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Leadership, OFSTED

Better Inspection for All … Is that the Right Question?

I’ve always believed that in an election you have a responsibility to vote.  This freedom has been hard won and we should cherish it.

Photo Credit: T0msk via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: T0msk via Flickr cc

Similar thinking goes for responding to the latest Ofsted consultation.  We’ve been offered the opportunity to express our views and so I think we should.  However, it has proved a little more complex than I thought putting my “cross” in the correct box.  I don’t think I will be the only one struggling to make a response this week.  The two articles below show the scale of the issue:

Sir Michael Wilshaw quoted in the TES article, Ofsted Bites Back: “Take a long, hard look in the mirror”, stated:

“Criticism of Ofsted has been “overdone” and used by schools “as a way of deflecting attention away from underperformance and failure” … chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw argues that accusations of inconsistency among inspectors have become “a Pavlovian response to unfavourable inspection outcomes” … Schools disappointed with their grades should take a “long, hard look in the mirror” and not “shoot the messenger”

Sir Michael suggests that once all inspections have been brought in house the relatively few issues around consistency will be largely resolved.

Sir Tim Brighouse in ‘My three-part plan to radically rethink Ofsted’, also in the TES, had a very different perspective:

“It is worth reminding ourselves that we are the only developed country with such an elaborate system of school accountability, based essentially on professional mistrust,”

“A radical overhaul of Ofsted is needed to address concerns about inconsistency between inspectors, Sir Tim Brighouse … calls for a new inspection system based on self-evaluation, in response to “growing disquiet about Ofsted’s reliability and independence … Doubts have been raised about the unreasonable variability in inspectors’ judgements of individual schools … The way in which the organisation itself may be unduly influenced by government is also under scrutiny.”

Sir Tim Brighouse called for key three changes:

Redefining Inspection based on schools’ self-evaluation as well as attainment levels; Redefining Evidence so Ofsted are focussed on the system rather than individual schools and Redefining Advice with Ofsted providing  “independent evidence to the education secretary to inform policy decisions, based on its own data and external research.”

Sir Michael is focussed on making the current inspection system work more efficiently.  This is based on a belief that the current system is valid and valuable.  Sir Tim seems more predisposed to re-imagining the whole accountability system which suggests a very different view about the current system’s validity and value.

The Latest Ofsted Consultation

The consultation seeks the response to eleven questions and I’ve just taken a sample of them below.  The difficulty is that agreeing with any of the questions tends to affirm the current inspection arrangements.  I don’t want to do that but equally answering strongly disagree to them all might not be overly helpful in nudging the system forward.

A link to this document can be found here. Please try to respond.

A link to this document can be found here. Please try to respond.

Q1.  Do you agree or disagree with the introduction of a new common assessment framework for maintained schools, academies, further education and skills providers, non-association independent schools and registered early years settings from September 2015?

The proposed new common approach would have much to merit it in terms of administrative and management efficiency.  However, within the consultation there is a reaffirming of the four point grading system with no substantive evidence, as yet, that the inspectorate can make consistent, valid and reliable judgements, on the effectiveness of education provided by an individual school, in order to give it a grade.

What was required, prior to this consultation, was an opening up of the assessment framework used by Ofsted to external scrutiny.  Do Ofsted’s judgements accurately measure the quality and overall effectiveness of the education provided by a school or do they more closely correlate to a school’s intake in terms of prior attainment or type of disadvantage or are they idiosyncratic based on who is in the inspection team?  Sir Michael and Sir Tim can’t both be totally right but neither may be totally wrong.  We need to know and there are some excellent researchers who could give us an insight.  I think that their findings are likely to be quite nuanced and the current certainty, which goes with a judgement that a school is a <insert number>, would be questioned.

Photo Credit: Dissonancefalling via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Dissonancefalling via Flickr cc

I’m thinking of responding to this question: There is a need to move to a different judgement system with fewer grades as part of a fundamental shift in the inspection process.  Either a school is effective or it is not yet effective in terms of its overall effectiveness and delivery of a good education to children.  There is now only one overall cliff edge grade boundary.  This boundary would require great scrutiny and careful discernment with respect to which side of it a school or provider falls.  This would be a first step in radically changing the inspection process.

Q2. Do you agree or disagree with the proposed “effectiveness of leadership & management” judgement (paragraphs 19-20)?

The first bullet point, for consideration, consists of a general aspiration, around an ambitious vision and high expectations, which is linked to attainment outcomes.  The first very subjective element counts for little against the objective attainment measure.  Throughout the proposals the combining of metrics and potential narrative creates problems.

Some of the elements within various bullet points suggest a causal link, however, the evidence would at best be considered tenuous and in some cases would contradict the link made.  For example the second bullet point reads, “improve teaching & learning through rigorous performance management and appropriate professional development”.  This suggests that rigorous performance management and appropriate professional development are the two key factors, possibly only factors, to be considered by inspectors when assessing how leaders have improved the quality of teaching and learning.  The link between rigorous performance management, including performance related pay, seems more a politically determined link than anything evidenced.  Some would suggest a focus on autonomy, mastery and purpose would yield better outcomes.    

If other factors, for example recruitment and retention of appropriately qualified staff, were important they should have been included in the proposals.  The proposal as stated is too limiting.  It may be preferable to just state that leaders should, “improve teaching & learning in order to attain high standards of performance by students/pupils”.

With respect to the inclusion of safeguarding elements under leadership & management, I would suggest that this should be part of an annual externally validated audit completed by all schools.  This would be similar to the annual financial audit many schools have in place.  Waiting three years to check Safeguarding arrangements is too long.

