At the end of last week Ofsted published the following blog, “Testing the draft education inspection framework: our early findings from pilot inspections”. It has the corporate “controlling the narrative feel” about it. However, I sense Ofsted are beginning to really understand all is not well with their draft Education Inspection Framework.
Ofsted’s initial problem is that it is their framework. A few hours consultation with unions and professional associations – some of these without any documents to read – was always going to be woefully inadequate. Apparently, there was limited engagement of HMI in the process; further weakening the development of the framework. Ofsted is now trying to take a “we are all ears and really interested what you think” approach; pity this wasn’t adopted from the start.
Here are a few extracts from Ofsted’s blog and my re-interpretation of them.
Ofsted’s Proposed On-site Preparation (the no notice inspection farce)
“So far, the feedback from schools taking part in the pilots has been quite positive. We’re not even halfway through, but more than half of those who have taken part in pilots and given us feedback have expressed their view that on-site preparation is more effective than existing arrangements.
We’re certainly not turning a deaf ear to criticism and we are listening. Through the pilots, we want to refine the processes and try to address issues that are raised.”
Well the answer to the last bit is simple; phone up the day before rather than a couple of hours before you intend to turn up. The contempt for school leaders and the busy life of a school was never more apparent; ASCL was right to raise the issue of the tone of the handbook, in its draft response to the consultation.
Note the phrases “quite positive”, “but more than half” and “we’re certainly not turning a deaf ear to criticism”; Ofsted just hadn’t thought this through nor engaged with people who would have been clear this was a non-starter. It’s not like this is the first time Ofsted have pushed for no notice inspections built on a fundamental lack of trust for the profession. I think the no notice inspection is likely to disappear. Given the half day preparation, there is insufficient justification for extending the inspection of good schools to two days.
Internal performance information
We’ve also had a mixed, but broadly positive, set of views on inspectors not looking at the internal performance information for current pupils … I think a lot of the confusion has arisen from how people imagine this conversation might go and from what we mean by ‘internal performance information/data’.
I don’t think there was much confusion, if any; rather there was an ill-thought through populist idea that hadn’t taken into the account the well-thought through workload review on data, led by Professor Becky Allen. The “a mixed, but broadly positive, set of views on inspectors not looking at the internal performance information” suggests the whole proposal is getting a bit of a mauling. Not surprising given that a proportionate and sensible use of data is required to lead and manage a school effectively. Again the lack of appropriate work pre-consultation is exposed.
Two days on site for a Section 8 inspection
Finally, we’ve had a range of opinions about our inspectors spending 2 days on site during a section 8 inspection of a good or non-exempt outstanding school. Some school leaders raised doubts as to how the whole of the curriculum could be judged in less than 2 days, but quite sensibly, many have highlighted that a lot depends on how many inspectors will actually visit each school.
The “finally, we’ve had a range of opinions about our inspectors spending 2 days on site” is one of those classic corporate lines; really, LOL? School leaders are right to raise “doubts as to how the whole of the curriculum could be judged in less than 2 days”; I doubt it can be done in two weeks, at an average size secondary school, unless there are five or more inspectors visiting, all with different subject specialisms.
Going back to the early days of inspection, 60+ inspector days over a week was not unusual; they had a range of subject specialisms. Even this couldn’t adequately evaluate a curriculum which unfolds over time. ASCL’s draft response to the consultation was disappointing with respect to this. One day to evaluate a good school is nowhere near enough; two days is no better. Ofsted need to think through the implications of this more than it has; stop inspecting good schools and focus additional resources, over an extended period, on schools which need the greatest support.
Finishing on a Positive
Anecdotally, I’m hearing school leaders are enjoying and benefitting from the curriculum discussions during the pilot inspections. Experienced HMI engaged in a discursive, narrative style approach, with school leaders – senior and middle – and teachers, about the curriculum is an approach worth pursuing and really thinking about. I would image both parties – as opposed to both sides which are formed in the current cliff-edged and high stakes inspection process – are developing and growing, in a mutually respectful and trusting environment. To make this the norm: firstly, Ofsted needs to keep hold of more of its HMI and for longer; secondly, the grading of schools has to go.
Ofsted’s rather theoretical approach, its gathering of many like-minded individuals together to develop the framework, added to the inspection framework’s fragility. The hundreds of years of school leadership experience, shared by the rather more eclectic Headteachers’ Roundtable, allows us to bring a practical wisdom, an expertise gained through experience, to the potential pitfalls and unforeseen negative consequences of the inspection framework. We intend to publish our draft response to the consultation later this week.
I’m left wondering whether Ofsted will learn the biggest lesson from its pilot inspections; it is now time to ditch the grading of schools and refocus limited resources on fewer schools. Anything else is window dressing; revolution rather than evolution was always required. Somehow I doubt it; it’s all too little, too late for me.