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Changing our approach to short inspections: your views wanted

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Earlier this month, we launched a consultation on changes to the way we carry out our short inspections of good schools. Your views on these changes are very important to us.

We know that short inspections are generally popular with headteachers and other school leaders. They are collaborative experiences, encouraging constructive discussions between inspectors and school leaders. And they’re not as high-stakes as a full inspection. Indeed, almost 80% of respondents to a survey last year told us they were a welcome and positive change. So we are very keen to keep those benefits.

A short inspection can’t change a school’s existing grade for overall effectiveness. And, so far this academic year, nearly seven in 10 short inspections have confirmed that the school is still good without the need to convert to a full inspection.

But in almost a third of short inspections this year, inspectors decided that they needed more evidence to determine whether the school was still good. This was either because they believed the standard of education had declined to less than good, or they thought the school was potentially now outstanding. And in some cases, they had concerns about safeguarding, which needed further investigation.

In each case, the short inspection converted to a section 5 inspection, with a larger team returning to the school within 48 hours to gather more evidence.

This is where we want to change our approach. We know that this quick conversion process is creating some practical challenges - both for schools and for our contracted Ofsted Inspectors (OIs), who are typically busy school leaders themselves.

Some school leaders who have undergone conversion have told us the experience was overwhelming. First of all because they had to understand the reasons for the conversion, and then they had to adjust to the bigger team of inspectors. Many of them said they would rather have had a section 5 inspection in the first place.

The 48-hour conversion period also makes it hard for OIs to predict how long they’ll be away from their own schools. Since they don’t know if a short inspection will convert, they also don’t know if they’ll be needed for more than one day. And frequent last-minute changes to inspection schedules are frustrating and impractical.

So the changes we’ve proposed are about making the conversion process as painless as possible for everyone involved.

Specifically, we want to extend the window for converting a short inspection from 48 hours to a maximum of 15 working days.

This will make the whole experience more manageable for school leaders. They’ll have time to come to terms with the lead inspector’s decision to convert before the full team arrives. But we’re confident that they won’t have time to overly prepare for the full inspection, although we recognise the potential risks here.

It will also make inspection better for our OIs. Providing up to 15 days' notice will allow OIs to confirm time away from their own school. And it will virtually eliminate Ofsted’s current practice of keeping inspectors on contingency.

We are piloting this new approach in several schools this term, so we can see how they work in a live inspection environment. And we’re gathering the views of school leaders, teachers and inspectors about the practicalities of the changes, and how we can minimise their impact on workloads.

The consultation also proposes that some schools previously judged good should automatically receive a full inspection when we already know they are in complex circumstances. This would affect roughly one in five schools currently judged good.

We will select these schools using our standard risk assessment process. We’ll also take account of cases where a large number of parents have raised concerns about a school. Our regional teams will add their own local knowledge and intelligence to this information. If all of this leads us to believe that a short inspection would be very likely to convert, we will carry out a full inspection straightaway and the school will know this from the start.

This doesn’t mean that inspectors will enter the school with the pre-conceived belief that it’s no longer good. The purpose of the section 5 will be to gather enough evidence to make our full set of judgements. And our experience tells us that any inspection grade will still be possible. Since September 2015, around a quarter of short inspections that converted have seen the school stay good, while around 15% improved to outstanding.

But since conversions can be difficult for schools to manage, and as we’re often able to predict when they will happen, our view is that it’s sensible to limit their number.

The two changes we've proposed are straightforward. We’re not looking to amend the short inspection methodology. The majority of good schools will still receive a short inspection and most of them will remain good.

But we want to continue improving the inspection experience for schools and our inspectors, especially those who are also serving practitioners. So these proposals are based on careful consideration of our own experience and the feedback we’ve received since September 2015. We’ll use responses to the consultation to inform these proposed new inspection arrangements, which if they go ahead, we're aiming to put in place after the October half term this year.

Finally, I encourage you to give us your views using the online questionnaire.

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Hugh posted on

    Sorry Sean but if you start a blog with a statement like "We know that short inspections are generally popular with headteachers and other school leaders." it is difficult to take the rest of it seriously. You might mean that they are generally preferred to longer inspections but to say that any inspections are popular is really stretching credibility.