Q7.  Do you agree or disagree that Ofsted should continue to report on the curriculum as part of the judgement on leadership or management?

This question is potentially confusing or I am simply confused.  I’m open to either conclusion.  I think I agree with this one.

Photo Credit: John Liu via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: John Liu via Flickr cc


Compare what paragraph 18 states and then look at the question.  Have I interpreted this correctly?

18.  In future, we propose to ensure a high level of scrutiny of the curriculum or range of courses offered by schools and other providers. In the framework proposed by this consultation document, this forms part of the judgement on effectiveness of leadership and management. We are interested in your views as to whether or not there should be a separate graded judgement for the quality of the curriculum on offer or whether it should continue to be reported on as part of the judgement on leadership and management.

I’m totally opposed to Ofsted attempting to grade the Curriculum.  There are two issues associated with Ofsted attempting to produce a graded judgement for the quality of the curriculum:

Firstly, the Quality of Curriculum grade will become conflated with the outcomes for children & learners.  That is the outcomes grade will dictate the curriculum grade rather than the two being a separate judgement.  This conflation of grades is exactly what happened under previous inspection schedules where a greater number of elements were given separate grades.  It is also apparent in many current reports.  Rather than introducing another area to be graded within the inspection, I would suggest, the next phase of revising the inspection schedule, should be one overall effectiveness grade and a narrative produced to give reasons for the judgement made.  This has a greater congruence with the proposed direction of travel in inspecting “Good” schools as proposed in the consultation.

Secondly and potentially of greater concern, Ofsted or more specifically individual inspection teams will begin to determine and dictate what a school’s curriculum should be through the accountability system.  This is not Ofsted’s role nor should it be.  With a national curriculum, academies and free schools’ funding order  requiring a broad and a balanced curriculum and performance measures – Progress & Attainment 8 at a secondary level and reading, writing & mathematics at a primary – there are already enough nationally determined curriculum drivers for schools to respond to.


“School leaders” refers to both middle and senior leaders. The “middle tier” is the term used to describe the responsible body which could be a local authority, the directors of a multi academy trust or academy chain.

“School leaders” refers to both middle and senior leaders.
The “middle tier” is the term used to describe the responsible body which could be a local authority, the directors of a multi academy trust or academy chain.

This grading of the curriculum begs a deeper question is asked, “What should Ofsted be inspecting and reporting on”.  They are one of the most powerful levers directing the actions of schools and their leaders.  In the post #Imagine … Accountability, Intelligent and True I proposed a rethink of responsibilities with the wider accountability system.  Unfortunately for me, in trying to make a response, this is not part of the current consultation.

Q8.  Do you agree or disagree with the proposals of short inspections for good maintained schools & academies (paragraphs 32-34 and 37-40)?

I’m going to agree, I think but only because it’s a step in the right direction.

In agreeing with this proposal there are significant issues that still need to be addressed.  Leaving aside any concerns around the validity and reliability of a previous Ofsted inspection outcome the criterion for a short inspection is clearly defined – “Good” last time.  However, the objective measure of what would constitute a “drop in performance” is far less clear.  This will be further exacerbated as key performance measures change between 2015 and 2016 from 5+A*-CEM to Progress 8, at a secondary level, and for primary schools as levels disappear.

Once this objective measure, I am assuming it will be based on student outcomes, has been clarified, why would an inspector or two need an initial visit to the school?

With respect to continuing with current arrangements for schools deemed to require improvement or inadequate it is possibly time, after over twenty years of inspection, to radically rethink Ofsted’s relationship with the education system.

If after twenty years of Ofsted inspection the job isn’t done, is it time to stop banging our heads and Heads against the wall? 

On this happy note of reconsidering the relationship with Ofsted, the question for me is no longer about whether there is variability in the system which we need to address it is more:

Are Ofsted an effective part of a schools and system wide improvement system or now damaging the education system it is supposed to serve?

I’ll try to find the time to respond to the consultation.  My problem is it asks the wrong questions and seeks to make more efficient a system which is no longer effective.  It may help to see the consultation as the first step in a journey but we just need to be clear about journey’s end.

Is a better inspection for all required or a totally different approach to accountability?

Related Posts you may want to read:

#Imagine … Accountability, Intelligent and True

The New Ofsted Consultation: We Need Some Relationship Counselling

All Aboard for the Ofsted Dambuster



4 thoughts on “Better Inspection for All … Is that the Right Question?

  1. This is always the nature of government or related consultations. I understand why it happens – free responses are hard to collate – but it always means that the consultation authors drive the agenda and limit the discussion. I too find it problemmatical. Sean Harford has directly suggested (to both me and Andrew Smith) that Ofsted should perhaps consider doing some inspections as two independent teams to see if the conclusions drawn are the same. I think that your suggestion that the research should go deeper is spot on – correlation between KS2 levels on entry and secondary inspection grades is pretty clear but I suspect there is other work that could be done on this sort of theme. Maybe now that Sean has stepped up, Ofsted might be prepared to do this work (which should be part of their ongoing QA process anyway) but there is a lot for them to lose. In particular, as a science teacher you will be painfully aware that any measurement should have an uncertainty assigned. We don’t do this in education (GCSE grade 6 +/- 1 would be quite a novelty) but I think it’s pretty important to know whether RI is, at best, a very low Good, or whether there is a reasonable chance that it should have been a high Good. Without knowing that I don’t see how any sensible discussion of any kind of cliff-edge inspection framework can proceed. Best wishes.

    Posted by dodiscimus | December 2, 2014, 8:22 pm


  1. Pingback: What’s Beyond the Ofsted Inspection Jungle? | @LeadingLearner - February 14, 2015

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