'We need a better after-care service'

30th May 2008 at 01:00
Your reaction to last week's Ofsted changes depends on your experiences of the schools watchdog. Dorothy Lepkowska canvassed the opinion of a politician, an academic, a former inspector, a sixth form student and leaders of a variety of different schools

Your reaction to last week's Ofsted changes depends on your experiences of the schools watchdog. Dorothy Lepkowska canvassed the opinion of a politician, an academic, a former inspector, a sixth form student and leaders of a variety of different schools

Michael Gove Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families

Ofsted is enjoying strong leadership at present and inspection is a vital tool in driving up standards and ensuring that our schools are accountable and look to the future.

In our document "Raising the Bar, Closing the Gap", published last year, we suggest that a rigorous inspections process be maintained. We need a system where our teachers and, by implication, every subject and year group benefit from in-depth analysis about where there is room for improvement. Inspections should, therefore, be more detailed and last longer, with every teacher being observed in class.

But we also believe that Ofsted should develop more light-touch inspections for those schools that are doing well. And we are considering unannounced inspections to secure a more accurate snapshot.

Ofsted has been given more responsibilities over the past few years, but more needs to be done. It would be a pity if it became too pre-occupied with bureaucracy and getting schools to tick boxes.

The best Ofsted report should not only show up weaknesses in a school, but also point out areas for improvement. There is an argument that perhaps the expertise of inspectors could be harnessed to help schools to improve.

Sarah Fulcher Student at Kingsbrook College, Milton Keynes

Our school had an Ofsted inspection in March. I am one of the sixth-form leadership team and we were invited to an interview with inspectors, who wanted to find out about student voice and what impact we have on school policies.

Overall, I think Ofsted is a good thing. I like the fact that schools don't get much notice because quality assurance should be part of their day-to-day work and something they should be thinking about all the time.

We knew some days before that inspectors would be coming. By the time the inspection happened, there was a sense of release and a general feeling of determination that we were going to show them what a good school this is.

I can see the point of schools self-evaluating their work, but at the same time I would worry about bias if teachers were expected to inspect each other. I don't see any harm in someone coming in from outside and giving their opinions. Ideally, self-evaluation should work hand-in-hand with external inspection.

One thing I might change is the regularity of inspections. They seem to take place every two or three years, but a better way to ensure quality might be random checks once a term or twice a year.

Paul Baker Deputy head at St Aidan's Catholic School and language college, Sunderland

Our school had an inspection last November. Initially, we were very pleased with the way it went and the feedback we received from shared lesson observations.

However, inspectors found a problem with the way we stored our criminal records bureau checks, and as a result we were given a "notice to improve". We rectified the problem within a few days, but so far our requests for an early re-inspection have not been heeded, and the uncertainty leaves our re-designation as a language college hanging in the balance.

This is a school with an excellent reputation, but the inspection left us devastated. Ofsted does not seem able to deal with such situations in a proportionate manner. This needs to change.

Inspections should also involve practitioners - for example, school improvement partners who are serving heads - who understand how a school works on a day-to-day basis. There ought to be a requirement for inspectors without recent experience in school to shadow headteachers. Inspectors seem to be getting an ever wider brief, and schools should be concerned about what qualifies them to judge.

We were also surprised that no maths lesson was observed here, especially as ministers put such an emphasis on core subjects.

I don't believe that the length of inspections or the notice period should be changed, but some thought needs to be put into Ofsted's purpose. If it is genuinely to help schools improve, then a better after-care service is needed.

Sue Morrison Head of John Fielding Special School in Boston, Lincolnshire

What concerns me most is that last time we had a visit, there was only one inspector. If we had not had a good relationship with her, it could have affected the outcome.

I like school self-evaluation because it focuses the mind. Sometimes schools know that they are doing something well or that a certain policy works, but they don't necessarily know why.

We all have school improvement partners now. It would be good if they could play a bigger role in inspections. They already provide an external, unbiased view.

What really concerns us is the persistence in judging our pupils on the same criteria as other children. Pupils here will only ever get a level 4 for achievement, so their attainment cannot be measured by test success. What needs to be taken into account is their pattern of development and the quality of the care and education they get here.

So inspectors should look at how we assess pupils, how we monitor their progress and set targets, and the outreach work we do with families. They also need to judge us on how far we take pupils, how we enhance their lives. Our pupils are never going to get a level 5, so there is no point in judging them against strict exams criteria.

