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'Ofsted must make quality assurance a central theme'

There is a lot to be pleased about in the inspectorate's new inspection framework, writes the general secretary of heads' union NAHT

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There is a lot to be pleased about in the inspectorate's new inspection framework, writes the general secretary of heads' union NAHT

Ofsted’s new inspection framework – published today – enshrines the new 'lighter touch' inspection of good schools. Each will be visited for a single day with a focus on quality of leadership and under the presumption that the school is still good.

I can't tell you how important the latter is – too many inspections used to begin with a threat of downgrading and challenging the school to mount a defence. If this new presumption ends that old adversarial relationship – and even enables people to learn from inspection – that would be a good thing.

A poor visit can still result in triggering an immediate full inspection but the framework suggests that minor weaknesses, openly and accurately identified and addressed by the senior team, will not wreak havoc.

Another important and welcome announcement is the introduction of regional scrutiny boards to oversee complaints. Ofsted's opaque and defensive scrutiny of its own complaints has been a major dent in its credibility. This really helps.

Ofsted also intends to celebrate system leadership. This is a welcome compromise from the original plans to require system leadership in order to be outstanding – there is a legitimate role in turning a single school around.

Sir Michael uses his speech to hit back at those who doubt Ofsted's capacity for reform and he uses as an example the fact that Ofsted now has no preferred teaching style. This is an odd example to choose as many people have detected preferred styles of teaching, marking and assessment long after announcements from Ofsted HQ said they were over.

This has always been Ofsted's main problem – the gap between what the centre says and what individual teams do. Its inability to ensure consistency had been a gap in its capacity for reform. There is reason to hope that its decision to bring teams back in house may help this, but Ofsted cannot take their eye off the ball – it is not enough to say it, every team has to live it.

I would say that the new framework is a positive development but not the end of the road. Ofsted must make quality assurance a central theme. It should build on the light touch framework with a pilot of high quality peer review and it should seriously reconsider its ownership of the outstanding grade.

However, today’s changes show Ofsted has listened to and tackled some of the central concerns.

Russell Hobby is general secretary of the heads' union NAHT.

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