Interesting data from ofsted

The Regional Director of ofsted spent just over an hour answering questions at a meeting earlier this week of Oxfordshire’s Education Scrutiny Committee. Sadly, neither the press nor any members of the public turned up to hear this interesting and informative exchange of views.

One of the questions posed by the Committee was about schools ranked ‘outstanding’ on previous criteria and whether the judgement will remain when the new Framework, currently out to consultation, comes into force. There doesn’t seem to be a mechanism to reset the dial when there is a major change in the inspection framework.

This question was thrown into sharp focus later this week by ofsted’s publication of inspection outcomes for the autumn term of 2018. This is available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/state-funded-schools-inspections-and-outcomes-as-at-31-december-2018

Of the 102 schools classified as ‘exempt’ under the 2011 legislation, that were subject to a full inspection, 12 schools (12%) remained outstanding, 50 (49%) declined to good, 35 (34%) declined to requires improvement and five (5%) declined to inadequate. The fact that four out ten of these schools declined to either ‘requires improvement’ or the category of ‘inadequate’, in five cases, must be of concern. A further 15 ‘outstanding’ schools had a short inspection and, thus, remained with the same outcome.

Ofsted also commented that the number of schools that had improved from ‘requires improvement’ had declined, compared with previous years. However, ofsted noted that ‘This may be a sign that the remaining schools have more entrenched problems and will be harder to turn around.’

Ofsted has also looked at schools in the government’s opportunity areas that have received extra cash outside of the normal funding arrangements. As might be expected, there was a 10% different between the percentage of schools rated as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ in these areas and the national percentage of such schools. As ofsted observed, ‘The lower percentage of good and outstanding schools in opportunity areas is to be expected, as the areas were chosen on the basis of the problems they were experiencing.’

No doubt, at some point in the future, ofsted will comment on both the use of funding in these areas and the difference it makes to schools outside those areas, but facing similar or even more extreme challenges.

In the present complex structure of governance, the lack of local robust school improvement teams offering help to all schools, whether maintained, standalone academies, small or even large MATs means that ofsted can often only inspect after a school has begun to decline. Good local school improvement teams, funded across all schools, might well be able to prevent some declines from happening. MATs can make this happen as they can top slice their schools, but other schools cannot as easily do so.

When the country finally emerges from its Brexit travails, this is but one of many issues that will need to be addressed. One can but hope that such an outcome will be decided sooner rather than later.

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Employing NQTs

Recently, I asked Ofsted if they could provide me with a list of schools not allowed to employ NQTs, following an inspection of the school, so I could have a look at a range of job advertisements to see how the recommendation was being presented to possible applicants, including NQTs. Following an FOI request, Ofsted informed me on Friday that

‘… we do not record collated information relating to the appointment of NQTs. Each inspection is regarded as a standalone inspection event, and statements regarding the appointment of NQTs are made in the individual reports and subsequent monitoring letters for each inspection.’

They suggested that I use the published data on inspections, last updated to August 2018.

The appointment of NQTs differs between maintained schools and academies because maintained schools provide a period of induction. Thus, with regard to maintained schools, induction may not be served in a school that has been judged to require special measures, unless HMCI has given permission in writing. School Inspection Handbook paras 98 and para 121.

For all schools, a school placed in special measures following a full Section 5 inspection, the report must include a judgement (or recommendation in the case of academies and presumably free schools) about whether a school should be permitted to employ NQTs. School Inspection Handbook Section 8 para 173. This judgement can be changed at subsequent monitoring reports.

Now this raises two interesting issues in my mind. Firstly, maintained schools declared inadequate these days must normally become an academy and part of a multi-academy trust or committee. The inadequate school is closed, and no Ofsted report is available for the new school. Presumably, the new academy is perfectly entitled to hire NQTs from day one, since the new school has no recommendation resulting from an inspection report. This seems a little concerning. In one case the report on the closing schools said ‘strongly recommend do not appoint NQTs’. Should the new academy recognise and act on this judgement?

The second issue emerged from looking into what is happening on the ground. Viewing records for some of these schools converting to become an academy after an ‘inadequate’ judgement by Ofsted, has identified a concern about the amount of time an academy emerging from an ‘inadequate’ judgement on a maintained school is taking to receive an inspection report. The school that received an inspection report ‘strongly recommending do not employ NQTs’ seemingly had not received a published monitoring report more than a year after it opened as an academy.

