Reviewing Ofsted

The National Audit Office Report issued today about the work of Ofsted seems to have received coverage that is slightly unfair to Ofsted. But, as an inspection body, it is an organisation it is easy to regard with distaste or even hate.

Interestingly, in January this year I asked a question at Oxfordshire Cabinet about schools not inspected since 2010.

Could the Cabinet Member please identify those primary schools that have not had an Ofsted inspection since 2010 with the year they were last inspected and whether they are maintained schools or academies – if an academy, which MAT they currently are associated with of if they are a standalone academy.”

Most not inspected were outstanding schools, but two schools had only been rated ‘good’ in their last inspection report. There was confusion among officers when complying the reply to my question, because Ofsted lists on their web site the letter that goes to schools on conversion to an academy and, in some circumstances, this might look as if Ofsted had inspected the school when in practice it hadn’t.

I think the NAO’s overall judgement of Ofsted is fair.

24 Ofsted provides valuable independent assurance about schools’ effectiveness and as such is a vital part of the school system. It has faced significant challenges in recent years, as its budget has reduced and it has struggled to retain staff and deploy enough contracted inspectors…..

25 The Department plays an important part in whether the inspection of schools is value for money. The Department affects Ofsted’s funding, how it uses its resources and what it can inspect. The current inspection model, with some schools exempt from re-inspection, others subject to light-touch inspection and the average time between inspections rising, raises questions about whether there is enough independent assurance about schools’ effectiveness to meet the needs of parents, taxpayers and the Department itself. Although government has protected the overall schools budget, it has reduced Ofsted’s budget every year for over a decade while asking it to do more.

NAO Report, May 2018 page 11

As the DfE now realises, and the NAO acknowledges, the complex governance nature of the education system in England does not effectively work in favour of helping school improvement. The removal of funding for local authority inspection and advisory services across much of the country, in the lemming like desire to push all funds to schools, didn’t help with intelligence gathering and the lack of action at regional school commissioner level also hasn’t helped.

How do you improve an academy declared inadequate by Ofsted and with the worst attendance record of all secondary schools in the county for the autumn term after it declared inadequate if the regional school commissioner won’t take action and the diocese responsible for the MAT of which the school is part has failed to improve the school? Would a former municipal Education Committee have allowed this state of affairs to linger on without resolution?

What can Ofsted do, other than continue to report while children’s education suffers? This is surely a much more important question than why 0.2% of the target for inspections was missed over a five year period.

The most important conclusion of the NAO Report is ‘that Ofsted does not know whether its school inspections are having the intended impact: to raise the standards of education and improve the quality of children’s and young people’s lives.’ (Paragraph 20 of the summary). The government must make clear how that gap can be closed, and provide the funds to ensure that improvement is supported effectively progress monitored and any failure to improve has consequences. Such a system should include a key role for democratically elected local authorities.



Urgent action needed

The following are extracts from a Section 8 monitoring report issued today by Ofsted. The school, a secondary school, is part of a multi-academy company and was declared inadequate in May last year by Ofsted. Somewhat surprisingly, Ofsted didn’t return until January 2018.  When they did, they found some good things within the school and some improvements, but to quote for the S8 report:

Although there have been undeniable improvements to safeguarding, behaviour and morale of staff, there are considerable weaknesses at the level of governance and the multi-academy company. These weaknesses have the potential to put the good work of school staff and the pace of improvement in jeopardy.

 However, following the review, the XXMAC and governing body have been slow to improve their effectiveness. It is understandable that directors’ decisions about senior leadership are sensitive, but other statutory duties of the governing body and the company have been neglected (my emphasis)

 Directors and governors have not taken enough responsibility for ensuring that leaders strategically map out the key priorities for iimproving the school. Nor have directors and governors demonstrated how they will evaluate improvements by their impact on pupils’ progress, attendance and behaviour. In short, it is not clear that directors and governors know how to judge what is working in the school and what is not. (my emphasis)

 In addition, XXMAC and governors have not done enough to maintain good levels of communication with parents or involve them more closely in the school’s drive for improvement. In this way, leaders at the highest level are not directly helping to restore the school’s reputation in the local community. 

