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Understanding inspection judgements

The Ofsted publication The Evaluation Schedule for Schools is the inspectors' bible. However, with its summary of what each judgement is about, its outline guidance on what inspectors will have regard to, and its tables of level descriptors, school leaders also will want to use it for school self-evaluation purposes.

The introduction reminds inspectors that they are "required to weigh up the balance of evidence in a particular area and to consider it against the descriptors for outstanding, good, satisfactory or inadequate before making a judgement".

They are also reminded that the "grade descriptors and associated outline guidance should be interpreted in the context of the particular school being inspected". This leaves space for the inspectors' professional judgement. It is also the space where inconsistency tends to creep in.

The inspection judgement form on pages 6-7 of the evaluation schedule sets out the judgements which inspectors will make. There are seven 'prime' outcome judgements:

  • pupils' achievement and the extent to which they enjoy their learning

  • the extent to which they feel safe

  • pupils' behaviour

  • the extent to which pupils adopt healthy lifestyles

  • the extent to which pupils contribute to the school and wider community

  • the extent to which pupils develop workplace and other skills that will contribute to their future economic wellbeing

  • the extent of pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development

There are four sub-judgements which feed into the seven prime outcome judgements. The achievement judgement takes account of three of the sub-judgements:

  • attainment

  • the quality of pupils' learning and their progress

  • the quality of learning for pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities and their progress

A separate judgement on pupils' attendance contributes to the judgement on the extent to which students develop workplace and other skills.

Pupil attainment

The achievement judgement is where the new emphasis on attainment is felt. For example, outstanding achievement is not possible unless attainment is above average or high and, except "in the most exceptional circumstances" (when attainment is low but learning and progress is at least satisfactory and improving securely and quickly); good achievement requires attainment to be at least average.

Judgements on attainment and on learning and progress are not made on the basis of a single year's results - they take into account the final key stage data for the previous three years.

Evidence about attainment in a sixth form does not contribute to the judgement on overall attainment but it informs the sixth form outcomes judgement.

Individual and group outcomes

The judgement given to each of the seven prime outcomes, together with any judgement on outcomes for children in the Early Years Foundation Stage, contributes to an overall judgement on 'outcomes for individuals and groups of pupils'.

For this judgement to be outstanding, achievement and at least one other of the seven prime outcome judgements must be outstanding and all other outcome judgements good. Or, if achievement is good, at least four of the remaining prime outcome judgements, including behaviour, must be outstanding. None of the seven prime outcome judgements can be inadequate.

If this judgement is to be good, achievement, behaviour, the extent to which pupils feel safe and at least one of the other outcome judgements must be at least good with none inadequate.

The reader is reminded that for achievement to be good, except in the most exceptional circumstances, attainment must be at least average as measured against national norms.

If any one of the seven prime outcome judgements is inadequate, this overall outcomes judgement will also be inadequate (and, in consequence, overall effectiveness will be inadequate).

Effectiveness of provision

There are three judgements on the effectiveness of provision:

  • the quality of teaching

  • the extent to which the curriculum meets pupils' needs, including, where relevant, through partnerships

  • the effectiveness of care guidance and support

There is one sub-judgement: that the quality of teaching takes into account a judgement on the use of assessment in supporting learning.

Leadership and management

There are eight judgements on the effectiveness of leadership and management:

  • effectiveness of leadership and management in embedding ambition and driving improvement

  • effectiveness of the governing body in challenging and supporting the school so that weaknesses are tackled decisively and statutory responsibilities met

  • effectiveness of the school's engagement with parents and carers

  • effectiveness of partnerships in promoting learning and wellbeing

  • effectiveness with which the school promotes equal opportunity and tackles discrimination

  • effectiveness of safeguarding procedures

  • effectiveness with which the school promotes community cohesion

  • effectiveness with which the school deploys resources to achieve value for money

There is one sub-judgement: the effectiveness of leadership and management in embedding ambition and driving improvement takes into account a judgement on the leadership and management of teaching and learning.

Ofsted's definition of leadership and management should be noted. It is the contribution of all the staff with responsibilities, not just the headteacher or senior leadership team, to identifying priorities, directing and motivating staff and running the school.

Capacity for sustained improvement

There is a new summative judgement in the 2009 framework: the school's capacity for sustained improvement. This takes into account the school's track record of improving performance (or where it is already outstanding, maintaining it), the quality of school self-evaluation and the effectiveness of current leaders and managers in tackling weaknesses and overcoming barriers to improvement. It is, in effect, a summative judgement on the quality of leadership and management.

The judgements on the quality of outcomes for individuals and groups of pupils, the judgements on the quality of provision and the school's capacity for sustained improvement then feed into the final judgement: overall effectiveness.

Overall effectiveness

Overall effectiveness asks the question: how good is the school? Here Ofsted introduces the concept of limiting judgements in four areas:

  • achievement (attainment plus the quality of learning and progress, including the quality of learning and progress of those with special educational needs and/or disabilities)

  • equality and diversity

  • safeguarding

  • capacity to improve

If, in any of these areas, the judgement is satisfactory then overall effectiveness is unlikely to be better than good and likely to be satisfactory. If in any of these areas the judgement is inadequate then overall effectiveness is unlikely to be better than satisfactory and likely to be inadequate.

Keith Dennis is ASCL's inspections specialist and a former headteacher in the West Midlands.

To download the Ofsted document The Evaluation Schedule for Schools click here

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