It’s all very relative but Ofsted have had quite a good start to the term in my humble opinion. The implementation of the short inspection, with a narrative report, and the two year “grace period” for new schools makes sense. As ever Ofsted couldn’t do right for doing wrong; a number of people criticised this two year grace period but possibly conflated Ofsted’s decision with their general opposition to free schools and forced conversion to academy.
A reasonable concern about the extended period before a new school is inspected is the absence of scrutiny on safeguarding. The current inspection process can leave years between external checks on safeguarding. Neither of these situations is acceptable.
Keeping Children Safe & Secure is Paramount
As a new multi academy trust we were required to appoint financial auditors to ensure that we had in place the appropriate systems, processes and procedures to safeguard public money. Our children are more than worthy of this level of safeguarding. In contrast to my previous experience of auditors, a visit every few years at best, this new process included a schedule of regular checks, meetings and helpful advice on ensuring we had best practice in place. There isn’t a pass/fail mentality rather a constant vigilance and subsequent readjustment to ensure public money is appropriately spent. The auditors see themselves both of guardian of the highest standards of financial probity and partners in the process of securing it. The Trust pays for this service and I consider it great value for money. It’s time to disconnect the process of safeguarding from the rest of the inspection process with immediate effect.
All schools should be required to have an annual Safeguarding Audit involving external auditors. In the first instance this could be conducted by HMI or local authorities who have substantial experience in this area. Longer term there should be Chartered Safeguarding Officers with a code of professional conduct and standards to adhere to, akin to Chartered Accountants. Both public and private sector providers would be permitted. The issues of Safeguarding aren’t going away any time soon and the long view needs to be taken. The basis of future change to the inspection system is predicated on ensuring we have annual processes in place to keep our children safe and secure.
If you’re interested in how we approach this external safeguarding audit I’ve shared our audit tool in the post Keep ‘Em Safe #SafeguardingAudit
Are Ofsted About to be Hit by a Pincer Movement?
Public service austerity which may well be furthered in the Chancellor’s November budget statement will see the inspectorate having much more limited financial resources over the coming few years. There is also an increasing unwillingness of some school leaders to engage in the process as inspectors. I’ve pondered crossing over to the dark side, though there’s no guarantee I’d pass the Ofsted recruitment process, but could never bring myself to do it. Some leaders place value on understanding the inspection process and some see it as valuable professional development. It’s not for me. I still question the whole validity and reliability of the inspection process and any assessment system that lacks these two has little value.
Ofsted suggest that harping on about validity and reliability is becoming tiresome (read unable to answer their critics) and that parents value their reports. I don’t know the basis of this last claim but will add it to the post if someone can send it me; a Google search threw up a report by Ralph Tabberer from 1995 (thanks to Simon Hepburn some more recent reports here including CIPR placing Ofsted report 11/15 for independent factors influencing parents). It is questionable not only whether parents do value Ofsted and their reports but also whether they should. The same goes for us as a profession. At one time I used to read the reports of local schools but gave it up long ago. If we can’t be certain that it’s a school’s effectiveness rather than its intake which is being measured or that a different team would come up with the same judgements a month later or that the process makes schools better then we have problems and we do. In the coming years Ofsted’s failure to prove its validity, reliability and efficacy will come back to haunt it and accelerate the process of change.
The Continually Changing Ofsted
The ever engaging Sean Harford ended up in a twitter debate, the other Saturday morning, that involved myself and Kev Bartle. I can’t for the life of me remember what set it all off but Kev produced a thought provoking blog, A Step Change for Ofsted? Stepping Out, not Stepping Up! which is well worth reading. Much of what I have to say is in a very similar vein.
Sitting in an Ofsted briefing during September, I was astounded to hear that the new short inspection will not be data driven. I wasn’t the only one in a state of disbelief. For a short inspection, HMI will not read the school’s RAISE but will have scrutinised the Ofsted Dashboard. Your school’s 2014 Ofsted Dashboard is currently in your RAISEonline document bank and the 2015 one should be there by the end of October for primary schools and Christmas for secondaries. If you haven’t already had a look you should. It’s a shorter more user friendly version of RAISE; a document that due to its over the top complexity and the time it takes to compile may be quietly retired in the years ahead. Of further interest was that the new process is about a school’s current culture and the progress of the pupils in it. Inspection is no longer a retrospective results orientated process. It will be interesting to see whether Ofsted have fully thought through the full implications of these changes. Still plagued by unanswered questions about the validity, reliability and the efficacy of the current inspection process the change to “culture review” is an absolute minefield. The confirmation bias we all bring to education is significant and can’t be parked at the school gates. In addition, judgements about the current progress of pupils in year groups, based on goodness knows what standard, will make grading lessons look like the most accurate of processes. It’s time for the pretence of Ofsted gradings of schools to be dropped once and for all and a greater number of schools to be removed completed from the inspection process.
Desktop Exemptions & Requires Support Schools
Limited resources require more efficient approaches. Subjective inspection processes are a recipe for injustice. Ofsted should move to a multi-year progress measure, for example, Progress 8 score for secondary schools and a value added RWM measure for primaries. Although it is a metric with limited coverage of the overall education a child receives it does at least offer a degree of validity and reliability. If a school is in the bottom decile, quintile or quartile (this would need to be decided up front) for three consecutive years then an inspection is called to see if it requires support to improve and what support that should be. This would remove most schools from the inspection process and with safeguarding systems securely in place this is right and proper. The system is good so let it focus on becoming great.
The HMIs who conduct a requires support inspection must stay with the school and support it on the improvement journey. HMIs wider system work allows them to observe considerable good practice and discern what’s right and may work for the school at that time. The funding for this extra HMI commitment would come from the monies currently top sliced from a school’s budget by the local authority or academy trust to which they belong. In the medium term the focus should shift from individual schools to a combined metric for the academy trust, local authority or federation who would have to demonstrate a “fitness to govern” across their schools. In extreme cases the support required may mean a change in governance.
In Kev Bartle’s article he is pretty scathing about the process of peer inspection. I don’t disagree but peer review is different. An external perspective brings a degree of objectivity that can help prevent a level of complacency. In the peer review process you would choose your critical friend. I would want a friend that would be publically supportive and discrete but privately would be a good friend and tell me straight what they think.
Inspection of the future may well have a separate safeguarding strand, desktop reviews, no grades except require support and the challenge for the profession to take responsibility to a far greater degree. Over the coming years Ofsted may well move from a universal inspection service to the system’s safety net in terms of both standards and safeguarding. As they say time will tell … but the clock is ticking for Ofsted.