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Ofsted to introduce more frequent inspections of schools

Ofsted is to introduce more frequent, but shorter, inspections of schools to ensure standards are maintained at ‘good’ schools, the education regulator announced today as it launched a consultation on the changes.

The head teachers union, NAHT, was sharply critical of Ofsted’s announcement, saying the regulator is seeking to “set policy” and is “relentlessly” expanding its own remit.

The chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has laid out plans for what Ofsted is calling “some of the most far-reaching reforms to education inspection in the last quarter of a century”.

The reforms include new shorter inspections for schools rated ‘good’, which can currently wait five or more years between inspections. Sir Michael says this is too long. Two-thirds of good schools maintain their performance  “but by no means all of them do,” he said. “In the past academic year alone 860 schools we inspected, attended by 335,000 children, declined in performance.”

Plans for the new inspections have them taking place approximately every three years. They will differ from previous practice, only being carried out by two inspectors with a focus on ensuring standards have been maintained. If the inspectors find any areas of concern they can trigger a full inspection of the school.

“In particular, inspectors will be looking to see that headteachers and leadership teams have identified key areas of concern and have the capability to address them,” Sir Michael said. “For good schools and further education and skills providers who have the capacity to show this, the changes being proposed will mean that there is no longer any need for a full inspection.“

Another key proposal due to take effect from next September is the introduction of a new common inspection framework, which will standardise the approach to Ofsted education inspections. This will be adapted to suit nurseries, schools and colleges, including the independent schools that Ofsted inspects, making it easier for parents, employers, pupils and learners to compare different providers and make more informed choices.

Sir Michael said: “I believe that our new inspections should place emphasis on safeguarding, the breadth of the curriculum in schools, the relevance of courses and training in further education and skills, and the quality of early learning. Only then will we be able to make sure that all children and learners are properly safeguarded and prepared for life in the modern world.”

The consultation on the changes runs until the 5 December with the reforms taking effect from 1 September 2015.

Speaking ahead of the announcement Russell Hobby, general secretary of NAHT, said: “Ofsted has expanded its remit relentlessly. It does not see itself as just an inspector of standards, it is seeking to set policy, which is a task that should be reserved for elected officials.”

However Hobby believes schools can no longer learn from its adversarial approach.

“The current model of inspection has reached the end of its useful life and now holds the education system back,” he said.

“The regime stifles innovation, provokes unnecessary bureaucracy and damages recruitment. Small changes will not be enough: we desperately need a brand new approach to emerge from the consultation. Inspection only has a future if it can work with schools to help them improve.”

NAHT Edge, a new service for the next generation of school leaders, has conducted research that suggests that Ofsted is a main issue that puts teaching staff off going for promotion.

Louis Coiffait, CEO of Edge said: “Our summer survey proved that Ofsted is one of the main issues putting people off going for a promotion, it has become a 'spectre' as one respondent put it. Both in Britain and around the world the evidence is mixed about the impact of such a combative and punitive inspectorate regime on student outcomes, never mind the impact on staff recruitment, retention and promotion.”

NAHT would like to see a system of peer review, where school leaders lead rigorous and accredited reviews of other schools.

"Inspection should be part of the dialogue that sets a school onto the path of improvement,” Hobby said. “Currently schools are investigated, not inspected.  School leaders are expected to prove there’s no wrong-doing, not to showcase excellence. The recent trend of no-notice inspections has to stop. Head teachers have a right and a need to be present during inspection and a small amount of notice is required to make this possible. At present the period of notice is only half a day: anything less risks making the inspection invalid. Inspection teams will have questions about data and school policies, and this requires the head's presence.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: "A strong and effective school inspection framework is a crucial part of our plan for education and we are pleased HM chief inspector of schools is consulting on further improvements.

"We broadly support an approach that reduces the burden on heads and teachers and gives excellent schools more time to focus on preparing pupils for life in modern Britain.

"We await the results of the consultation with interest.”

(Image: c. Joe Giddens/PA Wire)

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