Ofsted: A rethink on lesson observations, and eight other plans revealed today

More inspections for 'outstanding' schools and multi-academy trusts, and a focus on social mobility are also part of Ofsted's plan for the next five years

Adi Bloom

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This morning, Ofsted published its new corporate strategy for 2017-22. Here are its main points:

  1. A rethink on lesson observations
    Ofsted will be re-examining the validity of its lesson observations. An international seminar at the start of November will bring together experts in lesson observation from around the world. Ofsted will then look at the different systems being used, and debate which is the most valid, and how it might incorporate these systems into what it does.
  2. Inspections for multi-academy trusts
    Ofsted has said that it wants to work with the Department for Education, to look at how it can best scrutinise multi-academy trusts, possibly inspecting them in the same way that it currently inspects individual local authorities. Current legislation does not allow for MAT inspections.
    Luke Tryl, Ofsted’s director of corporate strategy, said: “If decisions are being taken at a certain level of accountability, it probably makes sense to look more at that level of accountability.”
  3. Drawing out schools' 'uniqueness'
    Parents have said that Ofsted reports are very good at informing them about the performance of individual schools, but do not say anything about what makes a school distinctive or unique. “I think it would be possible to produce more narrative reports which aren’t necessarily just reliant on data,” Mr Tryl said. For example, reports would not duplicate information which is readily available elsewhere. This would allow inspectors to spend more time in schools, and less time writing reports.
  4. Possibly having two sets of inspectors
    In June this year, the Association of School and College Leaders published a statement, suggesting that Ofsted’s role inspecting quality of education should be separated out from its role inspecting compliance issues, such as safeguarding. It claimed that combining the two elements could lead to a distorted overall judgement. “We don’t think that has to be the case,” Mr Tryl said. “But, given that it has been suggested, it would be foolish for us not to look at it.” Decoupling the two elements would lead to two separate inspections – or more, if compliance inspections were more regular than quality-of-education inspections – by two separate teams of inspectors.
  5. Inspecting more outstanding schools
    Inevitably, inspectors spend more time in schools that require improvement than in those that are good or outstanding. But existing legislation allows for Ofsted to inspect between 5 and 10 per cent of outstanding schools. It intends to make time to do this by extending the time – within the statutory five-year limit – between inspections of good schools.
  6. Offering a birds’-eye perspective on education
    “We’re the only organisation which has that birds’-eye view of what’s going on in lots of different schools,” Mr Tryl said. “How can we aggregate that, and show what works and what doesn’t?” But equally, he said, he wants to avoid any suggestion that Ofsted believes there is a right or a wrong way of doing things.
  7. A focus on social mobility
    “What a lot of people forget is that, actually, when you narrow the curriculum, it’s disadvantaged pupils who suffer the most,” Mr Tryl said. “Often, where you see disadvantaged pupils underperforming, it’s an indication that the institution as a whole is underperforming. So how can we really make sure we play our part in the social-mobility strategy?”
  8. Questioning unconscious bias
    Ofsted is aware of the problems that unconscious bias can cause: inspectors might go into a school in a disadvantaged area, where attitudes are different from the mainstream, and immediately come to a negative judgement. It therefore wants to investigate how much this is happening, and – if it is happening – how it can prevent it.
  9. HMI, inspect thyself
    “I am quite strongly of the view that an organisation that holds others to account ought to be very robust, not only in holding ourselves to account, but also putting out the information which allows other people to do the same as well,” Mr Tryl said. This would mean publishing Ofsted’s own accountability metrics annually, as well as polling teachers and parents for their opinions on Ofsted.

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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