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The New Ofsted Consultation: We Need Some Relationship Counselling

The latest OFSTED consultation has been launched.  There are a series of specific proposals – three main ones and two on the side.  However, we’ve reached a point where shifting the chairs around on the Titanic won’t suffice.  We need to talk about relationships.

What’s the Relationship?

Photo Credit: Scribbletaylor via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Scribbletaylor via Compfight cc

When you look at the two images of people’s hands (the image above and below):

Which one represent, the relationship Ofsted and schools currently have?

Which one should represent the relationship between Ofsted and schools?

My experiences of Ofsted and inspector now stretch back nearly twenty years.  They are very varied including: unchallenging elements to rigorous and insightful to outright aggressive and rude. It’s difficult for these not to colour your view of the latest consultation.  But, this issue is greater than our idiosyncratic experiences.  It is fundamentally about how the various parts of the education sector will work together to create a World Class Education system, from the current good base which we have established.  It is about relationships.  The current adversarial relationship won’t take us the next step.  Our national lack of clarity about what World Class means at the start of the 21st Century is another significant issue.

Photo Credit: Endogamia via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Endogamia via Flickr cc

The Ofsted Consultation

Ofsted have made three main proposals, they are:

  1. “A common inspection framework for all early years settings on the Early Years Register, maintained schools, academies, non-association independent schools and FE and skills providers
  2. Shorter inspections for maintained schools, academies and FE and skills providers that were judged good at their previous inspection – these short inspections, conducted approximately every three years, will report on whether or not a provider has maintained its overall effectiveness but will not provide a full set of graded judgements (I think this last part is very interesting).
  3. Conducting a full inspection of non-association independent schools within a three-year period.”

Proposal 1: A Common Inspection Framework

Proposal 1 is mainly about a tidying up and aligning of the different inspection schedules.  It probably matters more to Ofsted and other providers than schools or academies.  There is the retention of an Overall Effectiveness judgement and judgements on the four areas: leadership & management; quality of teaching, learning and assessment; personal development, behaviour and welfare and outcomes for children and learners.  The four point grading scale is retained.

“Under the new framework, there will be greater emphasis on: safeguarding, the suitability of the curriculum and the type and range of courses and opportunities offered by providers and preparation for life and work in Britain today, including in relation to personal development, behaviour and welfare.”

There is a “side question” in the consultation about whether, given this enhanced focus on the curriculum, it should be graded separately.  It’s a resounding no from me.  We’ve been here before and like all the other grades it will essentially stem from the outcomes judgement.  Rather than increase the number of grades, all of which become conflated to mimic the outcomes judgement, we should do the opposite and move to just one Overall Effectiveness grade.

Proposal 2: Short inspections

It is proposed that from September 2015, schools, academies and FE and skills providers who were previously judged to be good will usually receive a short inspection once every three years.  The exception seems to be if their performance has “dropped markedly”.  The Ofsted website will have an annual school performance data dashboard.  I’m assuming this will be the same as the data dashboard currently used or the revised ones proposed when the new performance measures come into place.  For secondary schools the new dashboards will have a Progress 8, Attainment 8, percentage attaining English & Maths and percentage attaining the E-Bacc along with the new destinations measure (the detail of which is still to be worked out).

These short inspections will usually be carried out by one or two inspectors in a day. Inspectors will look at the school’s performance, its leadership and management, including the teaching, curriculum and ethos. If the school continues to provide a good education then it will conclude with a letter that sets out the inspection’s main findings.

The proposal has an option of recommending a full inspection if the school or academy could be graded outstanding.  There is also provision for a full inspection if there are significant concerns.

In a report in the TES on the 5th October 2014, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said:

There’s no point in sending teams of inspectors to inspect when we have all the data and information on those schools,” he said. “We will go into good schools more regularly and have a dialogue with the heads and the teachers, but we’ll have masses of data, which will tell us about progress and outcomes and performance-related pay.”

Question: If we already have this data why do Ofsted need to go in to good and outstanding schools at all, never mind more often?

However, potentially more interesting, he also stated,

“Where we see a steep decline, where things are really unravelling, then we’ll call for a full section 5 inspection. But if the head is aware there’s a problem and has a plan to sort it out, then it won’t go into ‘requires improvement’. There will be a lot less boom-and-bust, cliff-edge inspection.”

The statement is a long way from the gun toting Clint Eastwood, maverick buccaneering head or dropping in a super head approach which seems to be more often reported as SMW’s preferred style.  It talks of a totally different style of relationship between Ofsted and the profession.  Sadly, there is nothing of this in the document released today.

How Can We Work Together to Produce a World Class Educations System?

Photo Credit: Andreietta by Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Andreietta by Flickr cc

In the end it is all about the relationship need to achieve our shared goal.  Our level of trust still seems pretty low.  The current largely adversarial relationship, one that has existed for too many years, won’t take us the next step.

A side issue within the consultation is about developing new metrics.  This may help but only if we expand the consultation.  It would be very interesting to move this debate centre stage.  Rather than ask the question, “How can we measure this more accurately?”  A much bigger question is, “What should we measure?”  What do we value in the education of our children? 

I think there were a number of missed opportunities in this consultation.  One of the biggest is how to move good and outstanding schools to a system of peer review validated by HMI.  After all if things are beginning to slide “we have all the data and information on those schools”.

No Notice Inspections – Wrong Relationship?

To some people no notice inspections mean, “We’re just going to walk in and stick it to you!” but to others it says, “Stop worrying about inspection, we’ll pop along and have a chat sometime.”

The second of these two perspectives requires a certain type of relationship between Ofsted and schools.  We simply don’t have this relationship at the moment, and may never, so the first perspective will be the prevalent one.

This is not the basis on which we can work together for the benefit of all children.  No more No Notice inspections until we have the relationship required for them to be part of a coherent and enriching inspection and support process.  We all want our schools to get better and better.

My only exception to the above would be when Safeguarding issues are raised.  Two thoughts: firstly, detach Safeguarding from the current inspection process and have an annual Safeguarding Audit for every school in the same way finances have an annual audit in academies.  Having external Safeguarding checks with two to three years between them isn’t sensible.  Secondly, if it is such a major Safeguarding issue would the Police, rather than Ofsted, be better investigating?

Proposal 3: Inspection of Non-Association Independent Schools

Not much in this one for maintained schools and academies.  Again it seems more of a tidying up process for Ofsted.

Was No In Reality a Yes?

Photo Credit: Phyllis Buchanan via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Phyllis Buchanan via Flickr cc

They say strange things happen at sea.  Strange things also seem to happen in independence referendums.  There was a resounding “No” in the vote for Scottish Independence. The Union and the relationship between the countries have been secured.  However, looking forward, the political map may be radically altered with Devo-Max for Scotland (possibly Wales and Northern Ireland as well) and a fundamentally different constitution in England.  This will bring about a new and redefined relationship.  I’m left wondering whether the No Vote won this particular battle but the Yes Vote is winning the Independence War – it’s all about the relationship.  It looks like it is about to fundamentally and irreversibly change.

How will the latest Ofsted consultation play out in the long term?  We will have seen three major rewrites of the Ofsted Handbook between December 2013 and September 2015.  That is a lot of different handbooks in a twenty month period.  Will this be the last we see or are more changes just around the corner? I hope there are more changes ahead but we need a much bigger conversation about what we value and how we will work together to achieve this.

Other blog posts which may be of interest:

All Aboard for the Ofsted Dambusters

The Ofsted SEF Story


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