I was one of many education commentators who, earlier this year, was concerned at the outcomes of the initial inspections under the new Ofsted framework.
Between January and March this year, just five per cent of secondary schools achieved “outstanding” judgements in their inspections – a total of 17 schools. This compared to the October to December 2011 period when 20 per cent of secondaries gained the top rating – 49 institutions.
More concerning was the fact that 19 per cent of secondaries were judged as being inadequate between January and March – 59 schools. This was compared to just nine per cent of those secondaries inspected between October and December 2011 (22 schools).
Of course, as a profession, we were all prepared for the arrival of self-proclaimed Dirty Harry, Sir Michael Wilshaw, as he took over at Ofsted in January. He oversaw the introduction of the new inspection framework and he was clear and open about the fact that the bar was being raised. In short, we all knew that it would now be much harder to achieve an outstanding judgement.
Even so, as the first inspections took place under the new framework, headteachers began to express concern at an apparent “inconsistency in the quality of feedback between inspection teams”. Not my words, but those of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT).
The NAHT said that anecdotal evidence had given them “considerable cause for concern over the quality and consistency of school judgements on which so much depends”. And it seems the NAHT’s fears were justified after figures for the latest quarter of Ofsted inspections were released (see full story and statistics here).
They show that secondary inspections between April and June 2012 returned to a healthy level of outstanding judgements – thus raising questions over the wild variations that we saw between January and March.
Between April and June, 15 per cent of the secondaries inspected were judged in the top category (as opposed to five per cent). Similarly, the proportion of secondaries judged inadequate dropped a massive 13 per cent – from 19 to six per cent.
NAHT chief Russell Hobby sees the latest figures as a sign that Ofsted’s inspectors are “starting to get the hang of the new framework”. He now has hope that “a corner may be about to be turned”.
It is certainly true that the April to June figures seem more akin to the school system that I know than the unlikely January to March figures. I say this even with the knowledge that we now live in a tougher inspection regime.
What clinches it for me is a comparison between inspection outcomes in autumn 2011 under the old framework and new regime inspections between January and June 2012.
Across all schools, they show that there has also been a drop in outstanding judgements this year – but only of seven (rather than 15) per cent. They also show an increase in “inadequate” judgements, but of three (rather than 10) per cent.
I am no statistician, but the wild variations in secondary school inspection outcomes between January and March were a glaring indication of inconsistencies in judgements. It is my belief that the powers that be wanted a clear and tough message to be sent out in January. This, I believe, led to some overly tough and inconsistent judgements.
I share Mr Hobby’s hope of a change in the air; the inspection outcomes do seem to have stabilised. However, we have to remember that another new framework has come into effect this month and it remains to be seen what further impact these latest changes will have on inspection outcomes.
PS: I am heartened to note that leadership of our schools was ranked as good or outstanding in 71 per cent of inspections between April and June. To echo the above, this to me seems much more indicative of our world class school system.