Ofsted reform ‘fails to tackle’ issues of quality

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Proposed changes to the school inspection regime fail to deal with problems of quality assurance and reliability of judgements, education leaders have said this week.

However, Ofsted is “heading in the right direction” with its plans for shorter, proportionate inspections focusing on “professional dialogue” for schools judged to be good.

It comes after Ofsted published an 18-page consultation document setting out plans to reform inspections from September 2015.

They propose a move to shorter inspections conducted every three years for schools judged as “good”.

These visits will be conducted by two inspectors over the course of one day and will focus on whether “the quality of provision is being sustained”. 

The change will affect around half of all secondary schools. The latest figures show that 49 per cent of secondary schools are currently judged to be good, with 22 per cent “outstanding”, 23 per cent “requiring improvement”, and six per cent “inadequate”.

The consultation also details the ending of outsourced inspections for schools and a new common inspection framework outlining four core judgements that will apply across all educational settings. For a full breakdown of the proposals, see below.

The consultation does not include a move to no-notice inspections, which had been mooted in light of the Trojan Horse affair. Instead it states: “We are undertaking a review of the circumstances in which no-notice inspection should take place.”

Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said the shorter inspections will “encourage professional dialogue”. He added: “In particular, inspectors will be looking to see that headteachers and leadership teams have identified key areas of concern and have the capacity to address them.”

There has been welcome from the profession for the direction of travel taken by Ofsted’s proposals, but a general view that the reforms are not radical enough.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the focus on contracting serving practitioners to inspect schools, and said that “shorter, proportionate inspections that encourage professional dialogue are the right way forward”. 

However, he raised concerns that there was still too much unreliability within the inspection system.

He explained: “In the current system, there is still too much variability in validity and reliability of judgements. The proposals in this consultation set the right direction of travel. However Ofsted still has some way to go to restoring heads’ trust in the reliability of inspection. We would question whether these proposals go far enough.”

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers, meanwhile, called the consultation an “opportunity missed”. The union has previously called for a system of local inspection that would better understand schools’ circumstances.

General secretary Dr Mary Bousted said that the pledge for a more “professional dialogue” during the shorter inspections combined with other recent decisions, such as the ban on grading lesson observations, were “heading in the right direction”. 

However, she added: “But the experience of teachers and leaders means they are deeply sceptical that Ofsted can do these things well or will do them fairly.”

She added: “Ofsted’s proposed reforms fail to deal with quality assurance problems in its inspection regime, its deliberate attempts to lower teacher morale, and the fear it inflicts on school and college leaders. The changes proposed are nowhere near radical enough.”

Elsewhere, the National Union of Teachers has warned that if shorter inspections lead to a heavier focus on data then it would be a “backward step”.

Despite the proposals, general secretary Christine Blower repeated calls this week for a “root and branch reform” of Ofsted. She continued: “The current system is resulting in many heads and teachers unwilling to take on jobs in disadvantaged schools – afraid for their jobs as a result of poor inspections, afraid to take risks and be experimental. 

“Schools are demanding increasing amounts of paperwork from teachers because they think that’s what inspectors want to see. Teachers’ working hours are through the roof. Time is wasted on paperwork for accountability, not on preparing exciting lessons for our children. It is these areas that the government and Ofsted should be concerning themselves with.”

Ofsted’s September 2015 inspection proposals

Shorter, one-day inspections of schools judged to be good. These will involve two inspectors and will focus on “whether the quality of provision is being sustained”.

This will include a focus on the “performance of the school and its leadership and management, including of the teaching, the curriculum and the ethos of the school”.

Taking place every three years, these inspections will replace the existing full inspections for good schools. However, Ofsted will retain the power to carry out a full inspection at any time should it have concerns that a school has declined. It could also carry out a full inspection should inspectors feel the school has improved to “outstanding”.

The new shorter inspections will “encourage professional dialogue” and will focus on whether the school has identified key areas of concern and has the “capability to address them”.

Schools judged requiring improvement or inadequate will continue to have more frequent inspections. “Outstanding” schools will continue to be exempt from regular inspections.

A common inspection framework to be introduced for all education settings meaning the same four judgements will be used across the board. These will be: 

  • Effectiveness of leadership and management.

  • Quality of teaching, learning and assessment.

  • Personal development, behaviour and welfare.

  • Outcomes for children and learners.

There is also to be a greater emphasis in the new framework on safeguarding, the “suitability of the curriculum and the type and range of courses and opportunities offered”, and “preparation for life and work in Britain today, including in relation to personal development, behaviour and welfare”.

The document also spells the end of outsourced inspectors, stating that Ofsted’s own HMIs will lead the “great majority of inspections” and that “serving practitioners” will also be contracted directly by Ofsted to provide inspection days each year.


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