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Recently I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend a meeting in London at Aviation House with Sean Harford, Ofsted’s National Director for Schools. Along with myself there was @educationbear, @Mishwood1, @PrimaryHead1, @imagineinquiry, @debrakidd, @theprimaryhead, @emmaannhardy and @HeyMissSmith. As a group we have all met before and are all comfortable in each other’s company. There was very little need for introductions so we began our meeting almost straight away.

Sean, in typical teacher style began with an objective for the meeting. He intended spending ten minutes enlightening us about the new Ofsted framework for September and the rest of the time would be devoted to questions and discussions. You can’t say fairer than that. It was to be a two way discussion and we would all have our say.

So, where are we with the new framework for September? Sean told us that quality and consistency for Ofsted is vital and that the new framework will go a long way towards helping with that. The remit of the Framework is to provide comparable and accurate information for parents, carers and learners. All sectors, including EYFS and Post 16 are inspected under different frameworks at the moment and this makes it difficult to compare information from different settings. The new thinking is to have one framework for all sectors which will allow parents to compare settings.

One reason for change is that some schools are managing to go for some considerable time without an Ofsted inspection. Some schools are going for 5 years and some even longer. If a school begins to slide, or improve Ofsted need to be around to witness this. From September schools deemed to be ‘good’ will be visited every 3 years. The methodology is that it isn’t up to a school to prove they are good, the Inspector will look at the evidence and then decide if they are still good. The inspection will last for one day. If the Inspector thinks there has been an improvement or a decline in standards they may call a full inspection, stay for another day and then announce their verdict.

There are four judgements:
Leadership and Management
Teaching and Learning
Personal Development, behaviour and welfare
Outcomes for children and learners.

All of this is designed to prevent schools from ‘coasting’. There then followed a discussion around the table about what exactly a ‘coasting’ school is. Is it only ‘good’ schools who coast or can outstanding schools coast? The answer from Sean was that coasting was a DfE term and Ofsted will be looking at what the terminology means and what that would mean in terms of inspection.

There will continue to be an emphasis on professional dialogue from September. An inspector who is only in school for one day cannot hope to cover everything. As now, the Inspector will look at the school’s website prior to the visit and will form an opinion from what is seen. If a problem is identified there will be a discussion with the leadership team who can show that they are aware of the problem by pointing to it in their SEF type form. If the leadership have no idea that something has changed questions will be asked and the SLT will need to defend their position. This framework is designed to ask if the quality of provision is being sustained and does the leadership team have the capacity to improve. In this way problems will be identified and attended to much sooner than under previous inspection regimes. Sean anticipates that 10% of schools will go up a grade and 20% may go down a grade.

Sean then went on to explain that they would like as many people from the education sector as possible to train as inspectors. There then followed a discussion around the table from the trained Inspectors who pointed out that it was a huge undertaking to spend so many hours out of their own school. There was a very real fear that if you took your eye off the ball in your own school you might find yourselves in a category. Sean was in sympathy with this and thought that there may be a need to reduce the number of hours working as an Inspector but it was too early to say yet.

The next discussion centred around how Inspectors would know that a broad and balanced curriculum was being delivered. There was a big concern among the group that Year 6 teachers may feel under so much pressure to deliver SATs results, leading to a higher standing in the league tables that all curriculum subjects except English and Maths are being neglected. This was followed by a discussion concerning the retention of good teachers in RI schools. Several of the group pointed out that a school in RI would struggle to recruit and retain good teachers who could teach a broad and balanced curriculum to the children. Sean is clearly aware of this problem and admitted that the system is not perfect and there are problems.

The discussion then moved on to SMRC. Everyone felt passionately that it is a good move that SMRC remains largely untouched. As we had just discussed Year 6 pressure it was a relief to know that SMRC would still be high on the agenda.

I then asked about progress in special schools. I had been asked by four special schools to clear this up so felt it my duty. I told Sean that Pivats had not updated to the new curriculum and was not therefore a reliable measure of progress for our children. We are aware that Pivats is going to update to the new curriculum but if you are due an inspection right now that is not too helpful. I also feel there is a gap above the P Levels, before the National Curriculum where our children drop off the progression landscape. Sean accepted that this is a problem and added that this situation is just the same in mainstream in schools as they also have no assessment levels. Not wishing to dominate the conversation further I allowed my colleagues to change the subject. For me, the difference is that unlike mainstream schools, we often have no end of Key Stage results. Sean has said that I can email him as I also have questions regarding the Progression Guidance. As an update from Monday’s meeting special schools have today been informed that new guidance will be issued in September for those children above P8 who are working well below age related expectations. This is encouraging news.

Moving on to something completely different the idea of having two inspectors independently judging a lesson was discussed. Sean informed us that when this is rolled out in September it is important to remember that they are testing the methodology and not the inspector’s competence. The methodology tests are to check that both HMI arrive at the same overall judgement. It should be remembered that they are not judging the lessons as Ofsted do not grade lessons as we know. 

One of the things I welcomed the most was when Sean said that it is being written in to the Ofsted handbook that the school should have a good ethos. They should value their teachers and give them CPD as required to maintain good standards of education. The education landscape has changed rapidly and some schools haven’t changed accordingly. There was a long debate about the problems witnessed by teachers who have to bow to pressure from SLT. Some strange practises have occurred as a result of what SLT ‘think’ Ofsted want to see. In my opinion, by building in a good ethos in a school some of these problems may not occur.

There we have it. I haven’t mentioned absolutely everything we talked about but I have covered many of the big discussions.

Thanks to Sean for a wonderful opportunity to be a tiny part of the talks concerning the new Ofsted framework. Thanks to all those who attended the meeting, what a friendly and considerate group.

The doughnuts were superb! Thanks Sean.

For other posts on the Ofsted visit see @imagineinquiry Visit to Ofsted May 18th 2015

Brand new shiny Ofsted from @debrakidd