March 2012


  • Bird's eye view
    Jan Webber looks at what can be learned from members’ first experiences, good and bad, o of the new inspection regime. More
  • Credit crunch
    Academy status may bring schools more autonomy – but it also creates extra pressures at the business end, sometimes overwhelmingly so. Nick Bannister talks to school business managers about the new challenges they face. More
  • Picking up the pieces
    Does handing money directly to schools help them tackle exclusions more effectively? With the DfE about to embark on a trial, Liz Lightfoot reports on two local authorities already experimenting with devolved budgets for alternate provision. More
  • A decade of firsts...
    Ten years old this year, Teach First has fast-tracked more than 2,500 bright graduates into teaching in some of England’s toughest schools. Liz Lightfoot meets its founder and CEO, Brett Wigdortz More
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Jan Webber looks at what can be learned from members’ first experiences, good and bad, o of the new inspection regime.

Bird's eye view

With the new schools inspection framework in place for a few months now, we have a lot of feedback of where inspection outcomes have pleased or exasperated members. The collective wisdom of the headteachers involved will help all of you facing inspection. ASCL is very grateful to those who have taken the time to give us their views.

What is clear is that this new framework raises the bar and that the emphasis on the use of professional judgement by inspectors is creating a challenge for some of them, as well as for headteachers. This is why Ofsted had to publish additional guidance to inspectors, having originally said that would not happen. It means schools now have a role in helping the inspectors to make the correct professional judgements.

It is always a good idea to know exactly what inspectors are told and I would strongly advise members to look at the documents on the Ofsted website. In addition to the evaluation schedule and subsidiary guidance, there are now other documents there, such as additional support to manage behaviour and inspecting equalities.

Crucial messages

So what are inspectors looking for and how can school leaders help them? What are the crucial messages for each of the key judgements?

The whole framework is built around achievement and teaching which are linked by inspectors. For example, inspectors will argue that if a school has satisfactory achievement (particularly progress) how can teaching be good? Therefore, the grade given for achievement is crucial. This is a very data-driven framework and that is where they will begin, so you need to know your assessment data well. By looking at RAISEOnline you should be able to pick up the same issues as the inspectors and work out what will appear in the pre-inspection briefing (PIB) and what the inspection trails will be.

Remember the emphasis on progress, key groups, key subjects and narrowing the gaps. Any issues with these can lead to an inadequate judgement. If RAISEOnline suggests there is a problem, you need to have your explanations ready. You may want to use some case studies here of pupils who have had a disproportionate effect on your results. You need evidence that you have picked up such issues and have strategies in place to ensure they are not repeated.

They will then look for evidence in the classroom of impact on current pupils’ standards and progress. Knowing the inspectors’ emphasis on groups and vulnerable groups in particular, you will need to have data (and analysis) of these to hand. The advice of one head who was inspected recently is: “Have detailed answers ready for each pupil group in terms of progress, not attainment.”

One school found that despite an improvement of 25 per cent over four years on five A*-C GCSE including English and maths, a rise of only 3 per cent the previous year was deemed to show a lack of urgency on the school’s part. Progress levels in a key subject were a running problem for them.

Teaching over time

As regards the quality of teaching, inspectors have very recently been advised about making judgements on this. As we know, this is a judgement about teaching over time. It is not based purely on lessons observed during the two days but also on achievement data, work in books and, very crucially, the school’s evaluation and talking to the pupils.

The good thing about this is the understanding that performance on the day does not always reflect the daily diet of the pupils. Have teacher observation data to hand to support staff who do not perform on the day and take paired observations seriously. Remember not to over-grade and to emphasise learner progress.

But what will the pupils say about the typicality of what inspectors see? What will their books show? And what about parents? Do you have your own data on this? Is there anything on Parent View? Remember that inspectors are using the views of stakeholders to help them make their judgements, especially the pupils’ views, and they will decide which pupils to talk to. They may look at intervention groups not just timetabled lessons.

As the focus is on typicality and teaching over time, the assessment they make about quality of teaching on the day might not be the same as the overall judgement.

