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‘How to make Ofsted inspections fairer for schools in disadvantaged areas’

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

Many critics of the severe limitations of performance data and of Ofsted’s undue reliance on it when judging schools would agree with Ed Dorrell that a data-blind inspection system would be desirable (“Ofsted inspectors should trust their instincts”, October 10).

But we are where we are and, whether we like it or not, performance data is going to be with us for the foreseeable future, despite its limitations. Its use on Ofsted’s proposed short inspections of “good” schools should not prove too problematic if Ofsted does what it says it will do and reports on leadership and management, teaching, curriculum and ethos as well as on performance. In the interests of fairness (a much neglected educational value), those visits should also be extended to all so-called “outstanding” schools – a proposal that should be uncontentious.

The difficulty comes with that minority of schools not considered “good”, which receive full inspections and which believe that a performance-dominated regime will not do justice to the quality of their provision, especially teaching. Such schools are unduly concentrated in socially disadvantaged areas and feel themselves to be educationally disadvantaged in a variety of ways, including inspection.

There is a straightforward but expensive and time-consuming way of addressing the concerns of such schools. Inspection of all but “outstanding” and “good” schools needs to be a two-stage process:

Stage one: A short published report on the quality of education observed (with no prior disclosure of performance data to inspectors who can then “trust their instincts”);

Followed a few weeks later by:

Stage two: A complementary published report on the school’s overall effectiveness  (taking account of performance data and the judgements made in the stage one report) and providing recommendations for the school’s development, arrived at through dialogue with those working in the school.

But, of course, there are costs involved. In particular, would Ofsted be able to afford the luxury of a two-stage process?

Related links:

Editorial: Ofsted inspectors should trust their instincts

Schools safe from ‘dawn raids’ after Ofsted U-turn

Ofsted: Schools 'not expected' to grade lesson observations

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