‘The biggest problem facing schools is fragmentation and overload’ Michael Fullan
There are a few things we know about change: Change is inevitable. Change can be good, but change is difficult – really really difficult. Yet here we are, once again in schools facing many huge changes including new National Curriculum, abolition of assessment levels, SEN reforms to name a few. All huge in their own right but when they come at us altogether……..
Someone keeps moving the cheese!!!
In this context, a time of huge change with still a number of uncertainties, everyone in schools, regardless of role and responsibilities, can feel very vulnerable. So enter Ofsted into the mix with the very varied and frequently very difficult inspection experiences that colleagues including myself have faced ( or in some cases still facing), it is not a surprise that people have many questions to ask!
The opportunity came about for me, along with a number of colleagues to find my way to floors 5 and 6, Piccadilly Gate, Manchester and participate in a meeting with Ofsted’s National Director of School Reform, Mike Cladingbowl @mcladingbowl.
Despite being given a very generous three hours of Mike’s time and a very broad discussion, it was not possible to cover all questions raised by colleagues, however, please be assured that the offer to email and respond to those was made, so for those that raised questions via me and they remain unanswered in this blog – I will follow up on your behalf and feedback in due course. There was however a number of key themes that emerged from our discussions which were:
- The validity, consistency and reliability of inspection judgements
- Balance of data versus other evidence
- Conduct, culture and relationships with inspection teams
- Inspectors making judgements about quality of teaching / teachers
- The future of inspection including Quality Assurance
For brevity and hopefully ease of reading I will note key points regarding each of these in bullet point form:
The validity, consistency and reliability of inspection judgements
- Mike spoke strongly about inspection being an art not a science
- It would be easy to formulate an algorithm for ‘scoring’ judgements but we all agreed that would not be a helpful or preferred solution
- A huge focus on inspector training and quality assurance to continue to raise standards / reliability / consistency of professional judgements made during inspections
Balance of data versus other evidence
- The new system of assessment without levels needs time to embed in schools. Schools need to be clear about what children need to do by certain ages on the basis that the finish line fixed, working backwards in milestones bearing in mind children have different starting points. Schools needs a system to show that their children have made progress
- Inspectors should ask basic questions – Are your children making good enough progress? How do you know? Let’s go and look at it in the classroom and you show me – delivering teaching, talking to children, workbooks etc – in whatever way schools can demonstrate – don’t need reams and reams of written work but need to be able to demonstrate in confident way.
- Schools should NOT legitimise things that are required as evidence in the name of Ofsted
Conduct, culture and relationships with inspection teams
- There was an acknowledgement that there is a variability of inspectors – inspectors are not infallible
- There is a strong desire and intention to get the message out to inspectors via training about what is required in all aspects
- Much more emphasis on inspector training rather than what is in the written guidance – by bringing ‘in- house’ to Ofsted (rather than via current contractors of Serco, Tribal and CFBT) can get messages out more directly and more quickly.
- All about getting the right people in the right places with the right skills at the right time.
- Schools are about people and inspection is a human business. Sometimes it has felt like 2 people talking to each other and using language which isn’t about the fundamental business
Inspectors making judgements about quality of teaching / teachers
- It is clear in the inspection training and guidance that there is no Ofsted preferred method and judgments should not be made on individual lessons
- Won’t necessarily be removing the judgement box from Evidence Forms but action taking if filled in inappropriately as inspectors would be contravening guidance
- Observations contribute to overall judgement including talking to children, looking at data, work scrutiny etc
- Opportunities for inspectors to give feedback to groups of teachers / in different ways. Feedback should be on strengths and weaknesses ( or areas for development) not grades
- The new framework allows teachers opportunity to explain why they have made decisions / choices they have for teaching
The future of inspection including Quality Assurance
- It isn’t possible to bring about a big system change without some unintended consequences as things develop and settle
- Acknowledgement that there are risks as change occurs it but worth is worth it as what will be gained is for the greater good
- There is more emphasis on a broad and balanced curriculum / SMSC / arts and culture – BRAVO!!!
- Bringing inspection direct to Ofsted so Ofsted are able to get messages out more quickly and more directly
- The senior team in Ofsted want to encourage more face to face discussions with people in schools in all roles and responsibilities and including pupils, parents and governors. Consultation with teacher unions has already begun. Important way of dispelling myths and also collaboratively planning for the future
- Encouraging many more practising heads to train as inspectors – people who have current experience ‘at the chalk face’ (although there is an acknowledgment heads can be biggest zealots!)
- There is an intention to consult on inspection in the autumn term in a range of ways – wish to get consultation done before general election and any changes for next Sept although some changes may be incremental. Consultation will include things like notice period (including no-notice). Testing out methodologies etc
- Proposals for different types of inspections for schools that are good – HMI visits –shorter – full and frank professional dialogue and a letter to follow the visit ( maybe over time ‘grades’ for inspection become irrelevant in this way?)
- Inspectors ask – show us curriculum, what you are expecting children to do, how you are assessing / rationale, how do you know they are achieving then let’s go to class and see if they can do it – don’t over complicate it. Don’t legitimise things in school in the name of Ofsted that Ofsted are not asking for!
- Fundamental shift – asking inspectors to make more professional judgements
- New National Director for Quality Assurance appointed – (regional structure to QA)
- It is not just about compliance with rule book – that’s not enough – It’s about recruiting right people and giving them right training
- Inspectors are being encouraged to use their professional judgement – not without risks – but direct employment and high quality training to support this
- HMI employed to get out and about more
- Data / number crunching on inspections – spotting outliers
Without belittling or belying what has happened during inspections in the past, it is apparent both from both my own experience and that of others; there is a sincere wish to work collaboratively with schools from now on. This is evident from not only the face to face and social media engagement but also through the messages given in the new inspection handbook and in the organisation, content and delivery of training for inspectors. Included in this is a newly established monthly newsletter
Maybe then it is not about where we have been but where we are going? Working on the premise that I am sure no –one would disagree with that everyone involved wants the best for the children and young people, this is an opportunity that we should welcome and embrace.
Thank you Mike for so generously giving us your time and for your frankness and your honesty. Thanks also to colleagues who attended with me for their participating and contribution to what was a really good professional discussion and to twitter colleagues for questions before and interest, comments and support afterwards.
The cheese is going to keep moving let’s face it! It’s early days – let the dialogue continue!!