Ofsted has just announced its latest consultation on proposals for short inspections. My thoughts on it vary hugely depending whether this is the full extent of the changes to be made (destination) or a statement of future intent (a signpost along the way of more radical reform).
The three proposed changes to the short inspection process (taken directly from the website) are:
- Inspectors will continue to convert short inspections, within 48 hours, where there are serious concerns about safeguarding, behaviour or the standard of education. Parents need to know as soon as possible if the quality of education at a school has declined to inadequate
- When inspectors are not 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 section 5 inspection will then take place at a later date, typically within 1 to 2 years. This will give the school time to address any weaknesses and seek support from appropriate bodies. In the meantime, the school’s overall effectiveness judgement of good will stand
- 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. This will give the school time to consolidate its strong practice. However, requests for early inspections will be considered.
This Consultation is the Destination
If this is destination the cynic of me kicks in; it’s not my problem if Ofsted find it difficult to get a team together at short notice, sort it! The last thing a school leader or teacher needs is one or two years of constant anxiety and sleepless nights. Cue many leaders and staff jumping ship. You can pretty much guarantee this instability will lead to an inadequate school in significant turmoil. Imagine the workload and stress if you decided to stay with this sword of Damocles hanging over you.
Responses to the consultation should stress the need for a whole series of checks to be put in place. For example, prior to the inspection a central expert data team should confirm to the school and inform the inspection team whether the standard of education looks acceptable or inadequate; parameters for these judgements should be made public. Better still, a multi-year view is taken into account which has been contextualised; after all this is about a school’s effectiveness over time not its intake. The school may then argue its case with current data but this would need to be pretty strong given the level of uncertainty produced by the new GCSE and A-level examinations in many subjects.
The whole Ofsted Safeguarding thing still worries me; it should be about audit, improvement, audit, improvement, audit, improvement not inspection. There needs to be some very clear guidelines about what constitutes inadequate safeguarding – no more there isn’t a perimeter fence or wildly extrapolating one off incidents seen/reported on a particular day – and a regional experienced safeguarding lead, at the end of a phone, who could moderate some of the judgments being made. This would be helped if Ofsted accepted that a complaints procedure must allow for a school that are judged inadequate to actually make a complaint that is ultimately scrutinised by an independent panel. This is currently not the case.
Finally any conversion, whether within 48 hours or 1-2 years, is conducted by a separate team of people and involves none of the original team. Whilst there would be concerns about birds of a feather flocking together it would be an attempt to triangulate judgements.
This Consultation is a Signpost
Imagine for a moment that this is merely the start of a process; what is Amanda Spielman and Ofsted trying to say to us? What are they thinking?
If it’s not a massive worry let’s not rush to judgement.
If we give the school time will it sort out the issues itself? We just need to point them in the right direction the best we can.
My view is now quite different; it’s a good start please can we have more, including some of the suggestions from above. Trying to read behind the consultation proposals to see the thinking is difficult. Some changes will need alterations to statute and so aren’t mentioned; these will need to wait.
I hope I’m seeing a questioning of whether we should grade schools; if standards look acceptable why rush to downgrade a good school to requires improvement or promote it to outstanding. Let’s wait a year or two; in fact, why not just forget grading it and tell a school what it’s good at and what it needs to work on. We can come back in a few years and repeat this more formative now also iterative process.
If schools are required to address the issues, irrespective of whether it is local authority maintained, an academy or a free school; what does this say about the magic button of structural change? It says it’s a distraction and instead schools should focus on doing the right things better, more of the time. We may just be at the start of much more enlightened thinking about school improvement; being beaten up or lauded by Ofsted might not be the best way after all.