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Quality of Education in England – a Curate’s Egg: Good in Parts

4 Jan

Chief Inspector’s Annual Report 2017-18

On 4 December 2018, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) of Schools, Amanda Spielman, issued her second annual report to Parliament, in accord with section 121 of the Education and Inspection Act 2006.  You may have missed it because of the Brexit kerfuffle.

As always, there was good news and bad news for the nation’s schools, academies, Further Education (FE) Colleges and local authorities (LAs).

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Minor inspection changes from September 2018

4 Jan

I        The Changes

Minor changes were made to the Inspection Handbook. These changes took effect from September 2018.

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Ofsted researches curriculum focus to plan for future inspections

4 Jan

I           The Consultation

From 16 January 2019, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman begins a consultation on the new Education Inspection Framework (EIF).   The focus on inspections is to be rebalanced.  Previously, outcomes was under the microscope – more so than progress – which had been stressing out headteachers and school/academy staff alike.   The current proposal is on refocusing inspections on the quality of education, including curriculum intent, implementation and impact.

To ensure that inspecting the quality of education is valid and reliable, she commissioned a major, two-year research study into the curriculum.   Inspectors visited 40 schools/academies in phase 1, 23 in phase 2 and 64 schools in phase 3[1]. There were also focus groups, reviews of inspection reports and other exercises undertaken.

Mrs Spielman said: “…….at the very heart of education sits the vast accumulated wealth of human knowledge and what we choose to impart to the next generation: the curriculum.

“Without a curriculum, a building full of teachers, leaders and pupils is not a school. Without receiving knowledge, pupils have learned nothing, and no progress has been made – whatever the measures might indicate.”  Exams should exist to serve the curriculum rather than the other way around. The dog must wag the tail not the tail the dog.  While exams were the best measure of how successfully knowledge was transmitted to young people, any test was just a sample of the knowledge that was gained. The curriculum goes well beyond that.

Knowledge appears to be like the cosmos and seems to have no boundaries in both, time and space.   Accordingly, an excellent school/academy makes careful choices between the breadth and depth of the curriculum it adopts and pursues, drawing on appropriate resources and deciding what to teach mindful of the opportunities available for pupils to develop new concepts.

This should be grounded firmly in a consensus of what knowledge and concepts should be handed over to the next generation to help that generation succeed and flourish.

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Ofsted in the spotlight – again

17 Aug

I        Inspecting schools/academies – a high-risk business

Working as an inspector for Ofsted is a high-risk business.   Because inspections are obsessed with judgements, the exercise can have devastating consequences on schools and academies.  It is, therefore, unsurprising that Ofsted is constantly under scrutiny.

The great and the good, including Professors Dylan Wiliam, formerly of University College and Institute of Education London, and Robert Coe of Durham University, have been critical of Ofsted in the past.

William Stewart wrote in an article for The Times Educational Supplement in April 2015 that Wiliam said in 2012 that Ofsted needed to subject its school inspections to a proper evaluation of reliability, claiming the watchdog did “not know good teaching” when it saw it. Coe warned, in 2013, that Ofsted’s practice was not research- or evidence-based adding that it needed to demonstrate that its evaluations of lessons were valid by testing the judgements of different inspection teams.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) Amanda Spielman is making strenuous efforts to change the public perception of inspections.   First she is confronting schools/academy leaders who off-load their “disruptive” children – especially prior to a possible inspection and/or the examinations in which they are likely to fail.  Second, she is introducing a fairer inspection regimen that takes more account of children’s starting points.

Secretary of State Damian Hinds is giving his support.   For instance, he has made it clear that it is not going to be the Regional Schools’ Commissioners (RSCs) who will be inspecting and evaluating the quality of education in schools/academies but rather Ofsted that will judge the institutions.

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Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI), launches her first Annual Report on state of education and children’s care in England

31 Dec

Amanda Spielman, HMCI, who took up her post on 1 January 2017, issued her first annual report on 13 December 2017.  As always, it was a bitter-sweet experience, where some of the findings were uplifting and some depressing.

I        The Positives

On the positive side, Spielman remarked that the life chances of the vast majority of young people in 2017 were the best they had ever been.

(i)         94% of early years providers were now rated good or outstanding.

(ii)        90% of primary schools and 79% of secondary ones were good or outstanding.

(iii)       80% of further education and skills providers were good or outstanding.

(iv)       83% of children’s homes were now good and outstanding.

(v)        More local authorities’ children’s services were on a path to improvement. Ofsted had inspected 146 out of 152 local authorities nationally and judged that 34% were good or outstanding, compared with 26% at the time of its previous social care annual report.   Even within those authorities that require improvement to be consistently good, there were many areas of good practice.

(vi)       There had been an overall trend of improvement across social care providers.  The proportion of good and outstanding children’s homes had increased from 79% to 83% since Ofsted last reported on them in 2016.   Across all the many types of providers inspected, only secure training centres had declined in the quality of their provision.