 This haphazard approach is not helping pupils to achieve their full potential. 

 There is no clear strategy in the school improvement plan for reducing casual and persistent absence. Good attendance is not a high enough priority in the school. 

 However, the support commissioned by the XXMAC is not sufficient to build capacity and establish a common sense of purpose for the school. For example, important decisions about leaders’ roles and the priorities for the future are not being made on the basis of a thorough review of the school’s performance. Instead, decisions are being made on an ad hoc basis, relying upon the goodwill and integrity of current school leaders.

 So, where do we go from here? The previous Chief Inspector was right to argue for inspection of MATs and MACs. Who now takes responsibility for acting upon this damming report; The Regional School Commissioner; the Funding and Skills Council; Ofsted or the Secretary of State? The local authority cannot do so, but someone should be take action by Monday, especially as the school is also still in financial special measures and there were issues raised in the 2017 accounts about the management of financial matters.

If ‘it is not clear that directors and governors know how to judge what is working in the school and what is not.’ Then such a situation must not be allowed to continue. Action this day please.


Preparation for school teachers is good or outstanding

Ofsted’s latest assessment of the provision of preparation courses for teachers of children of compulsory school age has rated the providers inspected as either ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’. Only one primary ITT course, in its final stages of operation, was rated less well on an initial inspect, but had improved when re-inspected later in the year.

Of the primary courses inspected, 45% were rated as ‘outstanding’ and 55% as ‘good’. Secondary courses were rated, 33% outstanding and 67% ‘good. Joint primary/secondary courses were 53% ‘outstanding’ and 47% ‘good’. In view of the challenges some secondary courses face with recruiting trainees, and the consequent issues over funding, this must be regarded as a very satisfactory outcome for the sector.

The data only covers HEIs, SCITTS and for the first time, Teach First. This report doesn’t cover trainees not in a partnership. However, the message for Ministers is that courses preparing primary school teachers are performing well and those preparing secondary teachers are god with some outstanding provision. With the low numbers now on so many secondary courses, this finding is not surprising as it is challenging to create an outstanding provision on limited resources. To that extent, a base number of places larger than allocated to many providers would probably push up the number of outstanding outcomes. Nevertheless, five HEIs, 3 SCITTs and 3 Teach First regions inspected did manage to achieve an ‘outstanding’ rating for their secondary provision. The remainder were rates as ‘good’. The overall classification doesn’t identify the classification for individual secondary subjects so, without drilling down into the inspection reports, it is impossible to discover whether certain subjects were more likely to receive ‘outstanding’ ratings than others and, thus, whether the mix of provision affected the outcome for some of the secondary provision.

I am sure that Teach First will be very pleased with the mostly ‘outstanding’ gradings they received this year. However, as a programme it has to demonstrate not only high quality preparation but also rates of retention that do not require additional trainees to be hired to meet a greater than average loss to the profession in the years after obtaining QTS.

The outcomes for the Early Years and FE provision inspected in the past year by Ofsted were more mixed. Apart from one FE provider there was little evidence of ‘outstanding’ provision in these two sectors and some providers were of concern when first inspected, although no inadequate provision was seen in these inspections.

To move any more of the training away from HEIs or SCITTs into other forms of provision really does now need evidence that the provision is not just as good, but is also superior in outcomes to that which it replaces. The limited nature of some HEI and SCITT provision that now remains means that to locate more places away from these providers into schools must only be on the back of evidence that the provision will not be materially affected by any reduction in places available.

TeachSted launched by TeachVac

A new service for school facing an Ofsted inspection has been launched by TeachVac. Entitled TeachSted.  offers schools, although at present only secondary schools, the opportunity to receive a report about vacancies in the school’s locality or across the local authority they are located within for key curriculum subjects when they are faced with an Ofsted inspection. The report will help schools show they are aware of any recruitment issues locally and provide the evidence about recruitment in the local area when faced with questions about recruitment during an inspection.

Schools can pre-register for the service for a small fee. This means when a report is requested it can be sent to the school within an hour of the request being received.  There is a fee for the generation of the report. Any further reports are issued at a lower cost to the school. Schools not pre-registering may have to wait a little longer for their report to be created.

