September 2011


  • The low-down on inspections
    Jan Webber highlights the key changes – and the areas still to be hammered out – in the latest Ofsted framework which comes into effect from January 2012. More
  • Penpals & plantains
    In partnership with the Sabre Trust, ASCL is working through the Partner Ghana project to enable UK schools to make a lasting connection with a school in Ghana. Jane Riley describes the experiences of Sir William Perkins’s School. More
  • Fit for purpose
    The cancellation of the School Sports Partnership programme is forcing schools to think creatively and innovatively about how they can continue to offer young people access to sport, in the face of limited government funding. Crispin Andrews reports. More
  • A disciplined view
    Putting the onus on headteachers to decide whether to refer teachers for misconduct threatens to create widespread inconsistencies, says Gail Mortimer of the GTCE. She outlines the implications and consequences of the proposals to change how the profession is regulated. More
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The low-down on inspections

Jan Webber highlights the key changes – and the areas still to be hammered out – in the latest Ofsted framework which comes into effect from January 2012.

As the new academic year gets underway, many school leaders will be contemplating a visit from Ofsted. It is inevitably a time of trepidation and this year the tension in England will be heightened even further with the new inspection framework which will come into effect in January 2012.

Ofsted, incidentally, is keen to point out that, in fact, the framework is not 'new', simply 'revised'.

Either way, if the phone call alerting you to an inspection comes in the new year, what can you expect from it?

As Ofsted's view is that this framework is not entirely new but arises out of the current (2009) one, being familiar with that one will help.

The pilot inspections and follow-up evaluation conferences have yielded some information which will help schools prepare for the process. Here is what we know so far – with the caveat that Ofsted has recognised there will be some changes as a result of the evaluation of the pilots.

Evaluation schedule

The draft evaluation schedule should be published by the end of September but the final version cannot be published until legislation has been passed. Inspectors will not be trained until November/December.

There will be just four main judgements, around pupil achievement, quality of teaching, behaviour and safety and leadership and management. However, there will be an overall effectiveness judgement based on the four and taking into account how well the school provides for the pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development. It will gather evidence from the four judgements to support it, making the process more complex.

Although some aspects of the current framework will be considered when making the judgements, the following are missing:

  • care, guidance and support
  • wider community
  • community cohesion
  • adoption of healthy lifestyles
  • value for money

There is no separate judgement for sixth form.

Emphasis on the classroom

The emphasis on the classroom has increased further. It is "at the heart" of the inspection and there is still an emphasis on progress.

The quality of teaching element will look at the impact teaching has on learning and outcomes, and there will still be an emphasis on gender, race and special educational needs and disability (SEND).

Key differences begin to emerge when we look at pupil achievement. Inspectors will still look at pupil attainment relating to national averages, the quality of learning and rate of progress and differences in attainment between different groups, such as children with special educational needs. But there will be no separate judgements on them. And the new element is standards of literacy: how well pupils communicate, read and write.

To make judgements on all of these, Ofsted will continue to take account of test and examination results and evidence of rates of progress. However, CVA (contextual value added) has gone, replaced by VA (value added). Inspectors will continue to directly observe standards of work and learning.

The quality of teaching is crucial, as signalled in the schools white paper The Importance of Teaching, from January 2011. As Ofsted says "the quality of a school is largely reflected in the quality of its teaching", so inspectors will concentrate more on direct observation of teaching and learning to see if teachers enthuse, engage and motivate pupils. Teaching will be evaluated for its impact on learning.

Inspectors will look for strong subject knowledge and effective teaching skills, good use of assessment, including in planning, constructive dialogue and feedback, attention to learning needs of the individual including SEND, high expectations and challenge for pupils, opportunities to develop and extend learning. The role of assessment is marked.

Leadership and management

Judgements on leadership and management will retain the key considerations of improving the quality of teaching and learning and driving improvements in achievement. Governors will also be expected to challenge the school and ensure it improves. Inspectors will focus on key behaviours of leaders and managers in working with staff to promote improvement and on key strategies, structures and approaches used.

The effectiveness of leadership and management will be judged on how well leaders and managers demonstrate ambition for pupils and improvements in their achievement; improve teaching and learning; support and develop staff (a new criterion) and how effectively the school is improving and has capacity for sustaining its improvement (not a separate judgement).

What of the other headings for leadership and management in the current framework? They have not completely gone as inspectors will still take into account school self-review and evaluations, curriculum, governance, safeguarding, equality of opportunity, promotion of confidence and engagement of parents and partnership working.

