As has been widely reported, schools will be subject to a new inspection regime from September. Christine Gilbert, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector, has rightly insisted that the "key issues" flagged up in inspection reports need to be precise to give schools a clearer steer on what they need to do to move to the next level. It is important that the practical steps are understood and accepted by the school, so headteachers may expect to be involved in agreeing the detailed wording for these issues.
Expect detailed descriptors for satisfactory, good and outstanding, countering past criticism over the criteria for grades, particularly outstanding, plus a precise spelling out of the criteria that demand an inadequate grade.
Judgments are reached by comparing the evidence in your school against the descriptions for the grade. It would be unusual for every detail of each descriptor to be met, but inspectors are expected to find the best match. Schools should get hold of the most up-to-date evaluation schedule (available at www.ofsted.gov.uk) and, where they disagree with inspectors' grades, they should ask inspectors why they have picked one grade rather than another.
The new framework will also expect more reflection from schools on their own performance. When you write grades on your self-evaluation form (SEF), you may be asked to explain why you've not gone for the grade above or the one below.
The new schedule will also set out the interaction between inspection judgments more clearly - particularly in the impact of attainment (standards) on the overall judgment for pupils' achievement and enjoyment of school.
Many schools will welcome greater clarity, but it could result in tougher judgments for some. Schools that think of their provision as good may find the new descriptor for satisfactory a closer match. There may be shocks too in respect of the unequivocal descriptors for what is inadequate. For example, it is expected that, from September, inspectors will be required to judge the school's "capacity for sustained improvement" and therefore to judge the school's overall effectiveness as inadequate if the school's self evaluation "lacks rigour and is wide of the mark in its conclusions". In short, don't oversell your school.
In the pilot inspections this term, attainment has to be described as low where "indicators for the end of a key stage for one or more major subjects or sizable groups of pupils have been significantly below average, as indicated in RAISEonline, and there is little sign of improvement". This is arguably a tougher measure for attainment than has previously been applied.
Inspectors will continue to be engaged in constructive dialogue with school leaders throughout the inspection. From the start, the leading inspector will agree arrangements with the head, including giving oral feedback to staff on lessons seen.
Heads will also be able to discuss the leading inspector's pre-inspection briefing, on the telephone just before the inspection or, more often, at a meeting at the start of it. The briefing sets out the questions that will form the focus of the inspection, so leaders will have an input.
In some pilot inspections, heads have been invited to inspectors' team meetings so that they are party to the discussion on inspection findings. This is likely to become more common, and could become a routine feature of inspection from September.
Inspection should be seen by school leaders as an adjunct of self evaluation. These new arrangements make it clear that that is the way Ofsted intends it to be.
Selwyn Ward has been an inspector for 15 years in primary and secondary schools Next week: teaching outdoors
- Get hold of the latest evaluation schedule at www.ofsted.gov.uk.
- Expect detailed descriptors for satisfactory, good and outstanding.
- Greater clarity on descriptors could mean tougher judgments.
- Be ready to challenge inspectors over why they chose one grade over another.
- Be prepared to defend why you chose one grade over another on your SEF.
- Be aware that schools will be judged on their capacity for sustained improvement from September.