Wednesday, 18 April 2018

An Inspector Calls

Yesterday I awoke to the uncomfortable news article in the TES - - Ofsted are considering introducing “no-notice” inspections for all schools. A “no-notice” inspection is one where Inspectors turn up on the school car park and inform the school that they will be inspecting the school over the next one or two days. Currently, the vast majority of schools receive a maximum of half a days notice before an inspection takes place.

It is important to note that schools can currently receive a “no-notice” inspection if there are concerns about behaviour and or safeguarding at the school. 

Waiting for Godot

My first experience of OFSTED was back in summer of 1996: a time when England last performed well at an international football tournament, Ask Jeeves was the search engine of choice and the year Dolly the Sheep was making headlines across the world. I had proudly been appointed as the new maths lead in a great school in my hometown- Stoke-on-Trent. At the time of my January appointment, the school knew they were going to be inspected in June. Despite the positive outcome for the school, the long lead-in time led was damaging for the school, it led to excessive workload, a June half term spent double mounting and mitering borders, and the premature retirement of a successful and well respected Headteacher.  

Like the size of Mars Bars from the 90s the notice of school inspections has shrunken. I believe this is a positive development I would even argue that the two days notice schools, given to schools under the previous inspection framework, was still too long. I was saddened to hear of a colleague missing the 2011 FA cup final between Stoke City and Manchester City because their school had received notice of an inspection on the Friday before the final. 

All’s Well That End Well

The current arrangements of half a day notice should continue for one simple reason- half a day gives School Leaders and Governors the opportunity to rearrange their diaries, return from school trips or cancel travel to national CPD. The current one and two-day inspections are highly focused and rely heavily on evidence presented by School Leaders and Governors. Leading a school through an Ofsted Inspection is the Headteachers responsibility and one of the reasons why they are the highest paid lead professionals in our schools. A negative Ofsted report can have a devastating impact on a school community and delegation of this core duty should rarely happen, for instance when a Headteacher is unfit for work or if they are on a long-term secondment. Moving to a “no-notice” arrangement would effectively “shackle” Headteachers. 

Much A Do About Nothing

I know of no School Leader, Governor or teacher who is of the opinion that a no notice inspection is an improvement on the current arrangements.  The previous two Chief Inspectors considered “no-notice” inspections and it was trialed in some schools. The policy was kicked into touch for two key reasons: 
  • Little time for parents to give written feedback to Inspectors
  • The logistical challenge of School leaders and Governors being available for Inspection. 

So why after huge strides to improve the quality of school inspections and the relationship between Ofsted and schools is the spectre of no notice inspection being revisited?

The reason is the response of 1128 parents to the three questions below.

In my opinion, the three questions are poorly designed and do not provide strong enough evidence for the introduction of a policy that would be unpopular and damaging. Schools effectively now have a workable short notice period, and the logistical challenges far outweigh any perceived benefits of reducing the notice period further.

Amanda Speilman’s considered, evidence based approach towards improving inspection is helping to build trust between teachers and the inspectorate. A return to ideological pronouncements based on a weak evidence is a backward step. 

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