The golden threads of leadership and safeguarding will be woven into the inspection process from September 2015 onwards. A common inspection framework and the new short inspection process are pretty much as expected from the consultation document.
Have I Got News for Schools
The news for schools is apart from the short inspection for good schools, which is a great step forward, not that much has changed. Schools will be inspected on the effectiveness of leadership and management, the quality of teaching, learning and assessment, children’s personal development, behaviour and welfare and outcomes for children and learners. I like assessment being linked to teaching and learning, rather than leadership and management, and in our post level world this should be focused on the teacher/learner interface not feeding the data machine. The idea of having a separate grade for the curriculum has been ditched though someone better tell Nicky Morgan quick that Ofsted are looking for a broad and balanced curriculum. The four grades for each area and overall effectiveness remain which is a massive missed opportunity. The sections overlap, as they inevitably would, and outcomes may well still rule the roost so determining distinct grades is just about impossible and not really of any value. It will be interesting to see whether the grade conflation of recent years continues or schools attain different grades on different strands. If Ofsted is insistent on grading, let’s just have one for overall effectiveness and a narrative explaining why that judgement.
Have I Got News for Good Schools
Whilst “the starting assumption of Her Majesty’s Inspectors … that the school or college remains good” is a real positive the mantra for inspectors of “show me what you’ve just said” could be seen as aggressive and less likely to “engender an atmosphere in which honest, challenging, professional dialogue can take place.” I’m probably being a bit over sensitive here but if the presumption is good why not put an onus on the inspectorate to prove otherwise. In the absence of any substantial proof to the contrary let’s get on with the job of jointly identifying where further improvements or gains could be made, with all the emotional baggage brought through fear safely parked.
There are three possible outcomes from the short inspection process:
Safeguarding will either be effective or not effective, the latter is clearly not good. This part of the new inspection process has real merit with no grades issued but a letter to the good school identifying strengths and areas to focus on. All credit to Ofsted for this.
Have I Got News for Leaders
The focus on leadership is both sensible and fraught with danger. Leaders should make a difference; they should impact positively on children’s life chances. Leaders set the daily weather in an organisation, for better or for worse, and from this the climate within a school is formed. It is right the inspection focuses on their impact. There was a little too much talk about being a maverick in Sir Michal Wilshaw’s speech, “all heads should be like me”. I would probably be seen as a bit of a maverick but there is a danger we’re going to fall into the preferred leadership styles trap, now that teaching styles have been debunked, only to realise it should be all about the impact.
More worrying is the tendency towards a view that it is all about leadership and this being narrowly defined as the head teacher who now possesses or lacks magical transformational powers. The role of governance, senior and middle leaders, teachers, support staff, parents and the children and young people themselves all become undervalued.
The list above is not unreasonable though rather ironic in various places, though I cringe at the aggressive “got a grip” turn of phrase. Leadership needs to be gentle and subtle on occasion as well as direct. The last point seemed a bit random and unnecessary, with talk of “scrappy worksheets” and not even a nod to the potential benefits of online material or e-readers. Oh for the golden days of education to return to this green and pleasant land.
Have I Got News for Inspectors
The long overdue need for scrutiny of Ofsted has been addressed and whilst a welcome step forward it lacks the independence needed. The establishment of a Scrutiny Committee with involvement of HMI, and senior educational practitioners presumably chosen by Ofsted, hardly speaks of a rigorous independent holding to account which is needed by an inspection service dogged by inconsistencies in judgement and behaviours.
“Secondly, I intend to set up a high-level scrutiny committee in each of Ofsted’s regions, made up of HMI and senior education practitioners not involved in carrying out inspections for Ofsted. They will assess and rule on the internal reviews of complaints about inspection. Their decision will be binding on Ofsted.”
The release of all inspection documentation should be routine practice. An independent committee as a final stage, if not initially, in the complaints process would produce a different and necessary tension that would remove some of the more extreme behaviour schools have been subjected to. In an increasingly litigious world the scrutiny committee’s decision may be binding on Ofsted but not necessarily for the complainant.
Have I Got News for the Years Ahead
In what I term my “inglorious rant” I predicted that Ofsted as we know would not exist in three to five years time. This was last summer and so if I’m right the whole process of inspection will be unrecognisable by 2019/20 academic year. This framework is a big step in that direction but possibly only for good schools. The fanfare accompanying the latest revision of the inspection process will no sooner have died down than the next set of revisions will need to start.
The new framework is a good start but will not be the final word nor could it ever hope to be. Evolution of the inspection process is relentless; my best guesses for the future go something like this:
Whilst the politicians will continue their love affair with inspection there will be a significant cut to Ofsted’s budget over the next few years limiting what they can do.
This budget reduction will be resolved by a move to desktop data analysis for schools, quick and cheap, with the need to visit a large number of schools effectively removed. There is nothing apart from the superficial that inspectors can possibly hope to ascertain in five to six hours on one day. The one day visit is worryingly open to personal bias and the gods of fate.
Someone or some school are going to see the red mist descend and will sue Ofsted or an individual inspector through the courts. With academies and multi academy trusts formed under Company Law a far more commercial perspective may be taken around reputational damage. Ofsted still plagued by issues of validity and reliability of judgements will have a difficult case defending what some inspection teams do. If Ofsted actually lost the test case, the flood gates would open, we would have the educational equivalent of PPI.
Alternatively, as the recruitment challenges turn to a full blown crisis, schools may continue to blame Ofsted and screams for change will increase as we approach the next election. Politicians will head for the hills, in a pre-election frenzy, claiming they never thought inspection was a good idea. Ofsted will end up as billy no mates.
This changed framework needs to be the first step in a much more radical rethink of the place of inspection in our education system particularly towards schools serving disadvantaged communities who are taking a disproportionately high number of the lowest Ofsted grades.
Some genius will hopefully one day suggest that most schools should move to a process of validated peer review with Ofsted, instead of being a cover all, becoming a safety net for the few schools who are consistently failing, over a number of years, to add value to children’s education. All categories disappear apart from a “Requires Support” category which will do what it says on the tin. The school requires support and gets it. This is based on the data and an inspection in which the sole purpose is to establish whether the school has the capacity to improve without external help. Requires support judgements will be relatively few and far between. We have a good education system the challenge is how to be great. The journey for schools and Ofsted continues, hopefully, in a far less adversarial and damaging relationship than at present.
All the new inspection documentation can be found here.