A sample report is shown below and the report issued to a school is up to date for the current year to the end of the previous working day.

Sample School

Local Authority: Somewhere – could also be for a specified distance around a school rather than a local authority

Below are the number of adverts found by TeachSted in the local authority stated above.

Subject Jan to Aug 2016 Jan to Aug 2015 Calendar Year 2015
Art 3 3 3
Business Studies 2 3 3
Design & Technology 1 6 8
English 5 10 12
Geography 6 5 7
History 4 1 3
IT 1 1 1
Languages 9 12 14
Mathematics 10 15 18
PE 3 1 1
Science 6 14 15

For more details visit to find out more details and to register for the service.

Those schools registering will receive registration until 31st December 2017 and access to the one hour report service.

Schools using TeachSted will also receive free use of TeachVac including the monthly newsletter.

Multi-Academy Trusts wanting to register all schools should contact:

Where is the quality control on School Direct?

Two things struck me about the section of the Chief Inspectors Annual Report that dealt with the preparation of teachers and I have reproduced the relevant paragraph below.

Standards of initial teacher education (ITE) in England are high. Ofsted inspects two types of ITE partnership: higher education institutions (HEIs) and school-centred initial teacher training (SCITTs). Ofsted does not inspect the School Direct training programme for new teachers, although visits to schools involved in School Direct often form part of the inspection of HEIs or SCITTs. At their most recent inspection, 98% of ITE partnerships were judged good or outstanding.                                        Report of Chief Inspector 2014

Firstly, HMCI doesn’t inspect School Direct although his inspectors obviously come across trainees on both the fee-based and salaried routes in the courses of their inspections. This raises the obvious question, if not the responsibility of HMCI then who does have responsibility for quality control over both of the School Direct routes and how is such quality control administered? However, the HMCI did comment in the summary part of his Report that ‘inspectors saw much good practice but highlighted some concerns about the quality of training, particularly on the secondary School Direct (Salaried) route.’

The second interesting point is that in the areas of teacher preparation where HMCI does have responsibility for inspection some ‘98% of active partnerships were judged good or outstanding. ‘ This includes the provision led by higher education institutions that are so out of favour with the government.

The HMCI also joined the chorus of concern about teacher supply, noting the fall of 17% between 2009/10 and 2014/15 in entrants into teacher training and especially the seven per cent shortfall this year that this blog has already commented upon when the ITT census appeared at the end of November.

In addition to the comments about teacher preparation, the HMCI Report also has two interesting maps showing on one the distribution of Teaching Schools and on the other the index of multiple deprivation by decile of deprivation. The two maps make clear the problem of rural deprivation and the relative lack of Teaching Schools in parts of the north of England and the South West. Even more striking is the fact that there are less than a dozen such schools in an area bounded by the A1 to the west and the Wash and Humber to the north and south. The greatest concentration of such schools appears to be in London and the South East. This raises the question of why, if London schools are doing so well are those in the South East performing less well, with the highest placed authority only ranked 60th out of 150 local authorities on the Percentage of primary pupils attending either good or outstanding schools. Secondary schools did better, with seven authorities in the top 50 nationally, albeit that three of these had selective secondary systems.

Of course, one must be a little cautious about the statistics in any HMCI Report because the sample of schools inspected may not correspond to the population overall. This can especially be true where atypical schools in small unitary authorities are inspected. We will have to wait until next year, and the new government, to see what the effect, if any, of the introduction of ‘no notice’ inspections has on outcomes.

De Facto if not De Jure

The difference of opinion between the Secretary of State, a lawyer, and the Chief inspector, a former head teacher, over the inspection of academy chains that was played out in front of the Education Select Committee this morning is interesting. In this case I am on the side of the Secretary of State. The post on this blog of 27th March this year showed that Ofsted inspectors didn’t shy away from the issue when the use of Pupil Premium money was concerned. Indeed, Mr Gove’s answer to the PQ detailed in that blog surely offered support to current the Secretary of State’s view. My reading of the legislation on the functions of the HMCI is that he has the power to enter any location relevant to the powers of inspection and he can be directed by the Secretary of State under her own powers.