A third issue is that not all inspection reports declaring a school ‘inadequate’ appear to mention in the report anything about employing NQTs. Almost half of the inspection reports on secondary schools in London identified as ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted inspectors that I viewed didn’t seem to mention anything about employing NQTs in the report. That’s also a worry. Indeed, recording use of Pupil Premium seemed of more concern in reports that statements about employing NQTs.

Arising from this is a fourth issue. If a school cannot employ an NQT, should it be allowed to employ any unqualified teachers? There must be a presumption that if a school cannot support NQTs, then they also cannot support an even less qualified person in their classrooms?

Am I worrying unduly or can readers tell me of instances where they didn’t know Ofsted had said ‘don’t employ NQTs’, but the schools had gone ahead and employed them.  Did it work out?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teachers rule: OK

Teachers are back in the news. The DfE’s publication of an Early Career Framework, created by a group of the wise, and supported by an advisory panel of experts https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/supporting-early-career-teachers has lots of good ideas and structures within it, but seems to miss two vital matters.

Teachers find their jobs in a free market and some may, therefore have to endure a break between training and employment. Additionally, as QTS isn’t linked to anything other than having undertaken an approved training course and passed it, will any post-entry framework too closely tied to progression put off teachers from being prepared to teach outside the specialism that formed the basis of their training?

Over the weekend, the Secretary of State also revealed that either he or his advisers, whether political or civil servants, have possibly been looking through their history books. I don’t know whether the current Secretary of State is an admirer of Mrs Thatcher’s tenure at the Education Department, but the concept of payments for teachers that remain in schools for three and then five years seems, at least on the face of it, a rehash of the’ Schools of exceptional difficulty’ scheme of the Heath government that paid a salary top-up to teachers after one year and then three years tenure in designated schools. There was lots of dispute about the designation of these schools at the time, and the NASUWT even fought a court case about the scheme.

I have yet to see the details of Mr Hind’s scheme, but in normal times the Treasury would be anxious about the dead hand effect of any scheme that paid money to the bulk of teachers that would remain in the profession. Presumably, Mr Hinds has reassured the Chancellor that no new money is involved, since schools can pay for the scheme out of their devolved budgets and the saving they make by not having to recruit as many teachers as they would have had to do if the scheme wasn’t in place.

Of course, if there aren’t enough teachers to fill all the teaching posts on offer, those schools with the cash and other advantages may still win out over schools that are more challenging places for teachers. After all, it was a recognition of that fact in the 1970s that limited the schools where staff received these additional payments.

The scrapping of ‘failing’ and ‘coasting’ schools, unless recognised as such by Ofsted, also shows how the tide is turning away from the payment by results regimes of the past quarter century since Ofsted replaced HMI.

How often schools are inspected will be a key issue, especially as in the past government inspection was backed by a functioning local network of advisers and inspectors at local authority level. In many places these school improvement and support teams no longer exist. The irony is that to recreate them would require even more teachers to leave the classroom in the short-term, thus risking an even worse staffing situation.

The alternative is fewer Ofsted inspections, especially of primary schools, and all sorts of associated risks.

 

Shooting the messenger

My sympathies are more with Ofsted than the PAC after the publication today of their Report by the Public Accounts Committee. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/1029/102902.htm

It is disappointing that so few PAC members were able to attend for both the two witness sessions and the subsequent approval of the draft report. How can anyone that didn’t attend the witness session really be expected to vote on the report, especially one so critical?

What really matters, and both the National Audit Office that reports to the Public Accounts Committee and the Committee itself should now focus upon, is how are critical reports from Ofsted are acted upon. There are widely different outcomes, even across the government controlled academy and free school sector, with Regional School Commissioners acting promptly on Ofsted reports in some cases and doing nothing in public in other cases. Even the Secretary of State’s speech in May, promising prompt action, doesn’t seem to have changed the landscape very much, if at all.

Ofsted surely isn’t perfect, but it has had budget cuts far greater than most schools have suffered and seen the local inspection and advisory services that used to provide important intelligence almost completely wiped out across large swathes of the country.

Layla Moran MP, the Lib Dem on the PAC and an opponent of Ofsted since her election to parliament in 2017 has said today that:

… the problems with Ofsted are not just operational. Ofsted’s judgements lack reliability and validity. Their inspections heap pressure on to teachers that far outweighs any benefits they provide.

“Rather than focusing narrowly on results, our education system should value long-term success and the wellbeing of our children and teachers.

