Ofsted Inspections: All Change in September 2019

18 Apr

(1)       Ofsted’s Deputy Director heralds changes to inspections

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman has signalled a radical change to how school/academy inspections are to be carried out from 1 September 2019. Consultations on the draft inspection handbook, which began on January 16, 2019, closed on 5 April 2019.

Writing in the March/April 2019 of Governing Matters, the National Governors’ Association (NGA) magazine, Matthew Purves, Ofsted’s deputy director of schools, gave schools/academies a pat on the back when he stated: “England’s schools have made real improvements over the past two decades, thanks to the hard work of teachers, leaders, governors/trustees and many others.  The accountability system has played its part in the improvement.”  He added, however, that this accountability had become a slave (my word) to performance data, spawning a school improvement industry around scores and outcomes.  Schools and academies have expended too much time on performance data “rather than focus on what is really going on in the classrooms”.

You can sense that the pendulum is now set to swing in the opposite direction from outcomes to processes.  Matthew Purves empathises with teachers because of the excessive workload they have been under obsessing with data as they “generate, upload and analyse” outcomes endlessly. This focus, he avers, has been “a barrier to further improvement”.   Attending to pupil scores has drawn attention away from the substance of education – i.e. “what is taught, how it is taught and the impact”.   This remark is a bit puzzling.  It is precisely because schools and academies have been focusing on impact that they have placed so much store on data.

I will return to Matthew Purves at the end of the article.  Meanwhile, there is merit in outlining what will be different in inspections.

(2)       What is changing?

(a)        The quality of education will be under the microscope

The curriculum in a school/academy will become the beating heart of an inspection. It will replace the ‘quality of teaching, learning and assessment’ and ‘outcomes’ from the current framework.

Inspectors will look at

  • the extent to which the school’s/academy’s curriculum sets out the knowledge and skills pupils will gain at each stage;
  • the way school/academy staff teach and assess the curriculum, to support pupils to build their knowledge and to apply that knowledge as skills; and
  • the outcomes pupils achieve because of the education they’ve received.

Ofsted says this judgement will “place more emphasis on the substance of education” and less on performance data.

(b)       Pupils’ behaviour and attitudes

Ofsted will have a separate behaviour judgement to reassure parents about how well behaviour is managed in the school/academy.

Inspectors will assess

  • whether school/academy leaders are creating a calm, well-managed environment free from bullying and
  • the impact this has on the behaviour and attitudes of pupils.

(c)        Personal development 

The ‘personal development’ judgement will recognise the work schools/academies do to build pupils’ resilience and confidence in later life. Inspectors will evaluate

  • the school’s/academy’s intent to provide for the personal development of pupils and
  • the quality with which the school/academy staff implement this work.

Ofsted is of the view that separating these judgements will help to

  • enhance the inspection focus on each area and
  • enable clearer reporting in both areas.

(3)       How will the inspection run?

On-site section 8 inspections of ‘good’ schools (formerly ‘short inspections’) will be carried out over two days because Ofsted hopes that inspectors will have enough opportunity to gather evidence that a school/academy remains ‘good’ under the new criteria.

A section 8 inspection of a ‘good’ school will focus on aspects of the school’s provision, as a subset of the full framework criteria.

(a)        For every inspection, the plan is for Ofsted to call the school/academy no later than 10.00 a.m. on the day before the (full-blown) inspection is scheduled to start, to notify the headteacher and governors formally about it. The lead inspector will arrive at the school/academy by 12.30 p.m. on the day on which the institution has been notified that the “storm-troopers” will follow the day after.  The purpose is to study the school/academy documentation which will guide the inspection.

Ofsted said this would allow inspectors and school leaders to carry out preparation collaboratively wherever possible.

The lead Inspector will use the afternoon to gain an overview of the school’s/academy’s recent performance and any changes since the last inspection plus

  • check documentation and
  • talk to the leaders about
    • how the school/academy has built on its strengths,
    • the weaknesses leaders have identified,
    • the action leaders have planned or have in progress to address those weaknesses,
    • practical arrangements for the inspection, and
    • documentation or other evidence that inspectors will need to see during the inspection.

The on-site preparation will be completed no later than 5.00 p.m. on the day before the main inspection starts.

(b)        Inspectors won’t look at non-statutory internal progress and attainment data. This is to help make sure the inspection doesn’t create unnecessary work for school/academy staff.

However, inspectors will

  • gather direct evidence of the quality of education and
  • have meaningful discussions with school/academy leaders about how they know the curriculum is having an impact, why they’re collecting the information they are, and how they’re using it to inform their curriculum and teaching.

