Tuning in briefly this morning to Amanda Spielman’s presentation of her first report as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector; the answer to the above question is “yes”. I briefly started to tweet a thing or two but more pressing issues around admission lists, the Research School and Directors’ meetings started to occupy my day.
In terms of the good; Amanda Spielman talks a lot of sense and there appears a real desire to reform the organisation for the better. Decoupling safeguarding from inspection is a positive. Giving a time lag between a good school’s inspection with a further review one or two years later, if it might be outstanding or requires improvement, I have mixed feelings about but it does open up a world of possibilities. If it is a direction of travel; taken to its ultimate conclusions it might just be transformational.
In terms of the bad; rhetoric and reality are not always that closely matched. There was a fascinating discussion in the morning Headteachers’ Roundtable meeting on Friday, before we met with Amanda Spielman & Sean Harford; for the first time we have system leaders who can say, “We’ve had three Ofsted inspections in the last month or so and this is what the different teams said/did …” the inconsistencies can be substantial. On occasion some inspection team demands/behaviours are simply inappropriate; other times they are just diametrically opposed or variable interpretations of the framework.
I’m actually quite relaxed about the inconsistencies; I think they’re inevitable due to the various biases we all have and different conclusions, with varying degrees of validity, drawn from data and observations. It’s the consequential high stakes, cliff edge consequences that are the real problem.
What’s the “Right Job” for Ofsted to Do?
Given the amount of data we now have on schools, allied with separate Safeguarding and Financial Auditing processes, I’m happy to say that schools who meet a minimum standard should just be allowed to get on with the job. No need for an inspector to call at all (except maybe to say well done). Below is my sketch of the ASCL/DataLab analysis of mean Progress 8 score to Ofsted grade. Correlation between the progress data and the inspection outcome looks very high; seems reasonable to me, the data does matter.
My proviso is that the progress measure needs tweaking to ensure it really is a measure of school effectiveness: limit outliers; put off rolled pupils back into the data and contextualise the outcomes. This issue of off rolling was mentioned by HMCI this morning, particularly relating to pupils with SEND, and is likely to get a lot of attention in the coming months/years.
This morning attention was drawn to hundred or so schools that haven’t been Ofsted graded “good” in the past decade. The number will actually be much higher as schools which have been sponsored to become academies will have lost the predecessor school’s Ofsted grades. You don’t have to inspect these schools; Ofsted already knows who they are and my guess is that they will overwhelmingly be in the most deprived areas of our country.
Inspectors, having left the majority of schools to carry on doing a good job, can spend significant time, over time working with fewer schools to develop theories of action and narrative reports around progress made and next steps. These are the really hard miles of school improvement. It would transform the inspection process; no grades, no damning reports and a consistent and persistent engagement with schools who need the greatest support from a supportive inspectorate. It may also transform the inspectorate; focused on improvement and more empathetic than ever before.
On its own it won’t transform every child’s life chances but it would stop the recruitment and retention difficulties these schools face. They are more likely to be hit by this year’s apparent downturn in applications to initial teacher training. Put in place a National Teaching Service whose experienced teachers would be deployed in these schools and greater equity and social mobility may be in our grasp. Some of the changes required are not within the “gift” of Ofsted; our political masters have a part to play.
With apologies to Headteachers’ Roundtable from whom all these ideas have been taken!