II       The Negatives

However, everything in the education garden is not rosy.  Over 500 primary and about 200 secondary schools/academies are currently judged as requiring improvement or in special measures over their last two inspections.   Of those inspected in 2017, 130 schools/academies had been underperforming for up to ten years.

The schools/academies shared similar features.

(i)         Unstable leadership, high staff turnover and difficulty in recruiting good staff members were blighting the educational provision for the children.

(ii)        During past inspections and monitoring exercises, inspectors had frequently reported seeing positive signs of renewal, especially after new leaders had been appointed.   This improvement, however, had not been sustained.

(iii)       Tragically, many had high numbers of pupils from deprived areas, above average proportions of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and White British pupils from low-income backgrounds.  These vulnerable children deserved the best and were been served the worst that education could offer in the country.  She exhorted policy-makers, professional and Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education) of which she is the chief to direct their support to improve the outcomes for all pupils, but especially the most vulnerable who were getting a raw deal.

(iv)       Where schools/academies were failing their pupils, weak governance was a common feature.   The elements of weak governance included the following.

Governors

  • were not challenging effectively or holding leaders to account, for instance, by being too accepting of what they were told;
  • did not understand school performance or quality sufficiently well;
  • were not holding leaders to account for the use of additional funding such as the Pupil Premium Grant (PPG);
  • were failing to act swiftly enough to challenge or support;
  • were not checking the quality and impact of external support; and
  • lacked skills and understanding to carry out their role effectively.

In the weaker MATs, she identified the following trustee/governance failings.

  • Trustees and governors were unclear and/or had not published schemes of delegation which outlined the roles and accountabilities of each level of governance – e.g. what precisely were the functions of the trustees, and what were those of the governing board and those of the committees;
  • Trust boards did not have an accurate picture of pupils’ progress in their academies.
  • Trustees and governors were overly dependent on academy leaders and a minority of members to interpret data.
  • They did not have clear strategies for the spending of additional funding such as the PPG and evaluating the impact of additional funding

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Ofsted’s new supremo sets out her vision

18 Aug

At the last Festival of Education conference in late June 2017, which was held in Wellington College, Berkshire, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI), Mrs Amanda Spielman, stressed how important it was for every school/academy to review the curriculum it is offering the pupils and for governors/trustees to recognise the importance of “leadership challenges and valuing management”.   She added that she would “use Ofsted’s powers responsibly and intelligently”, not only in her personal approach, but also “in the whole way Ofsted inspects and regulates”.

She set out her philosophy on education and its delivery and her vision for the future in leading Ofsted and presented her programme of action.   She acknowledged the successes of her predecessors, accepted the challenge that Ofsted faced in recognising the daunting task of schools in socially deprived areas and stressed the importance of excellent school/academy management – not just in “inspirational leadership”.

I        HMCI’s Objectives for Ofsted

She described three areas in which she would act.

(1)        First, she said that she would ensure that her inspectors provide fair, valid and reliable judgements about the performance of individual institutions.

(2)        She remarked that Ofsted was in a unique position in that it had evidence “from thousands of individual inspections on the ground as well as a bird’s eye view of the entire system”.   In the light of this, she said that the inspectorate would aggregate insights, triangulate findings with existing research and evidence and produce robust analyses of what was working well, both, at national level and individual school/academy practice.

(3)        Mrs Spielman added that she would “capitalise” on the information out there about the effect that Ofsted had on the sectors it inspects. Accordingly, she was keen to seek out the views of parents, teachers, governors, the government and all other users of inspection outcomes and Ofsted’s reports – the aim being to improve the work of Ofsted and  the quality of education offered in schools/academies.

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Ofsted Annual Report 2015/16

1 Jan

Preamble

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools (HMCI), published his fifth and final Ofsted annual report on the education system in England on Thursday, 1 December 2016.  He retired 30 days later.  In presenting the report, Sir Michael said “a world class education system is within our grasp – but only if serious capacity challenges are urgently addressed”.

Sir Michael stressed that a north/south ‘geographical divide’ meant the ablest pupils in the North and Midlands were less likely to reach A/A* at GCSE. He said: “Standards can only truly be considered high if they are high in every part of the country and for all pupils regardless of background or ability.”

However, his report is, in the main, positive.    The country’s schools/academies, he avers, had made progress over the last five years. Educators could be justly proud.  “Young people are getting a better deal than ever before,” he said.  School/academy leaders responded well to the changes in the system.  The decision to replace the “satisfactory” judgement with “requires improvement” led to schools/academies upping their game, making a greater effort ensuring that pupils are offered the very best possible education.     Of the former 4,800 satisfactory primary schools/academies, 79% were now good or outstanding and, of the previous satisfactory secondary ones, 56% were good or better.

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