(4)       What remains unchanged

The consultation documentation shows

  • the existing ‘overall effectiveness’ and ‘leadership and management’ judgements will remain;
  • the ‘outstanding’ grade will be retained, and the current four-point grading scale will continue;
  • ‘Outstanding’ schools (other than special schools, pupil referral units and maintained nursery schools) will continue to be exempt from routine inspections; and
  • The full inspections of multi-academy trusts (MATs) will not be carried out by Ofsted and there will be no separate framework for inspections of MATs.

(5)       Reflections on the proposed inspection model

There is no equivocation about the importance of the quality of education being at the heart of what goes on in a school/academy.   Therefore, Ofsted deserves praise for resetting the balance away from performance data reminiscent of the approach of the school board superintendent, Mr Thomas Gradgrind, in Charles Dickens’s Hard Times who was obsessed with cold facts and numbers. Further, Ofsted will not be looking at pupils’ internal progress and attainment data when inspecting.

Rather, the inspectors’ attention will be directed at the quality of education, how the school/academy decides what to teach and why, “how well they do it and whether it leads to strong outcomes for young people” according to Matthew Purves.

During that one day when the team will be on site, “inspectors will meet those responsible for planning the curriculum….both, overall and at subject or topic level”.  Discussions will focus on the “end points” the school/academy “wishes pupils to achieve and the key concepts and skills pupils must grasp in order to reach those”.  This is a “big ask” of the inspectors, and, indeed the school/academy if the inspection is to last for one day only.

The problem with this approach is that it would undermine one of the Secretary of State’s, Damian Hinds’s, chief priorities – i.e. reducing teachers’ workload.   Staff will have their work cut out providing information on what and how they teach and how they measure impact.  The teaching profession is already haemorrhaging members.  Would this inspection model make an already bad situation worse?

The aims of HMCI Spielman are noble, i.e. to get a handle on the real substance of education, which performance tables cannot capture.   But how will this be done if an inspection lasts for only two days – including the first day of preparation?  Were the number of days inspecting a school/academy increase, will that not be placing more pressure on already stressed (and occasionally burnt-out) teachers?  Besides, any increase in the number of inspection days will either mean that the Secretary of State will have to augment Ofsted’s budget.

Keeping the number of days down to two, will inevitably mean that for a school/academy to do well during an inspection, the headteacher and governors will have to “talk the talk” but will not be evaluated on walking the walk, simply because their will not be enough time to do so.  And the eloquent leaders could get away with ‘murder’.

In education, there are many models of what constitutes a “good, suitable curriculum” for the pupils.  Schools are restricted to the National Curriculum.   If Mrs Spielman rules that only one model constitutes a good curriculum, will that not be incompatible with the freedom that the government is giving to academies?  The legislation prescribes that schools/academies have to offer a “broad and balanced” curriculum.  “Broad and balanced” is open to interpretation and not something that Ofsted can prescribe.

Mrs Spielman is correct about wanting to tackle the pressure on headteachers and teachers and proscribe a system that places emphasis on outcomes – test and examination results – to the detriment of processes – i.e. the quality of education.  However, she will need to consider very carefully what measures she wishes to put into place to redress this balance and ensure that in doing so, she does not add to the stress levels of headteachers and teachers.

Let’s end with some comforting news.   Professor Daniel Muijis, head of research at Ofsted, speaking at the Westminster Insight Conference in London in late March 2019, said that schools/academies could be granted an extension to the planned “transition period” of 12 months to allow them to develop curriculum plans.

“We appreciate,” he said, “that because there hasn’t been a particularly strong focus on curriculum in the accountability system over the last decade or so, a lot of people are going through the process now.  Therefore, what we are not expecting is that in September 2019, when we start inspection under the new framework, everybody has got that fully ready.

“We are expecting to see school/academies that are on a journey of curriculum development and, therefore, we are building in a transition period where inspectors will be expected to make a judgement based on where you are in the journey of curriculum rather than expecting you to be fully ready with that.   We will review that after one year and look at our overall evidence from the system and make a decision as to whether we need to extend the transitional period.”

He also hinted, in a tangential reference to the curriculum at secondary level, that the watchdog would take intake into account when looking at what progress schools/academies make towards the government’s EBacc target of 75% of pupils studying the necessary subjects by 2022.

If schools and academies expect inspection pressures to ease, they may be whistling in the wind.   Inspectors will continue to make judgements on impact – i.e. how what trustees, governors, headteachers, teachers and support staff do for children benefits the children.   Despite what Matthew Purves writes, schools and academies will have to produce results.  However, they should view these pressures creatively and deploy them in children’s best interests.

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