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Roundup from the Ofsted 2015 inspection reform events

Sean Harford

In the last month we have run eight national launch conferences to explain the changes to Ofsted inspection coming in September.

At these events, we spoke about the new common inspection framework, short inspections for good schools and FE and skills providers, and changes to bring many more serving practitioners into our inspection workforce. As Sir Michael said at Westminster Central Hall on 15 June, these reforms are about recognising and encouraging great leadership.

All around the country, leaders from early years, schools and further education and skills have given me positive feedback about our messages. Many responded positively to Sir Michael’s plan to recognise exceptional headteachers, while we recognise that schools are made great also by the hard work of dedicated teachers. Sir Michael’s announcement that we will open the way Ofsted handles complaints up to the scrutiny of panels of independent headteachers was also welcomed.

There was a lot of cut and thrust in the discussions that took place around the conferences, and this has continued on social media. For this blog, I’ve rounded up some of the topics that people have asked about most frequently in order to provide some clarification.

Inspections of outstanding schools

I have been asked a number of times whether Ofsted will inspect outstanding schools. Many leaders who came to the launch events wanted to know whether the new short inspections will also apply to all outstanding schools rather than just good schools.

They will not.

Ofsted’s inspection of schools is governed by legislation that currently exempts schools from routine inspection if they were judged outstanding at their last inspection – except special schools, PRUs and maintained nursery schools. As a result, we have no plans to introduce routine inspection for outstanding schools. However, these schools continue to be subject to our risk assessment. We retain the powers to inspect if performance drops or other concerns are raised.

Academy converters

At the conferences we were asked about good schools that convert to become academies. Would their first inspection as a new school be a section 5 or a short inspection?

For converter academies, where the predecessor school was good, under current regulations the new academy will receive a section 5 inspection. The reason for this is that, while Ofsted can draw on information from inspection of the predecessor school, it must treat the newly converted academy as a new legal entity. It cannot, therefore, qualify for a short inspection on the basis of the judgement of its predecessor school. Of course, if the academy is judged good at that point, then its next inspection would be a short inspection. This can only be changed if the regulations are updated: I’ll keep you posted if there is any change.

Assessment without national curriculum levels

'Life without levels' cropped up with regularity at our conferences, with delegates asking what inspectors will be considering when they look at assessment and pupils’ outcomes.

I am absolutely clear that Ofsted has no preferred style or format for the performance information that schools use to monitor progress. It is important that school leaders devise an approach to assessment that is effective in assessing the progress made by their pupils within their curriculum. School leaders should therefore not seek to devise a system that they think inspectors will want to see; it should be one that works for their pupils with the sole aim of supporting their achievement. Inspectors will work with whatever information and systems schools use, rather than expecting to see – or not see – a particular system.

Coasting schools

In some of our conferences, there was confusion about the notion of coasting schools and how that relates to Ofsted inspection judgements. For example, I was asked “if a school is judged good multiple times and carries on having short inspections, is it a coasting school?” and whether there was a “direct link between the definition of a coasting school and Ofsted grades”. In response to those specific questions:

  • if a schools is repeatedly graded as good, then it is just that – a good school
  • other than that our framework considers both a school’s progress and attainment, there is no direct link between Ofsted grades and the definition of a coasting school

At the end of June, the Department for Education provided the proposed definition for coasting schools which will be consulted upon in the autumn. The definition is based on published data, which is then the basis for a conversation between the Regional Schools Commissioner and the school’s leaders.

Ofsted inspection is based on a wide range of evidence gathered by inspectors about what is happening in a school now. In judging pupils’ outcomes, inspectors will give most weight to the progress of pupils currently in the school across year groups and subjects.

As I reminded many at the conferences, coasting schools will be identified based on performance data from 2014, 2015 and 2016, so it is currently impossible to identify any individual school as coasting.

A broad and balanced curriculum

We had quite a few questions about whether Ofsted’s definition of a broad and balanced curriculum in the leadership and management judgement was connected to the English Baccalaureate (EBacc). Would schools have to offer the EBacc in order to be judged outstanding?

It is not currently government policy that schools must offer the EBacc in order to be judged outstanding and, as such, is not reflected in our inspection framework and handbook.

However, it is certainly true that there is greater emphasis on the provision of a broad and balanced curriculum in the new schools handbook. Inspectors will look at “the range of subjects and courses on offer that help pupils acquire knowledge, understanding and skills in all aspects of their education, including linguistic, mathematical, scientific, technical, human and social, physical and artistic learning.” As you can see, this definition goes further than the range of subjects in the EBacc.

Short inspections for special schools and pupil referral units (PRUs)

The final key question we were asked at the launch events related to short inspections of special schools and PRUs. Specifically, Ofsted will notify special schools and PRUs of a short inspection at around 9.00am the day before the short inspection (compared to around noon for all other schools), and in some circumstances the HMI may conduct their preparation on site that afternoon. This led lots of leaders to ask us whether we are increasing the burden of inspection on these schools. This is not the case and I want to explain the circumstances in which inspectors may conduct preparation on site.

When Ofsted call special schools and PRUs to notify them about the short inspection, we will request the usual planning information, including information about progress and attainment. If this can be emailed to the lead HMI, they will do their preparation remotely. However, if some or all of this information cannot be emailed to the lead HMI it is only then that they will go on site to complete their planning. This is because nationally published data can give an incomplete view of most special schools and are not available for PRUs, and it is often the case that essential information to inform the inspection is only available on site.

If HMI are on site on the afternoon prior to inspection, they will look only at the kinds of planning information they would normally use to prepare before an inspection remotely. HMI will not visit the different sites, conduct interviews with leaders or do anything else that could be construed as inspection during the preparation time. We will clarify this in our handbook for section 8 inspections for September 2015.

Finally, I know that a few schools will be carrying on into next week, but for the most part teachers will be finishing today for the end of term – I remember that feeling very well! The mixture of exhaustion and elation is a heady brew, but I know that for those who have finished today, you’ll be looking back on a year of hard work, emotion and success for most. I know what hard work teaching entails and that every one of you will deserve every minute of the imminent summer break. So I hope that you can enjoy some rest and relaxation, and that you come back ready for the new year ahead.

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