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Exclusive: Let more heads from deprived areas inspect schools, Ofsted told

MAT boss says inspectors can only judge schools in disadvantaged areas if they have led one

Frank Norris. Co-op Academies trust director

MAT boss says inspectors can only judge schools in disadvantaged areas if they have led one

Ofsted should loosen its rules to allow more headteachers working in deprived schools to become inspectors, according to the leader of the biggest corporate-sponsored academy chain in England.

Frank Norris, who leads Co-op Academies Trust based in Manchester and has held senior roles at Ofsted, said inspectors cannot effectively judge schools in disadvantaged areas unless they have led one themselves.

Currently, Ofsted requires all its school inspectors to be working in a setting that has been graded as  "good" or better at its most recent inspection. 

In an interview with Tes, Mr Norris said this rule excluded headteachers he knew whose experience of working in deprived communities would make them well-suited to be inspectors.

He said: “I do have a problem with context. When you’re an outlier, where you have 70 different languages being spoken in your academy as we do in our secondary academy in Leeds, the context of that community is probably beyond most headteachers’ comprehension.  

“So not decrying the people who are drawn in to work for Ofsted, but actually if they are drawn primarily from outstanding and good schools, the chances are that there not going to be working in deprived areas like Harehills or Burmantofts, in Leeds.”

He said he has passed on his concerns to Ofsted's national director of education, Sean Harford.

Mr Norris is currently heading up the Co-op Academies Trust's plan to more than treble in size to run 40 schools in deprived communities by 2022.

An Ofsted spokesperson said: “There are schools in disadvantaged areas that are 'good' or 'outstanding' and many headteachers will have worked in a number of schools with different judgements.

“Ofsted is always keen to work with serving practitioners who are suitably qualified and experienced.

"At present, the specification for becoming a contracted Ofsted inspector does require applicants who are currently working in a provision which is inspected or regulated by Ofsted, and graded as  ‘good’ or better at their most recent inspection.”

Mr Norris also told Tes that, during his time with Ofsted, he came up with the idea for calling the best-rated schools "outstanding".

He said: “We saw 'outstanding' at that time as something you would travel 20 miles to go and see it – it was not something that was going to be two a penny.

“So these were the beacons of excellence that would in effect be a centre of excellence for a town or a region.”

Mr Norris said he believed the rating had been a success – in contrast to others in the profession who have called for it to be scrapped.

But he also felt it was important for Ofsted to be able to inspect such schools in order to see best practice and spread it throughout the system.

The inspectorate recently said it wants to be able to visit outstanding schools more frequently.

Since 2011, outstanding schools have been exempt from routine re-inspections, though Ofsted inspectors can go in if concerns are raised around safeguarding or education standards.

To read the full interview with Frank Norris, see the 1 June edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. 

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