Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Notice to improve for Ofsted

With the publication of NFER's report on the effectiveness of the Ofsted school inspection framework at the beginning of May, ASCL published its own mixed verdict on the new short notice inspections.

ASCL has received feedback from literally hundreds of members on the new inspection framework. The majority have found it to be an improvement on the pre-2005 framework. However, a significant minority have experienced problems, mainly in the poor use and interpretation of data by some inspectors.

Keith Dennis, ASCL inspection consultant, is continuing to take on cases of members whose schools have been given a lower than expected grade as a result of inspectors failing to understand how to use data properly, most recently with RAISEOnline.

Some inspectors seem not to have learned the lessons from the introduction of contextual value-added data, specifically about putting too much stock in the data and not taking adequate account of other sources.

John Dunford commented: "Every time Ofsted introduces a new inspection framework there are problems for schools in the first year. Heads and teachers are unfamiliar with the new approach but, more worryingly, so are some of the inspectors. This round was no exception and additional instructions had to be issued to inspectors in response to ASCL complaints about the way that data was being used.

"The new inspection framework is much more an inspection of school leadership and management than of classroom teaching, which is assessed by school leaders as part of school self-review. This has greatly increased the pressure on heads and other school leaders, for whom the new inspection system is extremely stressful."

He added: "Somewhat like turkeys voting for Christmas, some teachers believe that more of their lessons should be observed during an inspection, but the proper place for most lesson observation is as part of the school self-review.

"The Self-evaluation Form (SEF) has stimulated school self-review, but it has been a very bureaucratic exercise for schools to complete the form, especially when the SEF website has not worked properly.

"In most cases, the grades that schools give themselves in their self-review are the same as those given by the inspectors. This demonstrates that there is a case for fewer inspections and greater reliance placed on self-review.

"The raising of the bar in 2005-06 and the re-definition of 'satisfactory' performance as unsatisfactory has been both a distortion of the English language and a profoundly depressing judgement for many heads.

"My verdict on the new Ofsted framework is that, to use its own terminology, it is mainly satisfactory, with some good features. But the organisation is on a 'notice to improve' in relation to its use of data to judge the performance of schools and the extent to which it provides independent analysis on the effect of government policies."

From 1 April, Ofsted expanded to include CSCI and ALI and has a new management structure. The Education and Inspections Act 2006 gave new powers to Ofsted to investigate parental complaints about schools and this too came into being on 1 April.

ASCL will be watching closely to make sure Ofsted honours its declaration - made by HMCI Christine Gilbert at ASCL's annual conference - to only investigate complaints that have not been resolved through the existing channels.

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