I’ve lived through more inspections than I care to count.
I’ve been inspected as a teacher, a middle leader, a senior leader, a director, a governor, a trustee and, latterly, as a school improvement advisor.
I’ve been involved in inspections in the primary phase, the secondary phase, and the further education and skills sector.
On the whole, though it may be an unpopular opinion to express, my experiences of inspection and of inspectors have been positive. Down the years, I’ve encountered one or two rogue inspectors who have sought to derail an inspection with personal prejudices or out-of-date views. But, by and large, I’ve found inspections to be fair and accurate. And I’ve found inspectors to be hard-working, intelligent and indeed helpful individuals.
I know of a few ‘outstanding’ schools which haven’t been inspected for over a decade and, in the absence of such scrutiny, have begun coasting or, worse, gaming the system, thus suggesting that inspection can be a force for good and that schools can benefit from the external assessment of their provision (although I know, in the interests of balance, that it can also be stressful and harmful).
Perhaps context is key. I had one ‘satisfactory’ inspection early in my teaching career, and one institution I’d joined a month before the inspection was judged to be ‘requiring improvement’. All my other inspections have led to ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ judgments (and the majority marked an improvement on the previous inspection). Perhaps this is why my view is largely positive, although I don’t think so.
I made no secret of my disagreement with the previous Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw. Put bluntly, as I am sure he would appreciate, I did not like his leadership style or what seemed to me to be his constant denigration of the teaching profession. I felt that his approach helped to promote a culture of bullying.
When she was appointed, therefore, I felt that Amanda Spielman was a breath of fresh air.
Her early speeches suggested she was going to be more pragmatic than her predecessor, more willing to listen to the profession and more determined to make the inspectorate a force for good.
She talked about easing teacher workload and about the importance of the curriculum – arguing powerfully that education should be about more than ‘stickers and badges’. She railed against the narrowing of the curriculum and said she was determined to stop bad practices such as gaming and off-rolling.
I didn’t agree with everything she said, of course, but I felt the inspectorate was headed in the right direction.
Credit should also be given to other senior HMI who engage with the profession in person and via social media. I might not always see eye-to-eye with them, but I don’t doubt they want to work with – rather than against – the profession and are genuinely keen to make inspections work for everyone.
It was, therefore, with eager anticipation that I downloaded the draft new Education Inspection Framework and related handbooks this morning.
I’d read with interest reports detailing the three phases of consultation that Ofsted had conducted in the run-up to publishing its new framework and knew, therefore, roughly what to expect. And I am pleased to say that there are no big surprises.
As expected, the new EIF focuses on the intent, implementation and impact of the school curriculum above all else. It is, on the whole, a step in the right direction.
But, before I outline what I like about it, let me set out what I don’t like. It’s really only one thing and I suspect it’s something out of Ofsted’s hands…
Ofsted is retaining the 1-4 grading scale. I don’t like it. I never have liked it. I would favour a simple narrative outcome which states that a school ‘does not require additional support’ or ‘does require additional support’. It may be interpreted as a pass/fail model, and perhaps it would become such, but I think it would prevent a lot of unhelpful behaviours from being perpetuated, from the ‘outstanding’ banners that belie falling standards to the reputational damage done to schools judged ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ – damage that it takes years to recover from, during which time falling rolls and diminishing budgets bring lifelong harm to pupils.
Anyway, that’s my main disagreement with the new framework. Otherwise, there’s a lot of positive changes from which to take heart. Here is my brief summary:
The judgment areas
As expected, the 4 key judgment areas are:
- Quality of education
- Behaviour and attitudes
- Personal development, and
- Leadership and management
In addition, as now, schools will receive an ‘overall effectiveness’ judgment.
I am pleased that ‘outcomes for pupils’ have gone, making clear that test and/or exam results are not paramount and that schools in difficult contexts that do not get good headline outcomes can still provide a good education and serve their pupils well. If teaching is good and the curriculum is good, that is what matters.
I’m pleased, too, that ‘teaching, learning and assessment’ have gone. This implies that the focus will be on a school’s provision not on individual teachers’ classroom practice.
I’m also pleased to see PDBW split into two separate areas because they are indeed distinct. Being separated, inspections can now focus more keenly on how school leaders build a positive culture that promotes good behaviour, challenges poor behaviour, and effectively and consistently supports teachers in dealing with behaviour issues. Having a separate ‘personal development’ judgment, meanwhile, will allow closer scrutiny of progression and destinations, ensuring that pupils are developed as rounded individuals who go on to a positive destination.
Quality of education
This judgment area is divided into 3 as follows:
- Intent – which is focused on curriculum design and provision, the emphasis being on providing a broad and balanced curriculum for all pupils, opening rather than closing doors to future success
- Implementation – focused on curriculum delivery, in other words on teaching, assessment and feedback, crucially that which leads to long-term learning (note that, here, explicit mention is made of avoiding burdensome assessment and feedback practices and of protecting teacher workload)
- Impact – focused on pupil achievement as assessed by external test and/or exam results not by schools’ own data (hopefully reducing teacher and leader workload and the unnecessary and unhelpful production of reams of tracking and progress data); achievement will also be assessed using progression and destinations data, recognising that good outcomes are not just measured in qualifications but in how well pupils are developed as citizens.
Behaviour and attitudes
This judgment area is focused on the extent to which teachers and leaders have high expectations of pupils, on attendance and punctuality, on the absence (or effective handling of) bullying and discrimination, and on pupils’ development of study skills. Here, it will be crucial for school leaders to develop the right culture in order to support teachers with behaviour management.
This judgment area is about the extended, wider curriculum (and indeed the hidden curriculum), including the provision of character education and the promotion of fundamental British values.
Leadership and management
Finally, this judgment area looks at a school’s vision and how that vision is translated into strong, shared values and policies. It looks at the provision of teacher CPD, ensuring teachers are helped to develop both their subject knowledge and their pedagogical content knowledge. It will also judge the extent to which schools engage with parents and the community and the impact of this. It will look at how well schools protect their staff including from unnecessary workloads and from bullying and discrimination. And it will inspect any gaming of the system including off-rolling.
The inspection handbooks
I’ve also analysed the schools inspection handbook and you can read my summary here. I will publish a detailed examination of the FE and skills handbook shortly.
My final comment for now, though, is perhaps the most important: although the draft framework is promising, what matters most is how this framework is translated into practice.
We will only know if the EIF is successful when it is used to underpin actual inspections.
We need to see a genuinely pragmatic, fair and honest system of inspection that takes into account each school’s context whilst upholding consistently high standards for all.
We need a system that treats all stakeholders as trusted professionals and as partners in the process.
And we need a system that supports schools to improve yet doesn’t add to the burden and stress of leading schools, or to reputational damage that destroys schools and school leaders.
Only time will tell if this framework can achieve all of these things.
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