November 2012

The know zone

  • Warning signs
    Schools and colleges owe a duty of care to pupils and the wider public and could be held liable where damage is caused to a person or property by their actions or failures. Richard Bird explains. More
  • Energy crisis
    Exhausted teachers don’t make for good teachers. As funding gets tighter and pupil-teacher ratios increase, schools need to help staff lighten their load, says Sam Ellis. More
  • Lead vocals
    Quotes from Mark Twain, Aaron Levenstein, WIE Gates, Louis Brandeis More
  • The Write Stuff
    Alistair Macnaughton, 53, has been head of The King’s School, Gloucester, for five years. A former arts journalist, his previous posts include director of theatre at Charterhouse School and second master at King’s School, Worcester. More
  • Political insight
    Parliament’s Education Service aims to inform, engage and empower young people to understand and get involved in Parliament, politics and democracy. More
  • Clean bill of health?
    Nearly half of ASCL members say that preparing for inspection is one of their top concerns. Here, leaders share their views on whether the latest inspection reforms, especially short notice and the focus on teaching quality, have made inspection more or less fit for purpose? More
  • Adding value was one of the big stars of the road this summer, providing roadside assistance to members on their way to be part of the Olympics, off on their holiday or even something as simple as taking the kids to school or driving to work. More
  • Leaders Surgery
    Teachers' Standards advice and Advice on allegations against teachers More
  • Shifting sands...
    With flawed data being used in this year’s performance tables and by Ofsted inspectors, exam results being kept artifficially low, and the huge inconsistencies in GCSE marking, how do schools and colleges measure improvement? How do parents and governors? Is it now time to take matters into our own hands, asks Brian Lightman? More
  • Layered Cake
    Most people have an idea of what to expect when becoming a headteacher, but there are many aspects of the role that simply only experience will reveal as Geoff Barton explains. More
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Clean bill of health?

Nearly half of ASCL members say that preparing for inspection is one of their top concerns. Here, leaders share their views on whether the latest inspection reforms, especially short notice and the focus on teaching quality, have made inspection more or less fit for purpose?

Time only for window dressing

It is specious to suggest that short notice for inspection either reduces stress or gives a more 'real' view of how a school operates. Inspection is inevitably stressful. The due notice of the previous framework (c. two days) combined with the inspection days themselves usually resulted in four somewhat tense days.

The shorter notice of the current framework reduces this to c. two-and-a-half days. However, I suspect most school leaders would prefer to have the (minimal) extra time to attempt a rapid and meaningful exchange with a lead inspector who is otherwise at risk of running with unfounded and unchallenged assumptions, which there will not be sufficient time to turn around during inspection itself.

Regards seeing a school how it is, the previous notice period only allowed for minimal ‘window dressing’ anyway.

Allan Foulds Headteacher, Cheltenham Bournside School & Sixth Form Centre, Cheltenham

Concise SEF is crucial

As a school graded 'outstanding' by Ofsted in November 2007 we hadn’t expected a routine inspection, however we were aware that it was still possible and were 'ever ready' for Ofsted! The phone call came in the early afternoon of 11 September to say it would happen on 12 and 13 September.

As a 'short notice' inspection, you have just a few hours to get a great deal of information/documents ready for 8am the following day. I would prefer 'no notice', but can’t think Ofsted would like that as they like to have some documentation to look at immediately!

A big improvement is the opportunity for the headteacher to attend the Ofsted 'team meeting' at the end of days one and two, as you can influence their thinking! We came out 'outstanding' again, but it is much more rigorous than last time. I agree that a concise SEF is a winning ingredient.

Kim Sparling Headteacher, Oldfi eld School, Wiltshire

Focus on critical support

We are led to believe that the purpose of Ofsted is to monitor and maintain educational standards. To me this suggests a consistent quality of provision as judged against set criteria. In my area, we have five secondary schools. Each has a current Ofsted undertaken under different inspection frameworks. This is the antithesis of standards, but no more than we should expect from a system that thinks statistically manipulating criterion-based outcomes is acceptable.

I believe that school inspection is critical to the health of the system, but it should be focused on critical support (albeit with gritted teeth when needed) and not simply act as a means to police government policy, or worse – the beliefs of one man or woman. We deserve an inspection system that is respected and held in high esteem, led by non-political appointments and truly independent of the government, answering only to Parliament as a whole.

Paul Norman Vice principal, The Wey Valley School and Sports College, Weymouth, Dorset

Significant weight on achievement

We had the call on Tuesday and were inspected on Wednesday. I was new in post and I am a first time headteacher – so it was straight in at the deep end with a school that was under a notice to improve!

The inspection team were very astute in their questioning and consistent in their approaches. I was an active member of team meetings and was glad to work with them on the areas for improvement. The weight of the achievement judgement on other sections was significant, especially when it came to judging the quality of teaching over time. The intensity of the observations meant that some colleagues could not get the feedback they wanted.

It has given the school a concise critique of its performance, which can now be built on. Ofsted did for me in two days what it would have taken me half a term to achieve. The downside was that the term had started very well with a new direction for the school and staff were, mostly, very positive for the future. Sadly, the framework couldn’t reflect this in the final judgement as it was very much about the previous three years.

Peter Collins  Headteacher, Fernhill School and Language College, Farnborough