Ofsted confirms new arrangements for short inspections

A more supportive and collaborative approach to short inspections of good schools was announced by Ofsted

The new arrangements are set out in Ofsted’s response to September’s consultation on changes to short inspections.

Overall, the majority of respondents supported each of the consultation’s three proposals, the watchdog said. However this contradicts the views of the NAHT who have said the move lacks ‘support from school leaders and inspectors’.

According to the union, less than half (46%) of headteachers are in favour of Ofsted’s proposed changes, whilst 25% of Ofsted’s own inspectors have also expressed concern at the proposals.

While Ofsted says that the new short inspection process will be ‘a more supportive and collaborative approach’, the NAHT believes that this might not be entirely the case.

What will the new short inspection process mean?

It means that from January 2018:

  • Inspectors will continue to convert short inspections, usually within 48 hours, if they have serious concerns about safeguarding or behaviour, or if they think the quality of education provided by a school has declined to inadequate.
  • When there are no significant issues with safeguarding or behaviour, but inspectors identify potential concerns about either the quality of education or leadership and management, the inspection will not convert. Instead, Ofsted will publish a letter setting out the school’s strengths and areas for improvement. A section 5 inspection will then take place later, typically within one to two years. This will give the school time to address any weaknesses and seek support from appropriate bodies. In the meantime, the letter will be clear that the school’s current overall effectiveness judgement has not changed.
  • When inspectors have reason to believe that a school may be improving towards an outstanding judgement, Ofsted will publish a letter confirming that the school is still good and setting out its strengths and priorities for further improvement. A section 5 inspection will then take place within one to two years, giving the school time to consolidate its strong practice. However, requests from schools for early inspections will be considered.

The majority of short inspections will confirm that the school remains good and, as now, Ofsted will return to carry out another short inspection after approximately three years.

Ofsted’s National Director of Education, Sean Harford said: “The process for converting short inspections to full section 5 inspections has proven challenging for both schools and inspectors. We have been consulting with the sector on ways to address these challenges and I’m delighted that the majority of respondents supported our latest proposals. I’m very grateful to everyone who took the time to engage with us.

“These new arrangements reflect our overall aim to act as a force for improvement through inspection, and to catch schools before they fall. We’re confident they will ensure short inspections are responsible interventions that minimise the burden on schools, while at the same time providing constructive support and more time to improve.”

The consultation ran from September 21 to November 8 2017 and was open to the general public. In total, more than 1,500 responses to the online questionnaire were submitted. Ofsted also gathered responses from direct engagement with parents, headteachers, teaching unions and professional associations.

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Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL, said: We think that the interests of pupils are best served by helping good schools to remain as good schools. Ofsted’s decision to follow-up short inspections, where necessary, with a full inspection at a later date gives schools the opportunity to make any improvements which are needed to ensure that they retain that rating.

“We can see from the consultation response that this issue divided opinion and that people have concerns about how schools in this situation will be perceived. That is why we have stressed that the published letter sent by Ofsted to good schools following the short inspection must make it clear that they remain good schools ahead of the full inspection.

“We are pleased that Ofsted has confirmed that our feedback will inform the design of the letter. We will monitor how this system works in practice and will continue to advise our members and Ofsted accordingly.

“Where potentially outstanding schools are identified in short inspections, we would encourage Ofsted to provide early full inspections when requested by these schools to avoid lengthy and frustrating waits for confirmation of an outstanding grade.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, which represents leaders in the majority of schools in England said: “It is deeply disappointing that Ofsted has chosen to press ahead when so many senior voices in education are clearly sceptical about their plans. NAHT has consistently argued against these proposals and we will continue to make our reservations clear. It is highly unlikely that this new approach would have the positive impact that Ofsted claims.

“If, after a one day visit, inspectors are not able to determine that a school is still ‘Good’, they will now mark it out for re-inspection. This could be up to three years later – an unacceptably long delay. A cloud of uncertainty will linger over the school until Ofsted can arrange a return. At present Ofsted cannot guarantee how long schools will have to wait. No matter how the interim verdict is communicated, parents will be uncertain that their children’s school is still good. The uncertainty about the quality of education provided could become the single biggest barrier to improvement that the school in question will face.”

Mr Whiteman continued: “There are enough senior figures in education expressing reservations here to cause Ofsted to think again. Everyone in education agrees that inspection is necessary, but not like this. The inspectorate has a duty to provide clarity. Ofsted’s focus should be on getting inspection right the first time rather than putting schools and their communities through unnecessary and unhelpful periods of uncertainty.”

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