As one school reported on the achievement-teaching link and teaching over time: “They were at great pains to point out it didn’t matter that 60 per cent of lessons observed on day one were outstanding because they no longer tot them up and then round things off.”

This school’s experience was that teaching in core subjects was crucial and that, even though teaching was outstanding elsewhere, it tipped both the teaching and leadership grades in to 2. Another head said: “There appeared to be a domino effect… if one aspect is judged satisfactory, all can become satisfactory.”

In one school that achieved outstanding, the head confirmed the view that pulling off the 1 for teaching was the hardest. She felt the evidence of staff development and impact was important here. Another head advises: “Prepare staff for the 20-minute observation and for the whole emphasis on evidence of progress.”

In both achievement and teaching, inspectors will consider literacy and mathematical skills. How are standards assessed in your school? What intervention strategies do you have and how can the impact of these be evidenced? They may ask pupils to read to them from a piece of their work. From this exercise they not only get literacy skills but also a discussion about the piece of work, assessment and feedback, SMSC (spiritual, moral, social and cultural) values and so on.

The new area of behaviour and safety includes some of the old safeguarding agenda, behaviour around school and behaviour for learning. Inspectors have had to have further guidance in this area. It includes data on attendance, punctuality and exclusions. “A school with a high level of exclusions cannot have good behaviour,” according to Ofsted. Bullying is very central to this too, including homophobic bullying. They will also assess if pupils feel safe and know how to keep safe. Stakeholder views are again crucial here, including those of the staff.

Inspectors have also been told to look at incident data for schools (for example, senior leadership team intervention, removal from classrooms) and their use of forms of internal exclusion, such as referral rooms. They have been told to look at groups and differences between them. Attendance to lessons and punctuality are also reflected in judgements on teaching – if pupils are missing or late, what does it tell inspectors about the quality of teaching there?

Self-evaluation and action

Leadership and management is about all leaders and managers, not just the senior team, and is focused on achievement and teaching, so judgements for achievement and teaching will affect leadership and management. Self-evaluation, supported by robust QA systems, also plays a crucial role in judging leadership and management. Inspectors are looking for self-evaluation, action and impact.

Curriculum is also judged here – is it the correct one for that school? Safeguarding, too, is picked up in terms of the single central record. If this is okay, they go no further, but if it is inadequate, so are leadership and management.

One head’s advice to others? Be an expert on the inspection protocols and the grade descriptors. Where feedback is given by inspectors to staff, get them to take notes. When attending team meetings at the end of the day, take a deputy to take notes and challenge if and where necessary. Don’t be afraid to challenge and insist your evidence is looked at.

Remember, this framework is based on data and is about teaching and achievement, which are closely linked. So if you know your data well and can argue your case on evidence you will have a good start. Then it is all up to your teachers in the classroom!

  • Jan Webber is ASCL's inspections specialist

Top tips for inspection under the new framework

  • Download the inspection protocols and grade descriptors and read them thoroughly.
  • Know your own assessment data and have someone who can explain it clearly and convincingly to inspectors.
  • Use your RAISEOnline data to work out the PIB and the inspections trails.
  • Have additional evidence ready to tackle issues arising out of RAISEOnline, particularly for vulnerable groups, key subjects, narrowing gaps, and student attainment and progress which could lead to an inadequate judgement.
  • Prepare case studies of pupils who have had a disproportionate effect on your results. Present evidence that you have strategies in place to ensure they are not repeated.
  • Have evidence of staff development and its impact.
  • Conduct your own stakeholder surveys and have them ready for inspectors, who have been told to take them into consideration. Know what is said on ParentView.
  • Insist that inspectors consider your evidence.
  • Have detailed answers ready for each pupil group in terms of progress, not attainment.
  • Prepare staff for the 20-minute observation and for the emphasis on evidence of progress and impact.
  • Have someone to take notes at the team meetings so that you can challenge views if necessary.

for more advice and case studies from members who have been inspected under the new framework.

Bird's eye view