Ofsted inspection has a brave new look for this season: quietly understated, with subtleties in shade and tone which are well worth examining closerpdf-2069649

CPD Week Info Sheet – Learning from inspection.pdf

There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.
Buckminster Fuller

Ofsted is now a seemingly permanent fixture in the world of education, and over the years we have become used to what it offers us. Sometimes this has been cause for celebration; at other times it has been a source of unparalleled stress and anxiety. But with a new look to inspection, how can we view this inevitable feature of school life with fresh eyes so that schools and their pupils get the most out of the experience? I spoke to members of Ofsted’s team of experts to find out more…

What are the key changes to the inspection framework that school staff should be most aware of?
The main changes to inspection fall into four central areas:

  • Frequency: the frequency of inspections will now be linked to how well a school is doing. The better a school does, the less frequently it will be visited. Schools judged ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ will be inspected again once within five years. Those with a ‘satisfactory’ rating will have their next inspection after three years, although a proportion of these schools will also receive monitoring visits. Schools judged ‘inadequate’ will receive regular no-notice monitoring visits and be re-inspected after less than three years.
  • Notice: in nearly all cases, schools will get one or two days’ notice of an inspection.
  • More time in classrooms: inspectors will spend more time observing lessons – around double the amount of time will now be spent in the classroom. The length of observations will vary: some will last for nearly a whole lesson or session, while others may experience much shorter observations, for example when an inspector observes a narrow aspect of activity across a large number of classrooms. The focus here might be on differentiation, looked-after children, girls or a particular minority ethnic group.
  • Staff questionnaire: another new feature will be the option of completing a staff questionnaire, responses to which will be voluntary and anonymous and will contribute to inspectors’ judgements about how the school is doing. The headteacher and chair of governors will decide whether such a questionnaire is used. If in your school the head and chair of governors decide not to have one, staff will still be free to talk to inspectors in private to get across any comments and concerns they may have as well as positive feedback.

What might most usefully feature in a school’s professional learning about the new inspection framework?
A great place to start is Ofsted’s Evaluation Schedule for Schools. It’s also worth exploring the other guidance documents for inspectors, all of which are available on the Ofsted website.

The Evaluation Schedule outlines guidance and grade descriptors for the judgments that inspectors will report on when inspecting schools. So, in terms of evaluating your own practice, this is the best starting point and a very useful professional learning exercise. Even basic questions exploring issues such as the characteristics of good-quality teaching can feed into professional learning for inspection.

This guidance is also helpful for a school in completing and recording its online self-evaluation form (SEF). By using the grade descriptors, schools are able to make an informed assessment of their performance and identify where further improvement may be made. There are direct links across the SEF, evaluation schedule and the grade descriptors, so these really are key professional learning documents.

What key messages about the process of inspection do schools need to know?
With the new-look inspections inspectors’ recommendations will be more explicit, so school staff and governors will know clearly what they need to do to improve. The recommendations will arise from inspectors’ diagnosis of a school’s strengths and weaknesses. Inspectors will also engage staff more in discussing ways of improving outcomes. It is important that heads and other senior staff are fully involved in the inspection so that they understand the evidence and findings that have led to the judgments. Ultimately, this puts them in a stronger position to make improvements.

Crucially, all schools will – as they are currently – be invited to take part in a post-inspection survey so that the views of heads, governors, staff and others are obtained. This feedback is invaluable and will continue to contribute to the development and improvement of school inspections.

What’s the most constructive attitude that a school can take to inspection?
Schools which adopt a positive attitude and engage with inspection teams will feel more a part of the inspection process. One constructive step which a school can take to help with an inspection is to keep its self-evaluation form (SEF) up-to-date. This will help inspectors plan their inspection in the most effective manner, but it can also serve as an opportunity to demonstrate the leadership team’s knowledge of the school, which is key.

Inspection builds on school self-evaluation and is increasingly a partnership between inspectors and school leaders. The headteacher and, particularly in larger schools, other school leaders, will be directly involved in the inspection alongside the inspectors. Inspectors and headteachers are likely to observe lessons together and may well get together to look and discuss samples of pupils’ work. There will be an ongoing dialogue between school leaders and inspectors during the inspection, so it is important that school staff make the most of this opportunity. Schools that engage with inspection teams in this way will find that inspection acts as a valuable opportunity to discuss the school’s future priorities and what the school needs to do to improve.

Find out more…

  • This info sheet explores ways of helping your school to learn from the experience of Ofsted inspection.
  • All the Ofsted publications you need to become familiar with can be found at www.ofsted.gov.uk

This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2009

About the author: Elizabeth Holmes qualified as a teacher at the Institute of Education, London and is the author of several books specialising in the areas of professional development and teacher well-being.