Ofsted reforms get mixed reaction from a profession under pressure


Changes that will mean schools rated as “good” no longer face full routine inspections have received a less than positive reception from teachers.

Changes that will mean schools rated as “good” no longer face full routine inspections have received a less than positive reception from teachers.

School leaders, meanwhile, have raised a number of questions which they say need answering before they can welcome the reforms.

Ofsted’s chief inspector unveiled the changes last week during an address at the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) in Birmingham.

The plan, which Sir Michael wants to see enacted by September 2015 or possibly earlier, will see England’s inspectorate focusing its work on schools rated inadequate or requiring improvement.

The proposals affect the 60 per cent of schools ranked as good across England and would mean they only receive “light-touch visits” from an HMI every two or three years. The findings of the visit would be sent to parents by letter. 

A full inspection would only be triggered if inspectors see either a “steep decline or significant improvement in a good school”.

Inspections of schools rated as inadequate or requiring improvement will continue as normal. Outstanding schools meanwhile would continue to be exempt from routine inspections, but would be subject to new, shorter “monitoring inspections” if a dip in performance occurs or other concerns are raised.

Ofsted is now to consult with the Department for Education over the next 18 months to develop the planned changes. However, education secretary Michael Gove,  expressed support for the idea during his appearance at the ASCL conference.

Elsewhere, Sir Michael also unveiled a “root and branch review” of outsourced inspection. This comes after a critical report by the Policy Exchange think-tank earlier this month claimed that many additional inspectors lack the skills required for inspection, including data analysis skills, and cannot be held to account.

There are around 3,000 additional inspectors, 1,500 of whom carry out school inspections, who are employed by three regional contractors which between them charge £30 million a year. Ofsted itself directly employs just 300 to 400 HMIs.

Sir Michael now wants to second more “outstanding” school practitioners in order to expand the number of HMI posts in the coming years. He said he wants the “great majority” of school inspections to be led by HMIs. He said that with the renewal of contracts up fairly soon, he would make a decision about outsourced inspection “when that time comes”.

His intervention came hours after ASCL had released a position paper on school inspection questioning the inconsistency of inspection teams and the “culture of fear” that inspections create.

The paper argues that routine inspections of schools by teams of inspectors are a waste of money and called for “shorter, sharper visits by a single inspector every two to three years”.

Sir Michael denied his reforms were a reaction to this or the Policy Exchange report, saying that these issues have been “under discussion” within Ofsted for several months. However, he said the issues that had been raised are “reasonable ones”.

Sir Michael said: “Ofsted needs to continue to move towards more proportionate and risk-based inspection of those institutions that need greater intervention. The corollary of doing this, however, is that Ofsted will incrementally move away from routine section 5 inspections of good schools.

“At the moment, it can be five years or even more between inspections for a good school. This is too long. It’s too long for parents. It’s too long between inspections to spot decline, and it’s too long for improving schools to show that they are outstanding.

“Far better for an inspector to visit the school for a day than for a full team to descend on the school more infrequently, and then giving, more likely than not, the same judgement as the previous inspection.”

Sir Michael also called for more headteachers to become involved with school inspection and revealed plans to work with the National College of Teaching and Leadership to promote a new Fellowship programme to recognise those school leaders who do step up.

The Policy Exchange report had also questioned the use of lesson observations during Ofsted inspections, saying they were often too short to be reliable. Sir Michael rejected this idea, but once again stressed that Ofsted inspectors should never grade the lessons they observe.

He said: “Let me repeat, we’re not interested in grading individual teachers: a point we clarified recently,” adding “I disagree with those who say you cannot assess anything in 20 or 25 minutes.”

Teachers have once again blasted the chief inspector over the plans, arguing that they will do nothing to tackle their concerns. 

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “Sir Michael Wilshaw continues to bury his head in the sand about the destructive nature of Ofsted inspections. Sir Michael himself has said that two in five teachers leave the profession in the first five years of teaching. One of the reasons is certainly not being able to face the pressure of another Ofsted inspection. 

“Despite the chief inspector’s defence of a 20-minute lesson observation by an inspector, we believe it is nothing less than a waste of time and money. While teachers understand the need for accountability, overwhelming evidence from research and practice demonstrates that evaluation by schools themselves must be at the centre of school inspection and support.”

Meanwhile, Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said that constant piecemeal change was confusing schools: “We are concerned that Ofsted is still not fully aware of the problems it faces. With the announcements from and about Ofsted over the last few weeks, schools don’t know whether they’re coming or going. Ofsted needs to produce some well-thought-out proposals instead of these piecemeal statements – and then give proper time to consult.”

NASUWT chief Chris Keates added: “We have been consistently raising concerns about the variability of the judgements Ofsted makes about schools. Moving to a position where all inspectors are employed by Ofsted is a step in the right direction in addressing this problem, but falls short of what is required which is a fundamental reform of the school accountability regime.”

Elsewhere, the National Association of Head Teachers called for answers to a number of questions. General secretary Russell Hobby said: “If (Ofsted) is to become increasingly busy in the inspection of good schools every two years, what impact will that have on the availability of these HMIs to focus on more vulnerable schools, who need confident and skilled inspectors?

“What steps will Ofsted be taking to address the quality of its inspectors? Will the chief inspector commit to a complete overhaul of Ofsted’s quality assurance and complaints process? If (lesson observation) retains a role, how will Ofsted improve its quality?

“If it is able to address these major areas of concern, Ofsted may be able to rebuild the faith and support of the profession for inspection. Inspection may become a force for the growth and development of schools rather than an overbearing fear.”



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