Here to help you improve

4th May 2012 at 01:00

One of the toughest tasks I undertake as chief inspector is signing off on reports that put a school in special measures. It is not a step that is taken lightly and follows rigorous quality assurance and high-level advice from senior colleagues.

Each time I agree a special-measures decision, I consider the impact it will have on the school, particularly the head and senior staff, but I also reflect on the impact it will have for the young people in that school. While it may not seem so at the time, the judgement will be in the best interests of pupils and the school when education standards improve as a result of the extra focus special measures brings.

As TES readers will know well, a judgement of special measures brings attention to a school in the form of intervention from local authorities or academy sponsors, and also through regular Ofsted monitoring visits. These interventions are crucial in supporting the hard work and commitment of heads, senior leaders and teaching staff who are responsible for delivering the improvements.

The essential element of Ofsted's involvement has to be the clarity of our judgements and recommendations. I am determined to ensure that our reports are clear, succinct and provide the direct guidance schools need to improve. Helping a school face up to what it needs to do better is one of the most important elements of inspection and we know it has an impact.

This isn't just my view. A couple of recent studies, by academics from the London School of Economics and the University of London's Institute of Education (IoE), have highlighted where a judgement that a school is underperforming can be a catalyst for improvement. While the focus of the IoE research was particularly about schools in the "notice to improve" category, the principles are equally valid for schools in special measures. The research found that "the instruction to the school to improve its performance may empower headteachers and governors to take a tougher, more proactive line about school and teacher performance".

I hope heads, school leaders and governors will see that a judgement that a school is not providing an acceptable education is an opportunity to get additional support. Ofsted inspectors have always sought to "do good as they go" and it is an important part of our role to promote improvement and share best practice.

I know that it is challenging for heads and everyone involved when schools go through the crucible of special measures. I have huge admiration for the commitment that all staff put into turning schools around. Equally, I understand this is only the beginning of the journey, as the leadership will turn its focus to the goal of becoming good and ultimately outstanding. At the heart of all this is the need to ensure a good education for all children. Ofsted would be failing in its duty if it did not continue to challenge schools to be the best they can be.

Our proposed changes to inspection - including plans to rename the "satisfactory" and "notice to improve" categories as "requires improvement" - are focused on this goal. The consultation on these reforms has now finished, so expect the finalised details in the coming months. Watch this space.

Sir Michael Wilshaw is Her Majesty's Chief Inspector.

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