All change at Ofsted from September 2015 – again

25 Aug

I           Ofsted under attack

Ofsted is seldom out of the spotlight.  In April 2015, just prior to the general elections, it came under fire from politicians – left and right – teachers, school leaders, the unions  and think tanks, all demanding changes to the watchdog.    At the time, Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Schools (HMCI), was recovering from major surgery.  Sir Michael returned to work and plans to stay on till 2017.

The Times Educational Supplement (TES) averred that he has been the most controversial chief inspector since the late Sir Chris Woodhead because of his blunt speaking.  Sir Michael lost the confidence of ministers when he criticised the government for sacking Baroness Morgan as chair of Ofsted.  He was “spitting blood” when he suspected that the Department for Education (DfE) was briefing against him.

Academics have been critical of Ofsted.   In 2012, Professor Dylan Williams of the Institute of Education University College London, said that Ofsted needed to show more “humility and demonstrate ‘integrity’ by allowing school inspections to be properly evaluated for reliability”.   Durham University’s Professor Robert Coe stated a year later that its practice was not research- or evidence-based and needed to demonstrate its lesson evaluations were valid by testing whether different inspection teams produced consistent judgements of schools.

A month later, the then special adviser to the former Secretary of State Michael Gove voiced concerns about Sir Michael’s leadership in an internal memo leaked in October 2014.  Sir Michael was furious but, following reflection, went on a charm-offensive making radical changes by deciding that his inspectors must cease making judgements on the quality of individual lessons.  Following the elections, Ofsted has now gone on to make major reforms to its inspection model.  

II          The new (September 2015) inspection framework

In late June 2015, Sir Michael Wilshaw announced the changes to the education inspection regime which include

  1. a new inspection framework,
  2. the definition of “good” schools and how they will be judged; and
  3. a major purge of inspectors.

(1)          The Common Inspection Framework

The raison d’être for the new common inspection framework (CIF) is a uniform approach to inspection across different types of schools, nurseries and further education outfits to promote greater consistencies among various providers – state and independent. Parents will have the opportunity of comparing institutions as their children move through school and further education (FE).



Inspectors will make judgements in the following areas:

  • overall effectiveness;
  • effectiveness of the leadership and management of the institution;
  • the quality of teaching, learning and assessment;
  • pupils’/students’ personal development, behaviour and welfare;
  • outcomes for the pupils/students/learners; and
  • the effectiveness of the early years and/or sixth form provision (where applicable).

Further Education and skills providers will have the following areas inspected and judged:

  • 16-to-19 study programmes;
  • 19+ study programmes;
  • apprenticeships;
  • traineeships;
  • employability;
  • impact of provision on the learners in receipt of high-needs funding;
  • community learning; and
  • full-time and part-time provision in 14-16 colleges.

Among other things, Ofsted will also inspect the breadth and balance of a provider’s curriculum when judging the leadership and management of the institution.  (See paragraph 28 of the CIF.)

(2)        Short Inspections

A school judged to be “Good” in its last Section 5 inspection will not be the subject of a full inspection every three-to-five years.  Instead, it will receive a short inspection approximately once every three years. An  FE or skills provider judged “Good” in its last inspection will (also) no longer be subjected to a full inspection every six years, but rather receive a short inspection about once every three years.

A short inspection will focus on

  • whether the quality provision has been sustained and
  • the leadership and management of the institution;

Where inspectors find good quality provision, leadership and management, the institution will receive a letter setting out the main findings.  If significant concerns arise, the school or provider will be informed that a full inspection will be carried out.

Where there is an indication that the school or provider may have improved and there is a possibility that it could be judged “Outstanding”, a full inspection will be arranged.

Ofsted will not inspect “Outstanding” schools and Early Years settings routinely but retain powers to inspect if, following risk assessments or complaints from the “clients” and concerns are raised.

Independent schools will also be inspected under the new CIF and the revised independent schools standards in the next three years.


(3)        Governance

As in the previous model, governance is evaluated as part of leadership and management.  Inspectors will consider the following.

  • The governors’ vision and ambition for the school and how these are communicated to staff and pupils.
  • To what extent do governors hold school leaders to account in a range of matters – including pupil/student progress and achievement, the quality of the curriculum, promoting good pupil behaviour and securing value for money.
  • The effectiveness of governors in the discharge of their core statutory functions.