Kevin Harcombe Head of Redlands Primary School, Fareham, Hampshire

Christine Gilbert has inherited an organisation she realises is out of step with the times. Can she fix it? I believe so. That will be relatively easy - the tough bit will be selling it to the press and politicians.

No-notice inspections sound like secret police tactics. A less aggressive approach might yield better relationships and better results.

Given that external validation is here to stay, I would like to see Ofsted make much more use of the expertise in local authorities. The school improvement partner (Sip) system duplicates some of its work, so the Government is paying twice for the same job. But partners add a clearer understanding of context through closer and more regular contact, making them better placed to support and challenge as well as to facilitate networking and the flow of ideas between schools.

Ofsted could regularly sample Sips' work by accompanying them on selected school visits. Those not up to the job could then be weeded out. At a stroke, you would reduce the cost of inspections and improve the outcomes for schools.

Professor Colin Richards Primary specialist and former senior inspector

Ofsted needs to be radically modified to make it fit for purpose. "Featherweight" inspections should be replaced with enhanced ones that focus on judging the quality of pupils' work and the quality of teaching, then analysing the factors contributing to both.

Inspections should involve extensive classroom observation and provide for genuine dialogue with teachers. Inspectors should use data tentatively, sparingly and with sensitivity to school context so as to inform, not determine, their professional judgements of quality. They should not pretend to make judgements about progress over time, but be content with providing sensitive, insightful snapshots.

Enhanced inspections should occur every fourth year or so with a couple of weeks' notice. Adverse reports should trigger full-scale inspections within six months.

This system would be administered by a reconstituted Ofsted, whose managers and inspectors would be drawn largely from the cadre of contracted inspectors, along with suitably trained, experienced teachers on secondment. On inspections, they would be joined by school improvement partners, who would help schools with follow-up work.

Her Majesty's Inspectors would revert to their former role as professional adviser to the Government, liaising closely with local authorities, visiting schools regularly and carrying out their own programme of inspections. In exceptional circumstances, they might conduct full-scale inspections at the request of ministers.

Such a system would not be cheap, but it would be far more effective and respected than the current justifiably maligned regime.

Anne Welsh Head of George Stephenson High School, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

My school was inspected recently and the experience was positive. This wasn't just because we had a good report, but because of the process itself. We had an inspector who trusted our judgement and who looked at the bigger picture rather than concentrating on data.

One aspect that is often raised by heads is Ofsted's focus on a school's most recent statistics, rather than the journey that school has taken.

What I would like to see are less frequent visits for schools that have had a good inspection. I'm not sure light-touch inspections are the answer. If Ofsted has the school's self-evaluation form, the most up-to- date data and a report from the school improvement partner, then I don't see any reason for a visit. However, there needs to be trust between the process and the self-evaluation procedure.

By this summer we will all have been inspected under the existing framework, which is heavily weighted at looking at management. But I would like inspections to focus more on what is going on in the classroom because that is the real purpose of the work of schools.

Roy Blatchford Former HMI, Director of the National Education Trust

For parents and politicians, Ofsted as a brand is up there alongside Marks amp; Spencer and the AA: it's here to stay in some form or other.

Schools have been rightly vociferous about the impact of the inspector calling. For me, it has always been about inspectors "doing good as they go". If you can't spend a day in a school, acclaim what's great, leave people feeling better about what they are doing, and offer a few pointers for the future, you shouldn't be in the school. Every inspector must have the skills to deliver sharp messages nicely.

So let's differentiate how often and how intensively we inspect. We should not underestimate the impact of patting people on the back. But is that Ofsted's job now we have school improvement partners, and the national awards that festoon every school's letter-head?

As to the grindingly satisfactory schools, Ofsted has failed to change these, no matter how many visits it has made. A different approach is needed. Happily, schools in a category of concern are down to an irreducible minimum. They need monitoring, so let this continue.

Ofsted visited 6,331 primaries in 2006-07. Of these, 98 per cent had the same verdict overall as they received for "achievement and standards". So why inspect at all?

In a spirit of evolution not revolution, there should be three main changes: give equal emphasis to each Every Child Matters outcome; focus on what matters instead of trying to inspect everything; and celebrate the great stuff that's happening in schools.

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