great deal more.”

He continued: “In short, in the cases I’ve highlighted, HMI encountered self-critical leadership and a respectful and aspirational culture where the whole school community was striving to do better. Inspectors were satisfied that the weaknesses identified by leaders and corroborated by inspection evidence were not having a detrimental impact on overall standards. These schools, to all intents and purposes, remained ‘good’ schools.”

Under the new regime, if Ofsted has concerns about a school, the inspection can be converted to a full Section 5. Equally, if it is felt that the school is now “outstanding”, a full inspection can take place to confirm this. Sir Michael revealed that 27 schools inspected under the new system had indeed moved from good to outstanding. However, some of the 300 also “went in the opposite direction”.

Sir Michael said: “In those schools that declined from ‘good’, inspectors invariably found a leadership team that had not accurately evaluated the school’s performance and, in a number of instances, had an overly generous view about the quality of teaching and school standards.

“In schools downgraded to ‘requires improvement’, leaders and governors had often been slow to identify weaknesses across the school. There was typically too much inconsistency and variation in performance across the school, particularly in terms of the quality of teaching, the behaviour of pupils and middle leadership.”

He added: “In a minority of cases, HMI found that previously ‘good’ schools had declined more sharply and were now failing their pupils. A culture of complacency had set in and problems had been left unaddressed for too long. These failing schools were characterised by leaders who did not have a clear grip on what was happening in the school. HMI saw poor strategic leadership and a lack of clarity on a number of key performance issues.”

Sir Michael ended his commentary with a call to school leaders about inspection preparation.

He said: “I also want to stress, once again, that school leaders should not spend an inordinate amount of time preparing for our inspections. It is far more valuable for them to simply focus on maintaining and improving standards, and acting in a way that serves the interests of pupils and their parents. If they do this, their inspection – when it happens – will invariably look after itself.”

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