Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Truth or fiction

man studying figures

'Damaging and misleading' was ASCL's view of the publicity surrounding the publication of the Ofsted annual report in October. 'Satisfactory', it was reported, is no longer good enough. HMCI Christine Gilbert tells ASCL members her side of the story.

The publication of my first annual report was greeted with the usual headlines. You may remember some of them: "Fail, Fail, Fail" (the Sun), "Some progress but must do much, much better" (The Times), "Missing the grade" (the Independent).

This wasn't quite what I said in the report.

Yes, I was concerned about the gap between the best and the worst schools and colleges - I still am. But I was keen to stress that over half of all schools and colleges had been found to be good or outstanding - something I find very encouraging.

Inevitably words like 'failure' or 'crisis' sell more newspapers than success or excellence.

Let me be clear. As chief inspector I do not intend to pull any punches, and when I have concerns I shall continue to report frankly and fairly or, as my colleagues in Ofsted say, 'without fear or favour'.

But where there is good news, where there is success, I shall say so. That is why I published a list of outstanding childcare providers, schools and colleges with my annual report.

And that is why, since the publication of the report in November, I have been attending a series of receptions for these providers to recognise their success and celebrate it with them.

The receptions have been inspiring events. I have been particularly pleased to meet headteachers from some of the 41 schools judged outstanding in 2005-06 which had previously been in one of Ofsted's 'categories of concern'.

Typical of these headteachers has been the emphasis they have placed on the importance of teamwork in achieving this success. A constant theme running through the inspection reports on our outstanding schools and colleges is that of the crucial contribution made by senior management teams.

As you would expect, there is a close link between the overall effectiveness of schools and colleges of all types, and the quality of their leadership and management.

Demands on leaders

As a former headteacher, I know the demands placed on senior managers in schools and colleges. I recognise too that these are now greater than when I was a headteacher. Currently, demands can come from all directions: from parents, children and young people, colleagues, and government.

The success of schools and colleges requires not only excellent leadership but for a range of variables to work in harmony. Local and national government can do its part by providing sufficient support and challenge, as well as sufficient resources.

Government also needs to know when to step back and allow schools and colleges to be imaginative and innovative.

This equally applies to inspection and Ofsted. I intend to lead an inspectorate that delivers a more proportionate regime, providing sufficient external scrutiny but targeted where it is needed.

The new inspection arrangements which Ofsted introduced in September 2005 have been successful. I intend to build on these shorter inspections, conducted at shorter notice by small teams, using schools' own self-evaluations as a starting point.

Since September 2006, for example, 20 per cent of schools inspected have received even lighter touch inspections, usually carried out by one inspector for one day. These inspections still provide a rigorous external appraisal of the school's performance, but the approach is even more sharply focused on testing the school's self-evaluation.

How to improve

Good and outstanding schools and colleges, and those moving in that direction, are clear about their strengths and what they need to do to improve further. Their self-evaluation is accurate and rigorous and this is reflected in their self-evaluation forms (SEFs).

In the first year of its use and despite some initial concerns about the workload involved, the SEF has generally been warmly welcomed by schools. They have used it as part of their own internal systems of self-evaluation, not just for the purposes of inspection.

In the most effective schools, self-evaluation, supported by effective monitoring and rigorous analysis, involves not just senior leaders but also middle managers, classroom teachers and support staff; the culture of searching self-review is apparent at all levels.

Both schools and inspectors now have access to a huge range of performance data, much more than they had only a few years ago. The challenge is using it effectively.

Inspectors have been asked to take account of schools' own analyses of data, and these are sometimes extremely impressive. We find that the most effective schools use their data to check that all learners are doing well, and to challenge them to do better.

Good leaders and managers use a mixture of data and direct observation to analyse the quality and consistency of teaching and learning across the full range of provision. They ensure that the school's continuing professional development programme effects change and brings about improvement.

They enable staff at all levels to make decisions and develop pioneering new ideas. They create the circumstances in which the individual needs of children can be met and progress accelerated.

Similarly, inspectors have to use all the available evidence to make sure they understand how well schools and colleges are doing. The use of data plays an important part in this: but inspectors, like headteachers, have to look behind the headlines relating to attainment and value-added indicators, to scrutinise the underlying picture.

Ofsted quality assurance

Crucially, inspectors still have to make professional judgments based on all the available evidence and these decisions are carefully monitored by Ofsted's quality assurance processes.

I play my part directly in this process: reading all reports of inspections where it is proposed that schools go into special measures and making a personal decision whether to corroborate that judgement.

I understand the concerns expressed about the way in which inspection works. And I recognise that with any new system it is possible some problems will arise. We will have to learn from these, and, like the providers we inspect, always seek to improve what we do.

This is particularly important over the coming months as we move towards the creation of a new Ofsted in April 2007, which in addition to Ofsted's current remit will have the responsibility for the inspection of children's social care services, the Children and Family Courts Advisory and Support Service, and adult learning.

This is a great opportunity. I look forward to continuing to work with you to build on the success of schools and colleges in England and, as a result, to enable every child and learner to have the opportunity of a bright future.

Christine Gilbert is Her Majesty's Chief Inspector.


Annual Conference 2007

HMCI Christine Gilbert will speak at ASCL's annual conference on 9-11 March 2007 in London. The Secretary of State for Education, Alan Johnson will also give an address to delegates.

ASCL's annual conference is one of the best professional development opportunities for secondary school and college leaders. For more information email conferences@ascl.org.uk, call 0116 299 1122 or visit www.ascl.org.uk

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