“That’s why the Liberal Democrats would abolish Ofsted and replace it with a new system for school inspections which would take into account pupil and parent feedback and teacher workload. We must work with struggling schools to help them improve, rather than simply writing them off.”

Writing schools off after an inspection isn’t the fault of Ofsted, although they could be more forceful in some follow up monitoring visits, by laying the blame on other agencies for not intervening appropriately. The system needs to help schools improve, not just the inspection service. That is why a continued monitoring of schools and action, where necessary at a local level, is important. Since that isn’t possible under the present funding regime, this looks a bit like the PAC trying to shoot the messenger.

Are parents and students not listened to in the course of Ofsted inspections? I frequently read comments inspectors have included from parents and indeed pupils about issue such as bullying and behaviour. No doubt more could be done to increase feedback from just a minority, but as evidence it also needs evaluating against other data and observations.

The issue of teacher workload and an objective measure of whether or not a school is using its staffing resources wisely should be part of the on-going monitoring of schools at a system level. Here Ofsted is still hampered in respect of academy trusts and the oversight of other groups of schools.

We do need a system that is more quality assurance than quality control, but above all we need to ensure enough properly trained and qualified teachers for each and every school, otherwise any inspection regime will always continue to uncover under-performing schools.

Good news for Didcot

Well done to the Oxfordshire UTC. The 14-19 school received a ‘Good’ rating from Ofsted this week, after its first ever inspection. In the same week the UTC in Derby was placed in special measures.

You can read the Ofsted report on the Oxfordshire UTC at  https://reports.ofsted.gov.uk/inspection-reports/find-inspection-report/provider/ELS/141111 Schools week had some interesting statistics on UTCs recently. https://schoolsweek.co.uk/derby-manufacturing-utc-placed-in-special-measures/ Apparently, according to the report by Schools Week

almost a quarter of the 33 UTCs inspected so far have received Ofsted’s bottom grade.

Sixty-one per cent of all UTCs inspected have been rated less than ‘good’.  Six, all grade three or four, have since closed.

 Of the remaining 27 that are still open, 14 are rated either ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’.

Most UTCs have struggled since they were established in 2010, mainly because of problems attracting enough pupils to stay financially viable. Eight have so far closed.

 In January, Schools Week revealed that almost every UTC missed its recruitment targets last year, leaving them with combined debts of over £11 million.”

The UTC in Didcot is clearly bucking the trend for UTCs as a whole and I am grateful to the person that emailed me last night after the Ofsted Report had appeared to draw it to my attention. However, I still have anxieties over its long-term future if it cannot fill all the places it has on offer.

What Ofsted have revealed is that although the Oxfordshire UTC is still a work in progress it has strong leadership and a clear vision of what it is seeking to achieve.  The school and its staff are also aware that a proportion of their pupils come to them at fourteen with a less than successful record of achievement in the school system. Unlike some 14-18 schools they are not only aware of this but also set out to change the relationship with these pupils and the education system. That’s a tough job, but like Meadowbrook, the alternative provision in Oxfordshire, where Ofsted also commented on the work with teenagers that have reacted against schooling, the Oxfordshire UTC is also winning the hearts and minds of these young people. As Ofsted commented in their summary:

Pupils, including some who had previously struggled to engage with education, are inspired by the UTC’s ethos.

The Inspector went on to add that:

Since the UTC opened, some pupils have arrived in Year 10 having had negative experiences of schooling. Staff quickly get to know the pupils well, and support and reassure any experiencing stress or anxiety. Pupils gain a sense of community, security and pride during their time at UTC Oxfordshire. This equips them with great confidence and maturity.

Inspection report: UTC Oxfordshire, 22–23 May 2018

Schools cannot succeed without strong and purposeful leadership and the Oxfordshire UTC certainly has a leader creating a successful school backed by a strong team and supportive sponsors.

My more general anxiety is how the next generation of leaders for the school system will be developed? Some MATs will ensure that they create leadership pathways, but how will the stand alone academies and the remaining maintained schools ensure a leadership pipeline that is sufficient to meet the needs of all schools. This question is especially pertinent at a time when the need for career pathways for teachers that doesn’t involve whole school leadership is once again being discussed.

There are other reasons why I have concerns about 14-18 schools, but in this case I am delighted to offer my congratulations to the Oxfordshire UTC.