In addition, inspectors will evaluate how the governors of schools/academies co-operate as part of groups such as federations and multi-academy trusts (MATs).

On 15 June 2015, Matthew Purves, Head of Ofsted Inspections, produced and broadcast a short podcast setting out the new inspection arrangements.

(4)        Who will inspect

From September 2015, Ofsted brought all its inspectors in-house and “purged” 1,200 of inspectors who were working previously for contractors, who had been charged with doing the business.  These folk were deemed to be “not good enough” to judge schools reliably.   Ofsted, actually, is in a no-win situation.  While it is anxious to show the world and his dog that it is serious about doing the job well by ridding the system of the 1,200 inspectors, schools that have landed in the deep end of the educational pool of negative judgements say this has come too late.   If Ofsted did not do anything to improve the system, it would have been criticised anyway.

Meanwhile, the watchdog has introduced a new grading system for inspectors, who will be organised into groups of 10. Each group will be assigned an HMI mentor.  After every inspection, the members of the team will be marked and graded on their performance by the lead person.   This will be fed back to the regional director via the HMI. While individual inspector grades won’t be published, grades will be made available at regional and national levels.

Where an inspector is not rated “good”, s/he will be assisted by the HMI mentor.  If further assistance becomes necessary, a central team will offer four weeks “intensive support” (not unlike someone who is on life support).   If even after this the inspector fails to pass muster, s/he will be informed that Ofsted will be making arrangements to do without this person’s service, much as Ofsted regrets to do so.

III        Coasting Schools

Meanwhile, the latest wheeze is that the watchdog has been charged by Ms Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education, to lead a charge against “coasting” schools so that the government may intervene and convert them into academies.  And what – according to the government – is the definition of “coasting”?

A primary school will be judged to be coasting if in the first two years (following promulgation of the definition) “the school has fewer than 85% of children achieving level 4 and above in reading, writing and mathematics and below average proportions of pupils make expected progress between the age of 7 and 11 followed by a year below the coasting level set against the new accountability regime, which will see children expected to achieve a higher expected standard and against a new measure of progress”.[1]

A secondary school will be judged to be coasting if “in 2014 and 2015 fewer than 60% of children achieve five A* to C including English and mathematics and they are below the median level of expected progress and in 2016 they fall below a level set against the new Progress 8 measure.  This level will be set after (the) 2016 results are available to ensure it is set a suitable level.  A school will have to be below those levels in all three years to be defined as coasting.  By 2018, the definition of coasting will be based entirely on Progress 8 and will not have an attainment level”.

Progress 8 will be introduced for all schools in 2016 (based on the exam results).  This measure is designed to encourage schools to offer a broad and balanced curriculum at Key Stage 4 and reward schools for teaching all their pupils (rather than those on the borderlines of C and D).   The Progress 8 measure will be based on students’ progress measured across eight subjects: English, mathematics, three other English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects (science, computer science, geography history and languages), and three further subjects which can be from the range of EBacc subjects or can be any other approved, high-value arts, academic or vocational subjects. From 2016, the floor standard will be based the school’s results on the Progress 8 measure.

Vocational subjects which will contribute to the Progress 8 measure can be found here.

According to the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT), 60% of primary schools which will be classed as “coasting” (by the government’s definition) are currently good or better by Ofsted’s standards.   Secondary headteachers and governors are also disturbed. Any sanctions of the 165 (or so) grammar schools were effectively ruled out by the government – because all schools where at least 60% of pupils gain five good GCSEs will be excused intervention.

Meanwhile, schools judged to be coasting and without a credible plan to improve will be shanghaied into academy status.

Ofsted will be denied any role in this anti-coasting initiative – either by way of identifying the school or deciding what to do with them.   This job has been delegated to the eight regional commissioners. However, the nation is concerned about their workloads – which will increase astronomically – given that each has only seven staff members.

IV        Tailpiece

And finally, just in case the reader is a teacher having to put up with these endless changes, she/he may be able to let off steam by simply listening to Aida a parody-like Gilbert and Sullivan song performed on You Tube during the halcyon days when Michael Gove was the Secretary of State.

[1] I salute you if you can understand what this means.

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