Starting this term (September 2023), Ofsted are making changes to the way they inspect schools. These changes are not huge, but they affect the inspection process and some of the protocols involved. It is important to note that although the changes may be relatively small, they are still significant for all schools. The aim is for Ofsted to be more transparent.
Notice of Inspection
The timing of inspections will be looked at. The one-day notice will continue, but schools are likely to be given greater clarity about the year they will be inspected. This will be helpful for schools with a historical ‘outstanding’ judgement to know when they are likely to be visited. Schools that may not have experienced an inspection for a long time are being offered face-to-face seminars in small groups led by HMI.
Inspectors will emphasise to headteachers that judgements given at the end of their time in school are provisional and subject to change. The covering letter to the school that accompanies the draft report will underline this point. It is important that headteachers think carefully about who to share initial judgements with until the report is finalised.
It is important to note that reports will not mention individuals and will attempt to depersonalise them. The contextual information at the end of the report will be amended to list all people with responsibility for the school. It will be made clear that in almost all cases, staff can choose to be accompanied by a colleague when talking to an inspector.
One of the key changes relates to safeguarding. If a school is judged to be good or better in all areas apart from safeguarding, inspectors will return within three months. If the safeguarding issues have been put right, the inadequate grade is likely to be revised. The report for a school in this situation will explain more clearly why the inadequate judgement was made. There will be more transparency about what ineffective safeguarding looks like, explained through various blogs and webinars. School leaders and governors should take note.
Ofsted has begun a consultation process to consider how they can deal with complaints more promptly and effectively. Ofsted’s aim is to be more transparent and to make it simpler to complain about an inspection. The process will look at how professional dialogue during an inspection could be further developed to avoid post-inspection complaints. The aim will also be to make it easier to contact Ofsted immediately after the inspection. If there is a concern about the process or outcome, a senior HMI can be contacted the day after. Ofsted intends to replace the current internal complaints system and escalate complaints directly to the Inspection Complaints Adjudication Service for Ofsted (ICASO).
Gathering Additional Evidence
Ofsted has issued a protocol on arrangements for gathering further evidence if an inspection is incomplete. In certain circumstances, Ofsted may delay the publication of the inspection report in order to obtain additional evidence. This could include a further visit to a provider, without notice, to gather the additional evidence required to complete the inspection.
The government and Ofsted seem to be making a genuine effort to support schools and reduce the stress of inspections while still maintaining rigour. Most people will agree that increasing transparency and improving complaint procedures are positive changes.
Providing greater clarity on what constitutes effective safeguarding will help school leaders evaluate their own measures with more confidence. The decision to revisit schools with ineffective safeguarding and otherwise good judgements may lead to separate and more regular safeguarding inspections in the future.
While some leaders may feel that informing historically outstanding schools about their upcoming inspection year doesn’t go far enough in reducing stress, the seminars will likely offer valuable support to those who haven’t been inspected for some time.
It may be argued that these changes don’t do enough to support leaders’ well-being, but clearly, efforts are being made to increase transparency and provide schools with better opportunities for dialogue within the inspection process.
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Clive is a former headteacher and inspector, having inspected over 200 schools. His school gained a National Curriculum award and was featured in the Times Educational Supplement, one of three schools recognised for their quality practice.
He was awarded an OBE for his services to education in 2007.