September 2013

The know zone

  • Checks and balances
    Inadequacies have emerged in the procedure for issuing enhanced criminal records certificates. It should give schools pause for thought, says Richard Bird. More
  • ‘Fair’ but not ‘fit’
    In a complex world, schools should be funded according to their present and future needs, not by the requirement to appear ‘simple and transparent’, says Sam Ellis. More
  • Inspectors under scrutiny
    Amid criticism of inconsistency in Ofsted judgements, Jan Webber examines the claims that some inspectors are not fit for purpose and suggests what could be done to restore confidence in the system. More
  • Fighting for better pay and conditions
    ASCL exists to reflect and promote the views of its members, which is why ASCL Council is so important. ASCL Council is made up of 148 elected representatives and is the association’s policymaking body, meeting four times a year. Council members represent ASCL at meetings with government officials and other organisations. It is from Council that national officers, including the president, are elected. In each edition of Leader this year, we will spotlight the work of a particular committee of Council. This month, it is the turn of the Pay and Conditions Committee. More
  • How is ASCL policy made?
    Council, ASCL’s policy-making body, meets four times a year and each of the 148 elected Council members serves on one of its main committees: Education, Pay and Conditions, Funding, Professional, and Public and Parliamentary, where future policy is discussed in detail. More
  • Could you be an ASCL Council member?
    Council membership is often described as the best in-service training that members can have. More
  • ASCL PD events
    "Curriculum Planning: Balancing the Vision Against the Funding" and "Conversion to a Multi-Academy Trust – the Options" More
  • Are you new to SLT?
    If so, then you will doubtless have richly earned your promotion and hardly be new to the concept of effective leadership. More
  • Presenting with impact
    What makes a great presentation? We all know when we have heard one. More
  • Stimulating physics
    The Stimulating Physics Network (SPN) is managed by the Institute of Physics (IOP), in partnership with the national network of Science Learning Centres. More
  • Adding value
    Understanding performance More
  • Direct action?
    ASCL members in some areas of the country are raising issues with recruitment on to the School Direct programme for teacher training, although in other areas it seems to be successful. Here members share their experience of how School Direct is working in their schools. More
  • Leaders' surgery
    The antidote to common leadership conundrums... More
  • Best supporting ‘actor’
    There is bound to be uncertainty when a school leader moves on... not least for the replacement who is given the strange title of ‘acting head’. But what does the job actually entail? More
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Amid criticism of inconsistency in Ofsted judgements, Jan Webber examines the claims that some inspectors are not fit for purpose and suggests what could be done to restore confidence in the system.

Inspectors under scrutiny

Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw and his team are adamant that their mission is to make every school at least ‘good’. No one can disagree with that ambition. However, as a result the inspection framework established in January 2012 has been subject to frequent revisions with more from this month onwards (September).

The amendments have caused concern for members and, along with the conduct of some inspectors, have undermined support for inspection.

The ASCL position remains that inspections are an essential part of the accountability framework and should be major drivers in a virtuous circle of school improvement. We also agree that the focus of the current framework is right at this time. However, there is real concern about inconsistent judgements from some inspection teams, blamed on the loss of Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMIs) as lead inspectors (LIs) because of restructuring within Ofsted.

Compared with additional inspectors (AIs) HMIs are closer to Ofsted, have a better understanding of current priorities and protocols and have access to better training. Now that they are being used much less often for section 5 inspection and more inspections are being led by AIs, we fear that those issues of inconsistency and quality will worsen.

Pressure from providers

There is considerable pressure from the inspection service providers to have more AIs qualified to lead, which means that, in many cases, inspectors train to lead after as few as three inspections as team inspectors.

Feedback from members suggests that inexperienced LIs sometimes lack the confidence to use their professional wisdom, leading to poor judgements. There are cases where they appear to err on the side of ‘toughness’ but Ofsted believes that it can also lead to inflated judgements, as inspectors do not wish to risk a difficult outcome. This precisely illustrates the inconsistency that is undermining confidence in inspection.

Although Ofsted is trying to involve as many serving practitioners as possible, we are still hearing from members that inspection teams as a whole appear to have insufficient experience. Therefore, greater emphasis should be given to the regular training of lead inspectors, particularly in data as many members say that inspectors are insufficiently confident in its use and interpretation.

Short notice inspection is accepted as a fact now and many of the initial perceived problems have been overcome, thanks to the careful preparation of senior teams and governors. However, heads feel that short notice inspection has changed their relationship with the LI. Now that the first phone call barely allows for any exploration of issues, it has become much harder for lead inspectors to seek, or school leaders to source, important additional evidence relating to emerging judgements. School leaders believe that this decreases the robustness of judgements.

In the past inspection was ‘done with’ a school but the perception is that it is now ‘done to’ a school.

In addition, as a result of short notice inspections and the disappearance of the pupil survey, the role of discussions with pupils has grown. Yet some inspectors seem poorly prepared for these discussions – another training issue. Likewise, the disappearance of parental surveys and the reliance on Parent View creates a flawed picture. Some parents will not use Parent View as they feel that it only generates negative feedback, and take-up in many schools remains low and therefore potentially unrepresentative.

The introduction of ‘requires improvement’ to replace the ‘satisfactory’ grade has had a mixed reception. Certainly the language and presentation of grade 3 reports is a continuing concern. In particular, schools that are improving and are at the higher end of grade 3 with good leadership are described in the heading of the report as being ‘not good schools’. Weaknesses even for these schools are given greater prominence than strengths and the report for a school ‘on the way up’ can be disastrous in terms of confidence and local perception.

We think that the phrase ‘this is not a good school’ should not be used. It should be replaced with: ‘This school requires further improvement… in some/many areas, it is good and improving.’ These areas could then be listed, followed by those that require further improvement.

Case for reduction

Are Ofsted inspections trying to do more than they can realistically achieve with the resources available? Perhaps there is a case for a reduction in inspection with resources concentrated on very weak and failing schools. Inspection could be in two stages: a benchmarking inspection first with an agreement of a timescale for improvement, and then a re-inspection at an agreed point.

Other schools could have their inspection grade determined every three years by a desk-based exercise. Schools disagreeing with this grade could ask Ofsted to inspect if they thought that they had something that would change the grade in a positive direction.

  • Jan Webber is ASCL's inspections specialist