Ofsted's September 'visits' are not 'inspection by stealth' – Amanda Spielman

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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If, (it is a big if too), this is a constructive professional dialogue then it could possibly ...

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Ofsted’s plan to begin visiting schools again from September is not “inspection by stealth” and is a genuine attempt to offer “constructive challenge” and build a picture of practice across England’s schools.

The reassurances have come from chief inspector Amanda Spielman in her latest commentary published on Monday (July 6).

Ofsted is due to restart its inspection work in schools from January – although has confirmed that this date will be “kept under review”.

However, this week Ms Spielman announced that it would be carrying out “visits” from September.

Headteachers have warned that the visits must not turn into “inspection by another name”. They have also warned that a return to full inspection in January risks being too early.

Details on how the “visits” will work are still patchy, but Ofsted says the plan is to work with education unions and to pilot the approach from September, with full roll-out in October.

Ms Spielman has confirmed that the visits will result in a letter being published to each school’s parents, although no grading will be made.

In her commentary (Ofsted, 2020), she wrote: “Our visits will look at how schools and colleges are getting pupils back up to speed after so long at home. And we will help them through collaborative conversations, without passing judgement – this isn’t inspection by stealth. We’ll use our visits to listen to school leaders’ experiences and plans and to provide constructive challenge.

“The visits will not be graded. We’ll publish the outcomes of our discussions with leaders in a short letter so that parents can understand what steps are being taken to help children back into full-time education. And we will use what we learn from our visits to report on the picture across England.”

She added: “We’ll be having further conversations with unions and others about how the visits will operate and we’ll publish more details as appropriate – but I would stress again that this is about a constructive conversation, we’re not trying to catch schools out.”

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said that the “usefulness” of the visits will be “wholly dependent upon the quality of the discussions”.

Deputy general secretary Nick Brook continued: “Following years of high-stakes accountability, it is entirely understandable why some school leaders will greet this news with a fair degree of trepidation. We will continue to work with Ofsted to shape the detail of these proposals to provide the reassurance to schools that this is an activity that can be engaged with openly and without fear.”

The Association of School and College Leaders said it could see “the good intention” behind the plan. However, general secretary Geoff Barton added: “Many leaders will need a lot of convincing that these visits will bring real value or otherwise they will simply be a distraction. As such, the rationale, consistency and tone set by inspectors is going to be more important than ever. These visits must not turn into inspection by another name, at a time when schools and colleges will have so much to deal with.”

Furthermore, ASCL has questioned whether bringing back full inspections in January will be appropriate. Mr Barton added: “We are not convinced that talking about a longer term plan to bring back full inspections in January is wise at this stage. It is likely that schools and colleges will be periodically dealing with coronavirus outbreaks, continuing to manage extensive safety measures, and supporting children whose learning has been disrupted, including many who will be taking GCSEs and A levels next summer.

“To add routine Ofsted inspections into this turbulent mix seems like the wrong priority, and we welcome the commitment to keeping the date under review.”

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If, (it is a big if too), this is a constructive professional dialogue then it could possibly become the model for inspection in the future. So, an inspector comes to the school (does their usual background research etc) and engages in a robust conversation with HT and visits classes, talks with children/parents/govs/staff etc and then evaluates what they have seen. If all is essentially well but there are areas to address, then the report/letter says this.

If there are aspects which arise which give cause for concern, then they can come back the next day/week for a full inspection?

I am sure that there will be comments about being able to plan for people being in places etc but come on, schools have demonstrated that you can respond flexibly to unexpected situations, surely Ofsted can too?

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