There is a new judgement on behaviour and safety – behaviour was previously judged under outcomes. Inspectors will pay particular attention to conduct in lessons including attitudes to learning; conduct around school; attendance and punctuality at school and in lessons; behaviour and attitudes to others; respect for young people and adults; and how well pupils are protected from bullying. To know what behaviour is like typically, not just during inspection, they will take a lot of notice of the views of parents and carers and staff.

Issues from the pilots

Various issues have emerged from the pilots on each judgement. If pupil progress is to determine the judgement for achievement, how will progress be determined in the classroom and from data as we move from CVA to VA? Will this put some schools at a disadvantage? To prevent this happening, how will context be taken account of?

The pilot framework also emphasised the roles of key subjects and groups but those roles are not yet clear. (There is a new section in RaiseOnline on groups.)

How will Ofsted assess standards of literacy? In secondary schools they will look at any data presented by the school or external findings and there will be a year 7 focus. Schools will need to show how issues with literacy are identified, what 'catch-up' programmes are in place and with what effect. Mathematical skills have also sneaked in!

Judgements on the quality of teaching will not be made based on one-off lessons but over time. Therefore, pupils are asked directly about a lesson, how typical it is of their lessons generally, what the last lesson was on and so on. Pupils' work will be looked at to see the sequence of teaching and, again the views of parents about teaching will be given weight.

The teaching of literacy will be assessed across the school to see that "every opportunity is taken to develop crucial skills such as reading across the curriculum". Training on this has been arranged for inspectors.

Issues have emerged from the pilots about judging leadership and management, such as the decision to have no separate judgement for governance and for capacity to improve.

The reference to "support and develop staff" is about teaching and learning and focuses on how leaders are driving improvement in teaching and what professional development they provide for individual staff as a result.

The inspection of safeguarding is unclear as inspectors in the pilot inspections had to satisfy current guidelines, which will change.

And the role of self-evaluation is also very important despite the demise of the self-evaluation form (SEF).

In terms of overall effectiveness the revised framework is not clear about limiting judgements, which are now called leading judgements and relate to the importance of achievement and teaching. Neither is it clear how spiritual, moral, social and cultural elements will be judged.

We do know something of how inspectors will operate from the pilots and a new Conducting Inspections document is being produced. Inspectors will make a lot of use of the views of stakeholders – parents, students and staff. They will question students, focus on lesson observations and feedback to teachers, and look at data provided by the school.

The phone call and conversation with the lead inspector will still start the process. The pre-inspection briefing will be concise but there will be a chance to influence it. As in the current framework there will be joint lesson observations and head and senior leadership team will be present at team meetings.

Ambiguous areas

The evaluation conferences have also raised some issues. The evaluation schedule needs to be at least refined if not rewritten and a new draft published in the autumn as descriptors are still ambiguous and are being inconsistently and mechanistically applied.

There is also ambiguity and inconsistency about whether judgements are or are not linked – achievement and teaching, for example. The point needs clarifying, as does the role of achievement and teaching in judging overall effectiveness.

The removal of CVA has not generally emerged as an issue. But "most pupils are making better progress than similar children nationally given their starting points" is still in the criteria. So understanding a school's context is crucial.

The revised framework says that inspectors shouldn’t focus on attainment as a leading judgement. Judgements should balance historic and current data but the data alone shouldn't determine the outcome, though there has been inconsistent application of the principle so far.

Compared with the current framework, there are stark gaps in the safety/safeguarding criteria and guidance on SMSC requires considerable revision as it is being inconsistently applied.

However, the shorter pre-inspection briefings are generally working well. There is food for thought in all of this but at least some clues as to what the future holds.

  • Jan Webber is ASCL's inspections specialist

Inspection change on the way for colleges

Changes to college inspection aren't far off either. Ofsted launched its consultation on proposals to revise the Common Inspection Framework on 1 September, for further education colleges, work-based learning providers and adult and community learning provision. The consultation is seeking views "on the detail of how changes will be implemented". The new framework proposes to:

  • assess performance and risk factors of all providers through a 'desk audit' each year to decide which providers should be inspected
  • target inspection on providers judged to be inadequate
  • cease routine inspection of "most" providers judged outstanding unless performance drops
  • reduce the number of judgements, with a sharper focus on meeting the needs of learners, employers and the community move to a six-year inspection cycle for providers judged as good
  • strengthen monitoring and inspection of satisfactory providers including the possibility of unannounced monitoring visits of providers "who have failed to improve over a number of inspections"
  • take greater account of the views of learners, employers, parents and carers in deciding when a provider should be inspected

Proposals will be piloted during the 2011-12 academic year, with the new framework coming into effect in September 2012. For the full consultation document, go to ASCL will be submitting a response to the consultation by the closing date of 24 November. Please email comments or views to

The low-down on inspections