November 2013

The know zone

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Ofsted judgements look likely to be tougher in key areas under the revised guidance introduced in September, says Jan Webber. And the bar is being set higher for achieving ‘good’.

Raising the stakes

Changes to the School Inspection Handbook and the subsidiary guidance, which came into effect in September, may seem subtle. But they are likely to mean inspectors being more stringent in their judgements and questioning in some areas, and looking to set the bar higher for achieving a ‘good’ grade. They also focus more on those students receiving the Pupil Premium (PP) and on the most able.

The handbook reminds inspectors that the main objective of lesson observations is to evaluate the quality of teaching and learning and not to advocate certain methods or teaching strategies. However, inspectors must note aspects of teaching that are effective and identify where improvements should be made. Aspects such as subject knowledge, expertise and expectations appear to have been removed from the guidance.

Inspectors will look at schools’ approach to early entry in GCSE maths, and may challenge early and/or multiple entry to GCSE examinations, including where study of maths is stopped before the end of year 11.

The focus on PP and closing the achievement gap will see inspectors seeking the views of a wide range of pupils, including those with special needs, the most able and those who are eligible for the premium.

More use will be made of prior attainment data, including comparisons between schools making expected progress and exceeding expected progress in English and maths compared with national averages. There will also be more scrutiny of data on the progress made by the most able compared with students eligible for PP support, however small that group is.

Floor target

A school will fail to meet the floor target if fewer than 40 per cent of pupils achieve five or more A* to C grades at GCSE, including English and maths, and fewer than 70 per cent make expected progress from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 4 in maths and English. Comparisons will also be drawn with national figures for progress and attainment in English and maths for all pupils, and those for whom the PP provides support.

Schools judged to be ‘good’ will have shown that they are close to or above the national figures for closing the gap in attainment in English and maths between different groups or are improving. A school will be judged inadequate where expected progress in these two subjects is below the national average or generally shows little or no improvement among pupils on Pupil Premium, as well as disabled pupils, those with special needs, and the most able.

Inspectors will also look at the behaviour and safety of pupils in all buildings that form part of the school, even if located on another site. They will visit school canteens and see how conducive these are to good behaviour. Break and lunchtimes will provide opportunities for them to speak to pupils and lunchtime supervisors.

There will be a bigger focus on governance. Governors will need to demonstrate that they are holding senior leaders to account and that they have a working knowledge of how the data dashboard and other pupil-related information works in their school. Inspectors will check to see how the school’s finances, including the PP, are being managed.

Inspection of leadership will include all levels. A new addition to the handbook is the reporting of the contribution that a school makes to the performance of other schools with which is it collaborating. There will also be scrutiny of the performance of middle managers and how well schools are developing this tier of leadership in terms of succession planning and future leadership.

Leaders and managers will be judged on the information and guidance they disseminate to pupils on future training, education and employment – careers advice, in other words.

Schools aspiring to be outstanding in leadership will need to show, among other things, that governors are stringently holding senior leaders to account and that the curriculum covers a wide range of subjects, providing academic, technical and sport excellence. They will also need to demonstrate that their use of the PP is bringing about improvements.

External review

Schools judged to be requiring improvement may have to subject themselves to an external review of governance that will be monitored by HMI and can include a review of how PP funding is spent. The responsible authorities will be notifed if there is a problem with governance in these schools and those judged as ‘inadequate’.

A school is likely to get an inadequate grading on leadership if not enough is being done to ensure good teaching for all pupils and if progress of learners receiving PP falls further behind their peers in English and mathematics and poor literacy is not being tackled urgently. Inspectors will also make an ‘inadequate’ judgement if safeguarding of pupils does not meet statutory requirements, particularly after an incident.

The subsidiary guidance makes more specific reference to the information used about performance management, looking at patterns of progression through different salary points, subject department and teachers deployed in different key stages. This will be compared with quality of teaching to determine if there is correlation between the two.

The outcome of inspections is to remain confidential until the school receives the final report.

  • Jan Webber is ASCL’s inspections specialist

Copies of the revised School Inspection Handbook and the subsidiary guidance can be found at: and