Schools that are inspected more frequently are more likely to focus their efforts on improving performance, a new study has shown.
Researchers found that schools monitored more closely by Ofsted reported spending significantly more time on raising standards than those inspected less frequently.
The study, carried out by Durham University’s Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, is part of a three-year EU-funded project looking at the effectiveness of school inspection in five countries. As well as England, the other countries involved were Ireland, Sweden, Austria and the Czech Republic.
The Durham academics, led by Professor Peter Tymms, compared schools that had a main inspection and then a monitoring visit the following year with schools that had an inspection but no follow-up.
The schools were asked to say how much time they were spending on a range of improvement activities, including school effectiveness, student assessment and teacher co-operation.
The study found that the schools that had an extra monitoring visit outperformed the other schools in every category by a statistically significant margin, with the differences even larger in the second year.
“It is possible this is due to schools that were monitored continuing to make improvements following the monitoring inspection,” the researchers said.
However, in the third year, two years after the monitoring inspections, there was no statistically significant difference between the two groups of schools.
Ofsted guidance states that schools judged to require improvement will receive one monitoring visit within four to 12 weeks of publication of the initial report. Following this visit, the inspector will recommend whether further visits are necessary.
Schools where leadership and management are judged to be good do not usually receive a monitoring inspection.
“It tells us that people are taking notice of inspections and are trying to do well, particularly if they are high-stakes inspections,” Professor Tymms said.
But Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, warned against a move towards more inspections.
“We’re already seeing too much behaviour driven by the perceived requirements of inspection,” he said. “Genuine school improvement comes from leaders who are committed to providing the best possible education. It shouldn’t be forced on them from outside.”
But he said that it was not certain that improvement activities always led to better results and more work was needed to determine whether inspections were good value for money.
Researchers also analysed schools according to Ofsted ratings, and found that schools classed as outstanding were more receptive to feedback than those in the other three categories.
Results were also published this month on inspection systems in Sweden, Ireland and Austria. In the Swedish study, inspections were found to have a significant effect on capacity building and school effectiveness, with the effects lasting beyond the first year after the inspection.