It was with great interest and a healthy dose of cynicism that I studied the response to the consultation on the newest Ofsted framework, due to be implemented in September.
I am cynical because in my experience, what is announced (very loudly) before the consultation is generally what happens. Consultations such as this one are seen by many as a “done deal”, with not much hope of anything changing.
Our new chief inspector has been very vocal on the changes he was going to make when he was appointed. The rhetoric of his announcements, backed up by the secretary of state, did not encourage any of us to really believe that Ofsted would back-track on policy matters.
This is maybe why less than 3,000 heads and teachers took the time to respond to the consultation.
However, my cynicism was displaced because there have been some changes to the proposals as a result of the consultation – even if we have to look very carefully for them and take what solace we can as we hurtle though the six weeks left of term and towards implementation in September.
The most important changes are as follows: Ofsted has agreed that no-notice inspections were impractical and has moved instead to “short notice”, with schools receiving a phone call after lunch on the day before the inspection takes place. This will enable heads to make sure they are present for the inspection and allow the school to make “practical” arrangements and ensure all relevant data is available.
Ofsted has also agreed that it is inappropriate to place schools identified as being in the new “requires improvement” bracket into a category and therefore make them eligible for intervention or “forced academisation”.
Instead, only those schools identified as having “serious weaknesses” (which will replace the current “notice to improve”) will be eligible for intervention.
Those “requiring improvement” will be likely to be visited after two years, although this will depend on the individual circumstances of the school. Furthermore, schools judged “satisfactory” prior to August 2012 will not be recategorised retrospectively as “requiring improvement”, but will be revisited in 2013/14.
Responses to the consultation pointed out that the proposed mechanistic “three strikes and you’re out” approach to school inspection failed to recognise the practicalities of school improvement.
Ofsted has agreed, and now states that there will be some flexibility in the system to account for events such as a recent change in leadership.
The proposals for schools to provide anonymised information of the outcomes of the most recent performance management of teachers, remains the same. Inspectors are to “evaluate the robustness of performance management arrangements, and consider whether there is a correlation between the quality of teaching in a school and salary progression of the school’s teachers”. This will reflect on the leadership and management of the school.
As we near the end of the school year I am not sure how this information is to be presented but no doubt detailed guidance will be provided a week or so before the new framework is implemented!
Finally, Ofsted agrees that the inspection system should be more supportive and less punitive and is now looking at ways to support schools in their improvement journey. We wait to see what they will come up with (I suggest they might start with monitoring and curbing the negative declarations, announcements and off-the-cuff comments being made by the chief inspector).
While there have been some positive changes made following the consultation, I for one am disappointed that there still appears to be no understanding that punishing schools and making them out to be the enemy does nobody any good. Alienating the profession is going to lead excellent teachers to leave inner city schools, where the job is much harder and the stakes much higher, to work in schools with less challenge.
I am also disappointed that the profession was not more proactive in expressing their views. Even though the number of responses is similar to the feedback to the national curriculum consultation, I despair that every headteacher, every chair of governors and teacher in the country did not take the time to engage in the process. Yes we are all busy and the window for responding was very small. However, that is no excuse! We have only ourselves to blame when we leave it to others to engage on our behalf.
It is clear that our unions have played a major part in representing our views but it is not enough. We need to stand up and be counted and make sure our views are heard loud and clear. Democracy needs effort. Who knows how many changes our coalition government will introduce over the next few years?
We need to be using our collective power to engage and respond and make sure that any changes are for the better. If we lie down and play dead we deserve everything we get!
Further informationRead the Ofsted consultation response online.
Kenny Frederick is headteacher of George Green’s Community School in east London.