Will Ofsted’s latest plan create an unofficial fifth school rating?

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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Under new Ofsted proposals, ‘good’ schools may face a two-year wait if their short inspections are converted to a full Section 5. Pete Henshaw takes a look at the proposals and reaction from the profession

Ofsted is at risk of creating an “unofficial additional rating” for schools if it pursues its new proposals for reform of one-day inspections, it has been warned.

The inspectorate has published a second consultation document as it continues to look for a solution to a problem with its regime of short inspections of good schools – the practicalities of converting to a full inspection in just 48 hours.

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.

But while the reform has been widely welcomed, problems with the logistics of converting to a full inspection within such a short timeframe have emerged.

Plans to extend the 48-hour conversion period to 15 days, outlined in the first consultation last term, have been rejected after more than half of respondents spoke out against the idea.

The new consultation now outlines three revised changes to the short inspection process that Ofsted wants to take forward:

  1. Inspectors will continue to convert short inspections within 48 hours where there are serious concerns about safeguarding, behaviour or the standard of education.
  2. When inspectors aren’t confident that a school is still “good” but the standard of education remains acceptable, and there are no concerns about safeguarding or behaviour, the inspection will not convert. Instead, Ofsted will publish a letter setting out the school’s strengths and areas for improvement. A full (Section 5)inspection will then take place “within the statutory timeframe”. This is expected to be within one to two years given the typical timing of inspections of good schools, although it could be longer. In the meantime, the school’s overall effectiveness judgement of good will stand.
  3. When inspectors have reason to believe that a school may be improving to outstanding, Ofsted will publish a letter setting out the school’s strengths and priorities for further improvement, and confirming that it is still good. A Section 5 inspection will then be carried out later, typically within one to two years. Requests for early inspections will be considered.

Ofsted has also confirmed that from this October half-term onwards, full inspections will automatically be carried out for good schools when there is evidence that “the quality of provision may have deteriorated significantly”.

This was a proposal from the original consultation that was backed by around three-fifths of respondents. It is thought this change will affect about 20 per cent of schools judged good at their last inspection.

Ofsted has also agreed to increase to three the number of inspectors deployed on short inspections of secondary schools with more than 1,100 pupils.

For the remaining 80 per cent of good schools, Ofsted has said that up until Christmas – while the second consultation is carried out – if a short inspection converts to a full inspection this will still take place within 48 hours, although in some cases it may take up to seven days.

Ofsted hopes that if its new proposals are supported and agreed, they will be implemented from the spring term 2018.

School leaders have voiced mixed views on the proposals. The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) is worried that the changes will confuse the picture for parents and effectively create a fifth Ofsted rating.

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary, explained: “If Ofsted choose to pursue this path they will in effect be creating an unofficial additional rating which will confuse parents and disrupt school leaders’ efforts to improve their schools.

“For the most part, parents, staff and governors understand the current four ratings – outstanding, good, requires improvement and inadequate. If, after a one-day visit, inspectors are not able to determine that a school is still ‘good’, they will now mark it out for re-inspection. This could be up to three years later – an unacceptably long delay. A cloud of uncertainty will linger over the school until Ofsted can arrange a return.

Until the inspectors return all the school community will be left with is a letter which outlines the misgivings of inspectors but only gives a vague ‘not sure’ or ‘good-ish’ verdict.

“Parents may well wonder what is the point of inspection if it doesn’t tell them how effective their child’s school is and leaves behind more questions than answers. The uncertainty about the quality of education provided could become the single biggest barrier to improvement that the school in question will face.”

However, the Association of School and College Leaders was more positive, stating that the longer interval might give schools the time and space to prepare.

ASCL’s inspections specialist Stephen Rollett said: “There is a potential benefit in introducing an interval between the two inspections. It would give schools the opportunity to recover from the initial shock of conversion and prepare themselves for the full inspection.

“We’ll be considering these new proposals in detail with our members. But our first impression is that they are much better. They avoid the pressure cooker of a short interval and they allow schools the time and space to look properly at issues raised by Ofsted.”

Ofsted’s national director of education, Sean Harford said: “Under the new proposals, good schools will get detailed feedback on their strengths and weaknesses. And they’ll have more time to improve following a short inspection. In this way, we hope to catch schools before they fall.

“We are already taking forward changes that will cut the number of short inspections. This will give us more flexibility to plan where we use our resources and relieve some of the pressure on our inspection workforce, many of whom are also serving heads and school leaders. But if we are to make the best use of our serving practitioner workforce, then we need to reduce further the number of short inspections that convert. We believe this new approach strikes the best possible balance between minimising the inspection burden on schools and Ofsted being able to deliver the short inspection programme.”

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