Possible inspection overhaul?

We’ve all felt the pressure of them, and in recent months to some teachers, they tend to put unnecessary pressure on our teachers, and questions can be raised over the accuracy and reliability of Ofsted’s judgements, but there is no escaping them. Of course this is all about Ofsted inspections.

The head of England’s schools watchdog Ofsted is to outline proposals to change school inspections and defend his organisation, in a speech to heads. Sir Michael Wilshaw will propose more frequent, lighter-touch inspections of good schools, but longer, more in-depth visits for underperforming ones. He will also set out plans for using more experienced inspectors.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), which is meeting in Birmingham, argues change is needed. The union has raised questions about the quality of some inspectors and has called for a new two-stage inspection system.

A survey by ASCL of 900 head teachers found that 65% said they did not have confidence in Ofsted overall to make accurate and reliable judgements. The survey mirrors what many members of teaching unions have been saying for the past few years.

However, Sir Michael told the ASCL conference that Ofsted is helping to push up standards. “Ofsted will always champion the right of every child to a decent education,” he says. “And Ofsted will always shine a spotlight on those institutions that fail to provide it.”

He says that schools which are currently judged good – some 60% – would no longer be subject to full routine inspections, as they are now, which last for three days.

Currently only outstanding schools are exempt from such inspections which usually happen for all other schools every five years. Instead, under these proposals, schools in the top two ratings of outstanding or good would in future be visited more often – but by one inspector on a day-long visit. The proposals would need to be approved by the Department for Education.

Sir Michael states: “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.”

His proposals are backed by ASCL, which published a report recently similarly calling for good or outstanding schools to receive an initial one-day visit from an inspector. This check would look at whether a full inspection was needed to come up with an action plan for improvement. A greater focus on schools that are deemed in need of improvement is the flipside of his plans and would be enabled by a freeing up of resources.

ASCL general secretary Brian Lightman said the current system of inspections had a “negative impact” and had “served its purpose”. He said: “What happens sometimes is that on the back of an inspection, which recognises that schools have got areas to improve but they are still schools which are doing lots of good things, people are losing their jobs. That’s putting people off going for headship and that’s very worrying. We need to move away from that.”

A consultation on the future of shape of Ofsted inspections is currently being carried out by the watchdog.

Sir Michael’s speech comes after a report by the Policy Exchange think tank that said many Ofsted inspectors did not have the skills needed to make fair judgements of schools. The report recommended that Ofsted abolished or radically reduced the number of inspectors it used from private firms and called for inspectors to pass an accreditation exam.

And Sir Michael said that he would like to carry out a “root and branch review of outsourced inspections”.

Currently inspections are carried out by inspectors contracted to Ofsted through three large firms.

Sir Michael also plans to increase the number of inspector posts over the next few years to include a greater number of inspectors currently working in schools.

National Association of Head Teachers general secretary Russell Hobby said: “If Her Majesty’s Inspectorate (HMI) 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?”

Well Sir Michael, I have respect for the fact that you want to adjust the inspection system, but you’re completely missing the point. While it seems daft that schools rated outstanding are not being inspected as often as those who are not, it is clear that the inspections of these schools are not quite right. I have to say I’m with the unions. I have never been one for putting labels on schools in the first place, and labelling a school as underperforming is extremely damaging for morale of both the staff and the parents of pupils, because they can start questionning themselves over the education that their children are receiving.

What I would like to see instead is a different way of giving schools feedback. Everyone likes a bit of constructive criticism, that’s how people improve. Ofsted feels more like the school bully at the moment.

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