February 2013


  • The Right Note
    Jan Webber looks at the effect the latest changes to Ofsted inspection criteria are having and offers tips to help leaders be ready when the call comes. More
  • What Lies Beneath
    St Benedict’s Catholic School in Suffolk has used psychometric assessment to help improve the performance and behaviour of underachieving and disruptive students, as Sally Wells explains. More
  • Our Survey Says
    In light of the new Ofsted framework and Parent View website, it is more important than ever for schools to have their own analysed data about what stakeholders think, argues Ian Rowe. How does your school compare? More
  • Learning to learn
    About ten per cent of secondary schools across the country are currently involved in research looking for hard evidence of whether a range of teaching and learning strategies actually work. Kevan Collins explains how. More
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Jan Webber looks at the effect the latest changes to Ofsted inspection criteria are having and offers tips to help leaders be ready when the call comes.

The Right Note

I wrote in March 2012's Leader about the effects of the new Ofsted inspection framework. Many of the points made at that time are still relevant, but the September revisions have added to the challenge. However, if you know what is involved you can be prepared. As always, I am very grateful to all those members willing to take the time to feed back on their experience (good or bad) to help others.

Judgements on teaching

The fact that to get ‘outstanding’ a school has to have outstanding teaching has not had a great effect; it was already the case from January and heads knew about it.

In terms of how teaching is judged, one addition has been to formalise the focus on the use of teaching assistants (TAs). Inspectors had already been told in their training to look at whether TAs impede rather than promote learning. Now it is in the framework. 

The support of TAs (or other adults) outside the classroom can be observed and included in the judgement. It is also made clear to inspectors that no set teaching methodology should be expected. It is about the effects of teaching on learning, progress and behaviour, and about what works.

Inspectors can ask for anonymised performance management records in order to make a link between the staff profile and the quality of teaching in the school as they see it. They have had training on Teacher Standards and will ask about them. When they observe lessons, they may well ask teachers about their performance management objectives and what continuing professional development (CPD) they have had as a result.

Tight monitoring regime

The replacement of ‘satisfactory’ by ‘requires improvement’ (grade 3) is certainly having an impact. Any school receiving this judgement will be subject to a tight monitoring regime and will be re-inspected within two years.

The first monitoring visit will take place four to six weeks after the report
is published, unless the school has a judgement above 3 for leadership and management. If the school is still graded at 3 on re-inspection, it will go through the same cycle again but must be judged as good within four years of the inspection which judged it as requiring improvement.

The effect of receiving this judgement, instead of ‘satisfactory’, has proved to be very damaging to morale and has had a negative effect on a school’s image and reputation.

There has been a change to the grade descriptors for achievement. For all areas, ‘requires improvement’ simply says, “because it is not yet good”. But ‘good’ in achievement has been made more accessible by decoupling it from national averages. So “pupils making or exceeding expected progress” has been changed to “compares favourably with national figures”.

A school can be judged ‘good’ even if progress is lower than nationally if it “is improving over a sustained period” or a school can be judged ‘good’ if attainment is low but the school is “improving at a faster rate than nationally”.

I am also pleased to say that progress is now seen as the main
judgement in the achievement grade. Inspectors will ask for case studies of pupils, in particular those entitled to the Pupil Premium.

There is also a new style report, which is short and to the point. Page 1 sets out the previous and new inspection grades, followed by bullet points listing the perceived weaknesses of the school, and then the perceived strengths.

Having apparently been downgraded in terms of their importance in the January framework, governors’ responsibilities are clarified in the September additions. Governors will be expected to show their knowledge and so challenge the senior leadership team (SLT) about teaching and achievement as well as performance management, the Pupil Premium, literacy and early entry for GCSE. They are also accountable for financial probity.

If governors are seen as an issue and leadership and management is
given a grade 3 the lead inspector can recommend an external review of the governing body.

Shorter Notice Period

So what about the effect of shortening the notice given? It begins with the call to the school, which cannot come before noon on the day before inspection. If the phone is engaged, they will continue ringing until the end of the day. If contact has still not been made, an email will be sent and inspectors will be there the next morning. No contact by phone does not mean no inspection – so a constantly engaged phone line is not a good idea!

The phone call from the lead inspector is a business one to set up meetings and so on. It is scripted, and is no longer a discussion with the head about the school and a pre-inspection briefing. The only document requested in advance is a self-evaluation summary – and only the lead inspector will see this before the inspection begins.

There is no pre-inspection briefing as there is no time. Likewise, there are no parent and pupil surveys. Pupil views will be gathered by talking to them and parents’ views will be gathered via Ofsted’s Parent View website.

The conversation with the lead inspector has always been seen as part of the inspection process and a means of establishing a relationship at the start. This opportunity no longer exists.

Apart from the lead inspector, the team could arrive without any knowledge of the school other than what they have gathered through RAISEonline. Most will seek information from the school’s website, so it must be up to date.

Some schools have been putting important pieces of information on their site specifically for inspectors and/or have produced a welcome pack for inspectors containing their self-evaluation and other materials.

If a school wants the self-evaluation to be read then it needs to be concise and focused, as the inspection team will not have time to read
much beforehand as they now go straight into classrooms. However, as one head put it, inspectors arrive “not knowing the school as well as previously so a well-prepared school can be on the front foot”.

Prepare an inspection plan

The thinking time you had has been taken away so you have to put it in before the phone call. It is a good idea to create an inspection plan to deal with all preparation, which can help everyone to swing into action the moment the call comes.

Think about all of the people you will need to inform once you get the phone call, for example, part-time staff who may not be there that afternoon; pupils educated off site; governors (they will expect to meet the chair during the inspection); and the local authority or academy chain. And what will you do if the headteacher or the chair of governors is absent?

It may sound daunting, but as Alexander Graham Bell said, “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”

  • Jan Webber is ASCL’s inspections specialist.

Inspection Checklist: Top Tips

The tips from the last article in Leader March 2012 are still relevant, but here are some others speciffically to help you cope with the new short notice:

  • Have a clear, concise self-evaluation and a summary of it, which can be quickly absorbed by inspectors.
  • Have an analysis of your own parent and pupil surveys to counter a small number of entries on Parent View and a smaller sample of pupil voice.
  • Have your case studies of pupils ready, focusing on those eligible for the Pupil Premium.
  • Use your RAISEonline data to predict the issues a lead inspector would share with the team (previously highlighted in the pre-inspection briefng).
  • Make sure that your website is up to date with all the relevant information you want inspectors to know, including a concise analysis of how you are using the Pupil Premium.
  • Have an inspection plan to put into action as soon as the call comes.
  • Know the evaluation schedule well and use it to check emerging

the right note