Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Getting under the skin

Part peeled apple

The new Ofsted focuses on analysis, action and evidence of impact. SHA consultant Keith Dennis offers his thoughts on preparing for inspection under the new framework.

The new Ofsted inspection framework may be 'light touch' but there is no sense in which it is soft touch. In the pilot inspections, school leaders have described the two days as intense, with inspectors hungry for evidence.

Senior leaders are more closely involved in the process than before and inspectors will be looking for proof, not anecdotal assertion, that the school is actively working towards improvement.

Leaders will be asked to demonstrate why they have chosen particular actions and to show how they arise out of their analyses of the strengths and weaknesses of the school. They will also be asked to show the impact those actions have had on raising achievement and standards.

Completing the SEF

The self-evaluation form (SEF) plays a crucial role in the inspection. School leaders can expect to see what they write emerging in both the pre-inspection briefing and in the final report.

It needs to be honest in that it must give an accurate picture of the school as it is at the moment. If it does not, inspectors are likely to judge that school leaders do not know their school.

Eventually, schools will base their actions on the outcomes of their own self-evaluations and completed SEF.

But in practice, when filling out the SEF this autumn, school leaders may find it useful to start with the boxes which ask them to identify the actions that they are taking and then to move back to detailing the bases for these actions. They will also want to indicate where the evidence for impact can be found.

The other important document will be the school improvement or development plan. This will have a limited number of priorities: it is a truism that one can do anything but not everything.

There will be issues which the school is not currently addressing and leaders will be asked to justify their priorities. They will need to show that they have selected the issues which will have the biggest impact on improving students' enjoyment of school and levels of achievement.

Lesson observation

The Ofsted inspection process no longer uses lesson observation in the way that it did, but it is expected that school leaders will know what is happening in classrooms.

Lesson observation has a much lower profile but the quality of learning and teaching remains at the heart of inspection judgements. Members are advised to acquaint themselves with the inspection mark sheet called 'inspection judgements' which can be found on the Ofsted website.

The graded judgements relate to the Every Child Matters outcome 'enjoying and achieving'. The other four outcomes of Every Child Matters are simply given a yes/no judgement.

Data driven

Data continues to be important. In the pilot inspections, a focus was getting lead inspectors to agree which data sets gave the most accurate picture of the school.

By the time this goes to print, Ofsted should have published a new style PANDA which includes detailed analyses of contextual value-added data at pupil level. Ofsted says that this will be "the principal indicator of school performance".

This continues the practice of giving achievement (how pupils do in relation to their starting point) priority over attainment (how well pupils do in relation to national norms).

Governors are not involved as in the past but the lead inspector usually asks to meet at least one governor. Inspectors will search for evidence which shows that governors know their school and have been involved in planning its improvement.

While all staff have to be prepared - no one can be sure whether their lesson will be observed, for example - the experience of the pilot inspections suggests that the majority of staff will hardly be aware of the inspection process.

Of course anyone may be drawn into conversation by an inspector and inspectors will create opportunities for speaking with students. This will be a crucial part of their test of the quality of the school and the impact of improvement plans - these are unlikely to be effective if there is not widespread knowledge of the priorities and a general commitment to working on them.

Parents and students

Members will already know that the parents' meeting and the parent and student questionnaires have gone. However, parents and students are regarded as key stakeholders and school leaders will be expected to show that they actively seek and act on their views.

In one section of the SEF, leaders are asked to give examples of action taken which has its origins in the feedback of parents and students. The audience of the final report is, explicitly, the parents of students in the school.

Ofsted has been experimenting with a letter to students giving details of the outcome of the inspection. There is a clear underlying philosophy here with which few would disagree: education is a process done with rather than to students.

Previously inspectors assessed the quality of teaching and learning and an important element of the final report was the definition of steps that should be taken to improve them.

This is no longer the task of the inspectors: it is the task of school leaders at every level. Inspectors will simply want assurance that it is being done.

Overall, the new framework seems to be less about producing paperwork and more about producing results.

The emphasis is not so much whether there is a programme of lesson observations or whether staff are encouraged to participate in continuous professional development as on whether the school can show that these activities are leading to improvement.

If it can, the new Ofsted inspection should be a better and more useful exercise for the whole school.

Keith Dennis is a SHA consultant and trainer and a former Birmingham headteacher.

Key inspection documents from Ofsted

The following documents may be helpful to understanding what inspectors will be looking for.

They are downloadable from www.ofsted.gov.uk under 'publications' and 'Framework 2005'.

  • Inspection Judgement. This is the inspection mark sheet and is a summary of the 'syllabus', or what Ofsted calls the evaluation schedule.

  • Using the Evaluation Schedule. Guidance for inspectors which contains 'level descriptors' in revised benchmark tables.

  • Conducting the Inspection. Guidance to inspectors on methodology.

Key inspection documents from the school:

  • SEF

  • School improvement plan

The two will be related and the improvement plan should be a living document. It is not sufficient for it to exist, it must be leading to improvement.

Filling out the SEF

Ofsted is concerned about the length of some SEFs and they say that the shorter ones tend to be the better ones. Leaders are asked to be evaluative rather than descriptive. SHA suggests using these phrases which may help to shape to thinking:

  • Because our pupils are...we have...and the result has been...

  • When our evaluation revealed...we responded by doing...and the effect has been...

  • The work we have done to overcome...is...and its impact has been...

Preparing for inspection

SHA is offering a one-day seminar Preparing for Ofsted Inspection under the New Framework in the autumn, spring and summer terms. Check SHA's consultancy service also offers one-to-one support on self-evaluation, completing the new SEF, and preparing for inspection. For details contact SHA's Management and Professional Services Office on 0116 299 1122 or maps@sha.org.uk

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