While Ofsted wants to increase its visits to schools, the inspection stakes are being lowered in other parts of the UK.
Inspection grades for schools in Wales are set to become a thing of the past because of concerns that a high-stakes inspection system is having a negative impact.
A review carried out by Graham Donaldson, the former chief inspector of schools in Scotland, has recommended that inspections are paused for a year in Wales to allow schools to get to grips with a new curriculum. And when inspection does return, it is proposed that the inspectorate, Estyn, no longer grades schools.
Currently, Welsh schools are graded under four categories very similar to those in England : “excellent”, “good”, “adequate and needs improvement” and “unsatisfactory and needs urgent improvement”. But these are set to go.
Donaldson told Tes that “summative grading of schools can make school inspection an end in itself rather than a means to the end of school improvement”.
His review found that giving schools an inspection grade made inspection part of a high-stakes culture.
It also warned that grades can oversimplify and “fail to reflect the complexities of a school and of the learning process”.
Donaldson says that giving schools an overall graded judgement means that a disproportionate amount of time is spent ensuring that inspection teams arrive at a fair grade. He believes this comes at the expense of deeper discussions about how a school might move forward.
The review also calls for more emphasis on schools’ ability to self-evaluate. Donaldson says this is one of the key differences between school inspection in Scotland and England.
“A school’s self-evaluation is a critical part of the inspection process in Scotland. It is about recognising the importance of a school’s ability to self-improve.”
Schools in Scotland are not given an overall inspection grade but are assessed instead in several separate areas including leadership of change; learning, teaching and assessment; raising attainment and achievement; and ensuring wellbeing, equality and inclusion.
In Northern Ireland, industrial action has meant that some teachers are now simply choosing to opt out of the school inspection process.
The action began in January 2017, just as the Northern Ireland government collapsed. Some teachers said they are now “happy” because the action allows them to focus on teaching.
Gordon White, a secondary school teacher and NEU teaching union rep in Londonderry, told Tes earlier this year that at his schools teachers were not agreeing to meetings with the schools’ inspectorate.
However, the NAHT in Northern Ireland, which is the only major union not involved in the action, has said that the ongoing dispute has added to the stress of its members.
It has held talks with Northern Ireland’s Education and Training Inspectorate and has now agreed that heads can “participate in inspection at the level that best meets the need of the school.”