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Inconsistency in school inspections

ASCL General Secretary Geoff Barton is calling for greater consistency in Ofsted inspections after a survey revealed that schools are being asked to provide evidence that inspectors are not supposed to request, and that adds to workload pressures.

In a recently launched government video, Working Together on Workload (https://tinyurl.com/y8nu9l44), Ofsted’s National Director of Education, Sean Harford, lists a number of ‘myths’ about what inspectors want to see when they visit schools.

ASCL conducted a survey of members that showed that in a number of the areas listed, inspections are largely consistent, and schools are not for the most part being asked for evidence that inspectors are not supposed to request.

Nearly all respondents (98%) said they were not asked for individual lesson plans, 99% said inspectors had not specified how lesson planning should be set out and 94% said they were not asked for written records of oral feedback given to students.

But our survey of 476 headteachers, deputy heads and assistant heads of English secondary schools inspected since the beginning of 2016, also made the following findings:

  • Ofsted says that inspectors don’t require schools to predict the attainment of their pupils or their progress score, but 62% of respondents said their school was asked to predict pupil attainment, and 47% said they were asked for predicted progress scores.
  • Ofsted says it does not require extensive tracking of how pupils are doing, but 45% of respondents said their school was asked to provide this information.
  • Ofsted says its inspectors do not expect to see a particular frequency or quantity of work in pupils’ books, but 34% of respondents said inspectors had asked to see this type of evidence.

However, there are signs that the situation is improving in the first two of these areas, with about 8% fewer respondents reporting such requests in 2017 and 2018, compared to 2016, while the proportion in the third area was broadly similar.

Commenting on the findings, Geoff Barton said, “We have to reduce unsustainable and onerous levels of workload in schools because of the impact this burden has on the welfare of staff and on teacher recruitment and retention.

“It seems as if Ofsted is making progress in ensuring that its inspection teams do not make requests for evidence in line with its own myth-busting guidance.

“But in certain key areas, there is clearly some way to go if Ofsted is to show the level of consistency that it would rightly expect from school leaders.

“It is essential inspections are consistent and that no school is asked to provide evidence which generates unnecessary workload.

“We support Ofsted’s work in dispelling the myths about what it expects to see, but we have to make sure that this is reflected in practice on the ground.

“We have fed back the results of this survey to Ofsted to assist in that process.”