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New data shows 97% of school leaders support removal of single-word judgements, as school leaders’ union calls for interim period of ungraded inspections for all schools

School leaders’ union NAHT today (Weds 17 Jan) publishes a ‘bold’ new vision for the future of Ofsted, in a new report into school accountability and inspection. The report comes as inspections are due to resume on Monday 22nd January.

The report makes a series of recommendations on the changes the education profession believe is needed from Ofsted, both in the short-term, to make inspection immediately safer, and the longer-term reforms required to deliver a ‘fair, proportionate and humane’ inspection system.

As part of NAHT’s immediate call to action, it is recommending that Ofsted not only conducts a full review to learn from the Ruth Perry case, and reviews its training and oversight of inspectors, but that it:

  • Immediately implements a mechanism for school leaders to halt an inspection where inspector conduct or practice fails to meet required standards,
  • Extends the notice period schools receive for inspection,
  • And temporarily reverts to a model of ungraded inspections for all schools, similar to those conducted during the pandemic period, to allow time to work on longer-term reform.

The report also includes new data from a survey of nearly 2,000 school leaders, which shows that barely any respondents (only 3%) support Ofsted’s continued use of single word or phrase overarching judgements.

Instead, around two-thirds (64%) of leaders believe that Ofsted inspectors should report their findings in a short, written summary of strengths and weaknesses. Leaders are sceptical about proposals for report cards, with only 14% of respondents choosing that option.

Commenting on the report, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “The tragic case of Ruth Perry last year shone a bright light on the desperate need for Ofsted reform. It has been immensely frustrating that the concerns of the education profession and the warnings raised by NAHT for so many years have fallen on deaf ears.

“Thankfully, the new Chief Inspector, Sir Martyn Oliver, has signalled a welcome change in attitude, indicating his willingness to listen and to work with the profession.

“NAHT’s report today includes some immediate actions Ofsted needs to take – some of which, Sir Martyn is already considering. But more is needed, urgently, and NAHT will continue to work with Ofsted to build a safe inspection system that is fit for purpose.

“The appointment of a new Chief Inspector is timely, not just so that the immediate changes needed to keep school staff safe can be made, but as a moment of significant opportunity – the chance to be bold and to stop and think about how we want school inspection to operate in this country.

“Now really is the moment for change. It is time to create a fair, proportionate and humane system of inspection that works for schools, pupils and parents alike.”

Further recommendations for longer-term reform suggested in the report include:

  • The removal of graded judgements and improvement of inspection reports,
  • Revision to the inspection framework and methodology,
  • Separating safeguarding checks from inspection by handing this administrative responsibility over to Local Authorities,
  • Introducing inspection at Trust level,
  • And designing a new, more independent, complaints procedure.

The full report – Rethinking School Inspection: Delivering fair, proportionate and humane school accountability.

First published 17 January 2024