Exclusive: DfE reform could delay help for struggling schools by two years

Heads’ leader warns proposal could lead to problems becoming ‘more entrenched and needing even greater intervention’

Carole Willis of the NFER raised concerns that using Ofsted 'requires improvement' judgements as the trigger for school support could delay the process.

Government plans to reform the accountability system could result in struggling schools having to wait an extra two years for Department for Education support.

A headteachers’ leader is warning that the proposal to make the Ofsted "requires improvement" (RI) judgement the trigger for an offer of DfE support could end up making a school's problems “more entrenched”.

The concern comes because separate changes announced by Ofsted in 2017 mean that some schools will not be officially judged "requires improvement" until two years after inspectors first identified a problem. That could now mean significant delays in help for such schools.


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The government is consulting on plans to abolish the existing floor and coasting standards, which currently trigger help with school improvement, and use the RI grade instead.

However, Ofsted's rule change means that when short inspections find formerly "good" schools may no longer merit that rating, they are given one to two years to address weaknesses before they receive the full inspection that is required to formally rate them as "requires improvement".

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union, told Tes: “The consequence is that schools that could benefit from the support that’s on offer from the DfE will now potentially have to wait before they can access it.

“That introduces a challenge, because if a school is struggling, you want it to access as much support as [it] can, as quickly as possible, to get [it] back on the right path.

“The last thing you want to be doing is waiting and potentially seeing those problems becoming more entrenched and needing even greater intervention.

“Ofsted and the DfE are going to have to square this somehow.”

He did, however, reiterate NAHT's support for the RI judgement to replace the floor standard - a move that the union's accountability commission called for last year.

Others have questioned whether Ofsted will be quick enough to identify schools that could be declining, and that would benefit from the help triggered by an RI grade.

'Cliff edge'

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders , said: “[The DfE proposal] places a lot more of a cliff edge around ‘requires improvement’, and that is where you would want even more reassurance that there is the kind of nuance and speed of Ofsted being able to identify that, and I think the jury is most definitely out on whether that would be the case.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “We are currently consulting on using a ‘requires improvement’ rating to identify schools that may need support.

"We believe this proposal will provide greater clarity for schools about when they can expect to receive such an offer of support. 

“Ofsted retains the ability to inspect any school at any point if there are significant concerns, which will help us to identify schools that need support.”

Ofsted said the issues raised were “a matter for the DfE”.

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