‘intervene fast… take the serious action necessary’. Promises

Why has the Regional School Commissioner for North West London and the South Central Region not issued any warning notices to any school about poor performance since the end of 2016? The updated DfE list of such notice published earlier this week  https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/list-of-letters-to-academy-trusts-about-poor-performance reveals that the last notice issued was in December 2016 and that was to a school issued a pre-warning notice at the start of that year. Indeed, all the schools issued with notices in 2016/17 had previously received an earlier letter, meaning no new school in the region has been added to the list since early 2016.

Is the Office of the RSC not communicating to the DfE or has the RSC decided that the Secretary of State’s words in his speech to the NGA that ‘on those rare occasions when a school is failing – be in no doubt – we will intervene fast and we will take the serious action necessary’ doesn’t apply in the North West London and the South Central Region?

It cannot be that there are no Inadequate schools within the region, although there may not be many. The RSC appears also never to have issued any sort of notice to a school run by any of the faith groups in his region. This may explain why the school I highlighted in my previous blog post hasn’t received any overt indication of concern about performance, except from Ofsted when it declared it Inadequate in the spring of 2017 and received expressions of further concerns in the two follow-up s8 monitoring reports.

Is the RSC for the North West London and the South Central Region trying a new policy, at variance with the words of the Secretary of State, by seeking to improve schools beyond the glare of publicity? Interestingly, the figures for number of notices issued by the North West London and the South Central Region are also matched by some other regions that have also not published any notices in 2017/18, whereas the RSC for the South West has issued five of the 12 notices in 2017/18.

There are clearly Inadequate academies, as rated by Ofsted, in the regions where no notices have been published in 2017/18  as well as previously rated Inadequate schools where progress to return to an effective standard of education has been unsatisfactory. How are RSCs handling these schools now the notices seem to have fallen out of fashion? How will the Secretary of State’s promise to intervene fast be acted upon if the general public do not know what action is being taken by an RSC?

The Secretary of State has also promised more openness from Headteacher Boards and their minutes, so that is one possible way forward. Local politicians might also like to call RSCs before their Education Scrutiny Committee to given an account of how the RSC’s Office is raising standards in their local area among the academies and their Trusts. Oxfordshire’s Education Scrutiny Committee has been holding such meetings for the past three years with the RSC or their Office. Sadly, the ESFC have yet to agree to such a meeting despite two academies being in financial special measures for more than two years.

 

Tackling Academies and Trusts

Dear Secretary of State,

When addressing the NGA recently, you said;

On those rare occasions when a school is failing – be in no doubt – we will intervene fast and we will take the serious action necessary.

In relation to maintained schools you also said that ‘an Ofsted Inadequate judgement alone would lead to hard action to convert a Local Authority maintained school to an academy.’ However, you didn’t say what intervention would mean for an existing academy declared Inadequate by Ofsted?

Can you explain what action will be taken where the school declared Inadequate is already part of a multi-academy trust?

Where the school is also under financial special measures, one might expect some form of obvious action, such as a published notice of intent to close by the Regional School Commissioner. Where the school has well above average absence rates one might expect action to intervene fast, if you mean what you said.

Now, either your words were empty rhetoric in relation to academies or you really do want all schools to be good schools and will take steps to improve inadequate schools. Can you please reassure me that no school in Oxfordshire would be allowed to drift for more than a year after being declared an Inadequate Academy by Ofsted and with a recent monitoring inspection that concluded that ‘Leaders and managers are not taking effective action towards the removal of special measures.’

If this is not a case for the use of your policy of fast intervention, perhaps you can explain why it doesn’t meet your criteria.

You are also going to take action about the transparency of multi academy trusts and the pay of those that work in central offices administering the Trust. This can only be a good thing. In Oxfordshire several of the Trusts with headquarters outside the County pay their CEOs more than the £150,000 level you recently wrote to Trusts about, whereas according to their published accounts, none of the Trusts with its headquarters in Oxfordshire has come close to this limit.

Many primary schools are not now willing to join a Trust or even become an academy because once the decision has been made it is irrevocable. However, a Trust may either broker a school to another trust or in extreme circumstances give up the school altogether, but a school may not leave a Trust, even if the terms on which it agreed to join change dramatically. Such a risk doesn’t seem worth leaving the certainty of their present governance arrangements in the eyes of many governors, especially where the central charge may be little different to that offered for the purchase of traded services by their local authority.

Your speech did little to dispel the fog of uncertainty about how the system of schooling across England works for the benefit of all pupils. Please consider how all schools can work together and where there are many MATs in an area who has the ability to coordinate both their actions, those of academies not in Trusts and the remaining maintained schools whether they are voluntary or community in nature.