A long time ago in the early 1990s, when Ofsted be first formed, the issue arose as to whether HMIs had the power to inspect teacher training in pre-1992 universities that were bodies not under government’s direct control being corporations of one type or another in their own right. The universities lost that battle. Academy chains would lose the same battle in my judgement. If necessary it would only need a short clause inserted in a Bill currently before parliament to make the position absolutely clear. However, it would be a brave academy chain that might stand out against a Secretary of State knowing she believes she has the power to inspect either directly or through an inspection of all or some of the schools within the chain.

As this is the exercise of public money it also raises other interesting questions where functions ancillary to the direct provision of education are concerned. How far does the remit of Ofsted run in this increasingly devolved world of education?

Then there is the issue of diocese and academies. Can Ofsted look at the working of the diocesan office where it is partner in an academy trust in the way that it might not have done in the days when church schools were in the voluntary category? If so, it might wish to start by considering the efficiency of leadership appointments in the schools under the control of the Roman Catholic Church and whether there was any room for improvement in some dioceses through learning from the best practice elsewhere in the country.

No doubt the next issue will be who will inspect the work of the regional school commissioners?

Will they, like the local authorities before them, want their own advisory services to complement the work of Ofsted or will they rely upon a mixture of data provided by schools and inspections by Ofsted for the intelligence about the performance of the schools that are their responsibility. Either way, it seems likely that yet another bureaucracy will be established.

In that respect this government is following the path of its predecessors: cut the number of civil servants when entering office and then find reasons for appointing new ones to support the policies it develops.

Judgement not a status.

These is the final words from the DfE about Ofsted inspections. They are taken from a statistical release on the judgement of Ofsted about ‘free schools’ released today and follow on from the DfE announcing earlier in the summer that the proportion of free schools rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted was higher than in other state-funded schools inspected.

The DfE now states that:

there are the differences in the sizes of groups when comparing free schools to all schools. At the time of the press release, Ofsted had inspected and published reports for 62 free schools, but overall around 20,000 schools are subject to Ofsted inspection. These different group sizes should be taken into account when making comparisons. Additionally, given the small number of free schools inspected to date, the percentage of free schools rated outstanding may be subject to some volatility. Just a few additional inspection grades could have a substantial impact either way on the proportion rated outstanding.

Finally, only a minority of open free schools has been inspected to date. At the time of the press statement, 36% of all open free schools had been inspected. Added to this, only free schools which opened in 2011 and 2012 have been subject to inspection so far. Caution should therefore be taken when drawing conclusions about the performance of all open free schools and when comparing free schools to other schools. However Ofsted inspection grades provide a valuable source of information, in the absence of attainment data, to begin to judge the performance of free schools.”

I was interested to read this as I am having issues with the DfE’s announcement over the readiness of schools to cope with the introduction of Universal Infant Free School Meals. In August, the DfE surveyed local authorities about community and voluntary schools preparedness, but didn’t ask about academies and free schools since local authorities aren’t responsible for them and didn’t have anything to do with the capital allocations. I asked the DfE for the position with the academies and the 3 free schools in Oxfordshire; silence was followed by an evasive reply. I still don’t know what the answer is. Were they as well prepared, or better prepared than community and voluntary schools? Does the DfE even know? Did the Funding Agency conduct the same survey as was required of local authorities?

The national announcement seems to suggest that they did and if it didn’t include the data from academies and free schools but didn’t make that clear perhaps we can expect another statistical release along the lines of the one about inspection grades.

Returning to that topic, it is interesting to see that three of the four schools that opened in 2011 that were inspected and were rated outstanding were primary schools and only one was a secondary school. But, many free schools started with the primary age-groups as that is where the pressing need for places was and still is. Overall, it would be interesting to see what the list looked like if inspections of studio schools and university technical colleges were added to the numbers to create a list of non-standard schools for mainstream children.

Finally, it is good to know that Ofsted provides a judgement that applied at the point in time when the judgement was made and related to the provision that was on offer at that point in time. As the DfE release concludes, ‘It is a judgement and not a status’.