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Colin Richards: 'What might a reformed Ofsted look like?'

Colin Richards, a former HMI and a primary sector specialist adviser to Ofsted, writes:

There is growing pressure within, and without, the organisation for a reconstituted Ofsted. The future of inspection is being reconsidered. There is the possibility of genuine change. What might a reformed Ofsted look like? How would it relate to other players in our increasingly fragmented system?

My reformed English Schools Inspection Service (ESIS) would be legally independent of the secretary of state and of the DfE and would be accountable directly to Parliament. It would report there on a regular basis, but would also submit its findings to the DfE and any English Education Council (or College of Teaching?), which might be set up to advise on curriculum, assessment and teaching.

The ESIS would have a small centrally-based core of HMI but most would be based in regions or divisions where they would work closely with a newly-established “middle tier”. All inspections would be carried out by HMI (plus secondees from schools) but for the vast majority of schools, those deemed “good” or “outstanding” in current parlance, would only involve a one day visit every year by a single inspector.

For those schools not deemed to be good nor outstanding, full inspections would be undertaken on a regular basis, similar in scale to those conducted by HMI pre-1992, until they provide good quality education with high standards.

Apart from its role in directly inspecting the minority of schools requiring improvement, the ESIS’ prime remit would be to report on the effects of government and English Education Council policies on both the quality of education and the standards achieved in all state-funded institutions including academies and free schools.

Other aspects of its remit would include developing a national framework for full inspections, the most radical aspect of which would be a two-stage inspection process where inspecting and reporting on quality was uncoupled from evaluating data-led performance.

It would monitor the use of that framework with a view to its periodic revision on a set time-scale, as well as monitoring the work of school improvement agencies. It would inspect and report on the quality and standards in local authorities or whatever replaces them.

And, finally, it would disseminate interesting practice and promote professional networking through conferences, national and regional in-service courses, written and email publications and face-to-face contacts.

The ESIS would be formally linked with other national inspectorates and subject to periodic review by the latter and by commissioned researchers who would report to parliament.

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