Successive Ofsted regimes have made changes to the inspection framework. This e-bulletin looks at the latest one, which came into use in September 2009, and suggests some issues for you to consider

The shortest possible notice is given for inspections. The minimum is no notice, but in special cases the maximum is up to 20 working days.

When the first Ofsted inspections were carried out, the inspectors alone passed judgement. Now it matters also how well you think your learners do. Ofsted inspectors used not to look back or ahead; they only named strengths and weaknesses as they found them. Now it matters that you have been improving, and that you are able to improve further.

The new framework has adjusted:

  • what inspections focus on
  • how overall grading is decided
  • how lessons are observed
  • how recommendations are made.

What are judgements made about?
The main questions answered by inspection reports are:

  • How good is the school?
  • How good is the school’s capacity for sustained improvement?
  • What does the school need to do to improve further?

Leadership and management are seen to influence learning, and now are judged in terms of:

  • ambition and prioritisation
  • value for money
  • equality and diversity
  • safeguarding
  • evaluation
  • partnerships
  • user engagement.

What learners achieve is seen as depending on quality of provision, now judged under the headings:

  • teaching
  • curriculum/responsiveness
  • assessment
  • care, guidance and support.

Provision is finally judged in terms of learning and development as defined by Every Child Matters (DfES, 2003):

  • health
  • safety
  • enjoyment and achievement
  • positive contribution
  • economic wellbeing.

What judgements limit overall grades?
Three judgements trump all others: safeguarding, equality and diversity, and capacity to improve. The judgement on achievement can also limit the overall grading. A judgement of ‘inadequate’ in any of these categories makes it unlikely that better than ‘satisfactory’ can be awarded overall. A judgement of ‘satisfactory’ in any category makes it unlikely that overall effectiveness will be judged ‘outstanding’.

What are the arrangements now for lesson observations?
Lesson observations feed recommendations about how teaching and learning can be improved. Attention is paid to how well different groups perform (girls and boys; looked after children; speakers of English as an additional language; … ). Priorities for the team’s work during their time in school are explained in a pre-inspection briefing, and the lead inspector has to keep you posted throughout about evolving focuses. You are not normally informed in advance which lessons will be visited. Inspectors may observe lessons that are managed by teaching assistants or supply teachers if these are relevant to their lines of enquiry.

There is no single model or schedule. Visits may be short, or be 25 to 30 minutes or up to an hour or so. They may involve tracking a class or group of pupils. The headteacher and/or senior staff may work with inspectors on lesson visits. Observations have to provide whatever the inspection requires.

In short observations, the quality of teaching is not graded, but a grade is given for whatever has been evaluated, eg the effectiveness of support for pupils with special educational needs. For observations of 20 minutes or more, inspectors arrange feedback with the teacher concerned. This consists of a summary of the strengths and weaknesses of the activity seen, how improvement might be achieved, and the grades awarded. In addition, inspectors may feed back their general findings to small groups of staff, key senior staff, and/or subject leaders.

How are recommendations made?
The report must specify issues for the provider to tackle. They should be in order of priority, clearly and concisely stating what needs to be done, but not how to do it. It is the provider’s responsibility to decide how to implement recommendations. Inspection teams are encouraged to pick out what schools should focus on to take them up the scale, say from ‘satisfactory’ to ‘good’.

Analysing reports published in September and October 2009, I see four main categories of recommendation. Here are examples of what schools are being told to concentrate on:

Change mindset, eg:

  • set high expectations
  • look outward to develop creative links with the community

Involve people, eg:

  • enable colleagues to share practice and expertise
  • review middle leaders’ contribution to improvement
  • respond to parents’ and students’ concerns
  • engage parents and carers in supporting their children’s progress

Change systems and procedures, eg:

  • develop consistency
  • develop monitoring and evaluation
  • identify areas and strategies for improvement
  • use assessment data to track students’ progress and challenge underperformance
  • match examination/qualification entry to capability and need

Focus on teaching and learning, eg:

  • deal with poor behaviour
  • show students how topics are relevant to their present and future lives
  • match work to students’ capabilities and needs
  • plan activities to enable students to achieve their targets
  • develop practice which inspires learning, gains students’ concentration quickly, involves them in activities, keeps up a good pace, and promotes students’ literacy
  • use and develop basic and cross-curricular skills in lessons
  • encourage students to express themselves and be adventurous
  • develop students’ capacity to work unaided and with confidence
  • improve questioning
  • evaluate students’ progress in lessons and give them clear feedback about their next learning steps
  • help students develop skills of self-assessment: to meet their precise needs, identify their progress, and improve their work.

It helps to have a calendar for self evaluation and presentation: use the framework, and translate jargon into language that is motivating for everyone.

A major challenge is keeping it simple: having the courage, discipline and support to focus on fundamentals.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2009

About the author: Dr John Blanchard is an independent consultant and author of Teaching, Learning and Assessment (2009, Open University Press): contact him via