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School leaders are 'worried' about the new Ofsted framework

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Credit where it is due, since her appointment as Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman has done a lot to make a break from the past.

NAHT represents the majority of school leaders and as I have travelled the country over the past few weeks, they’ve said that their experience of inspection is improving in many instances.

But a system that has promoted fear, driven perverse activity and increased workload over many years has left trust in the inspectorate at a low base. It will take time to rebuild that, but at least the journey has started.

One thing that would accelerate this process is a new inspection framework that commands broad support from the profession.

By the same token, imposing a new framework that is full of flaws could kill off the green shoots of trust that have started to emerge.

Now that school leaders have had the chance to look at the detail, they are worried by it.

If you open the consultation – and I very much hope that you will – you’ll see a series of questions that invite you to express your view on a five-point scale. A bit like the sort of customer satisfaction survey you’d get if you’d stayed in a hotel or bought some car insurance.

There’s also a free text section underneath each of these questions where you can add more detail. I’d strongly urge you to do that as well, since this is a very serious matter, not just a customer satisfaction survey.

In question one, Ofsted wants to know whether you agree or disagree with their proposal to introduce a ‘quality of education’ judgement.

Now, at face value, you might tick ‘agree’. It’s right that we shift the emphasis of inspection towards a greater professional discussion on curriculum structure, coherence and sequencing. But there are significant problems with the detail that might make your cursor hover briefly over ‘agree’ before finally settling on something else.

The proposed ‘quality of education judgement’ has too much content. Nothing has been taken away from what’s in the current handbook and much more has been added, giving inspectors too much ground to cover in a single judgement.

The weight of pupil outcomes on forming the overall judgement is not clearly articulated and both schools and inspectors will need more detail to be certain about this.

The evaluation criteria and grade descriptors are imprecise and open to subjective interpretation. What will excite one inspector may appeal to another, and they would both be right because there’s nothing that gives them enough guidance to achieve consistency across the inspection workforce.

It is far from clear that these proposals will level the playing field for schools serving the often labelled ‘challenging communities’. There seems to be a toughening up of expectations, for example, that all pupils meet age related expectations in reading irrespective of their starting points, making it even harder for schools in those communities to be treated fairly. At least, that’s how it seems to me.

As it is currently worded, this ‘quality of education’ judgement could accidentally promote just as much fear, drive just as much perverse activity and increase workload just as readily as the old set of judgements have done.

Take a look and decide for yourself, but I’m sure you can see why, on closer inspection, it may be difficult to ‘agree’ that a ‘quality of education’ judgement, as currently described, is the right way to go.

Let me be clear; I’d like to see a new inspection framework, but the detail needs to support the broad ambition. If not trust will be lost and we will have missed a golden opportunity. We will be back to the start with imperfections that are destructive rather than supportive of school improvement.

My appeal to everyone interested in accountability is to fill out the consultation. Although NAHT has the voice of more than 29,000 school leaders, I know Ofsted also takes seriously individual responses and their overall number.

My appeal to Ofsted is that once all the views are in, they are not dismissed as an unhelpful or a frivolous critique of the inspectorate itself.

We’ve got to get this right together. That’s what the consultation period is for, right?

This blog was written by NAHT general secretary, Paul Whiteman. 

First published 08 February 2019