No-notice plan is 'disproportionate' and ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to Trojan Horse


The move to no-notice inspection in light of the Trojan Horse revelations in Birmingham would be a “knee-jerk and disproportionate” response, headteachers have told SecEd.

They have also questioned the plans in light of the fact that Ofsted already has the power to visit schools unannounced.

It came after Ofsted confirmed last week that it will revisit plans to move to a system of no-notice inspection as part of its current wider review of school inspection.

Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw was asked by prime minister David Cameron and education secretary Michael Gove to “look at the practicalities of moving to a system of routine no-notice inspections”.

Sir Michael had pushed for this two years ago, but settled for the current system of half-day notice visits after concerns were raised by teachers and school leaders.

As well as the possibility of no-notice visits, Sir Michael has also said Ofsted will consult on plans to introduce graded judgements on a school’s “wider curriculum”.

Ofsted is already undertaking a review of the future of school inspection and is planning to implement changes in September 2015.

The inspectorate’s report into 21 schools in Birmingham as part of the Trojan Horse investigation uncovered concerns that in some schools there was inadequate safeguarding, a narrowing of the curriculum, and that headteachers had been marginalised by governors.

However, headteachers told SecEd this week that to introduce no-notice inspection for all schools would not be proportionate.

Sir Mike Griffiths, headteacher of Northampton School for Boys, said: “I cannot believe that this is a proportionate response, and am completely opposed to no notice. Surely if there are real concerns in a particular instance, HMI already have the power to enter that school? It need not be called ‘an inspection’. Poor law nearly always is the consequence of knee-jerk responses by politicians in response to a perceived problem. This seems a case of a decided jerk of the knee.”

Ofsted’s current power to inspect any school without notice comes under Section 8 of the Education Act 2005. This can be used to follow up any concerns about a school raised via complaints or other means.

A number of the headteachers SecEd spoke to also feared that the Trojan Horse revelations were being used as an excuse to introduce no-notice visits.

One Midlands headteacher, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “I can’t help but feel this is a Trojan horse in itself. Sir Michael has wanted (no-notice inspections) from the start, and now, for the sake of a few schools in Birmingham, the whole country will have these. It would appear that in order to eliminate ‘a culture of fear and intimidation’ we will be subject to a culture of fear and intimidation.”

Jacques Szemalikowski, headteacher at Hampstead School in London, added: “I fail to see why the Birmingham schools issue justifies a move to no notice inspection. How on earth will it prevent extremism any more than the present system with schools being given, effectively, half a day’s notice? Using this situation to move towards no-notice inspection suggests a pretext of using a Trojan horse for a Trojan Horse.”

Other school leaders echoed the view that no-notice inspections would not solve the problem.

Vanessa Ray, headteacher at West Lakes Academy in Cumbria, said: “You can’t change the exam results and you can’t change the quality of teaching within the notice period so the outcome is the same whether it is no notice or short notice. Those Birmingham schools could not have changed the ethos/their practices within the notice period, that sort of thing takes months and months to accrue so won’t be changed overnight, so why do away with short notice completely?”

Elsewhere, Paul Scutt, headteacher at Bishop Fox’s School in Somerset, said there was “a plethora of reasons” why no-notice inspections are flawed. However, he said they were justified when there is evidence of safeguarding concerns, but that “Ofsted should expect to have to justify (such visits) with evidence”.

Ian Potter, headteacher at Bay House School in Gosport, added: “This issue should be less about the notice period of an inspection, and more about what we want inspectors to evaluate in our schools. There is a danger that this circus of frenzy becomes another example in the public sector of ‘missing the point’.”

Despite these concerns, the move to no-notice is firmly on the cards for schools now. On Tuesday last week, Sir Michael said: “Events of recent weeks have served to reinforce my original view that no-notice inspections for all schools are the best way to make sure that, for every school we visit, inspectors see schools as they normally are.”

In the meantime, a further statement confirmed that Ofsted’s eight regional directors have been instructed to “respond swiftly” to any further concerns and will use existing powers to carry out unannounced inspections where necessary.

Sir Michael said: “What inspectors found in a number of schools in Birmingham is deeply disturbing. 

“We should all be concerned if a school – of any kind – is failing to encourage children to develop tolerant attitudes towards other faiths and cultures or allowing governors to exert inappropriate influence on the curriculum or other aspects of school life. It’s vitally important that we remain vigilant for such problems developing in any part of the country.

“Under Ofsted’s regional structure, our inspectors are now closer to the ground and to those we inspect than ever before. I have asked them to make sure they are using their local knowledge and contacts to identify where these type of problems may be taking hold. Where we hear of concerns, we will respond swiftly.”


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