Verdict on Ofsted changes: Brutal, better, intense

Teachers share their first impressions of Ofsted's new curriculum-focused school inspections

John Roberts

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Ofsted’s new curriculum-focused inspections have been described as “brutal”, “intense” and “more rigorous” by some of the first teachers to experience them.

One teacher told Tes she had written to Ofsted's chief inspector Amanda Spielman complaining that her school's inspection was "aggressive and soul-destroying" and that such a process could drive committed teachers out of the profession.

But others have reported more positive experiences of a process which they said allowed Ofsted to get beneath the surface and carry out a more thorough inspection.

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Sarah Vickers, a director of inclusion at a comprehensive academy in Hertfordshire, inspected this month said: “More than one member of staff, who was subjected to their interview process, used the word ‘brutal’ to describe their meeting with an inspector.

“It was not dissimilar to being interviewed by Jeremy Paxman or John Humphrys and, in some meetings, both at the same time.

"If I had been arrested for murder, at least I would have been allowed to have a solicitor present to protect me from the onslaught of aggression and deprecation they heaped on me.”

She said that she was expected to locate physical evidence within minutes of it being requested and was rarely allowed to finish an explanation before being bombarded with another demand.

In a letter to Ofsted’s chief inspector outlining her concerns, Ms Vickers said she was a teacher of 34 years' experience who had previously been through 10 Ofsted inspections at schools that were all rated "good" or better. She told Tes this was a personal complaint rather than one lodged by her school.

Ofsted’s new inspection framework came into effect at the start of this academic year. The most significant change is the creation of a new quality of education grade, which requires inspectors to place more focus on the curriculum. 

Another key change that school leaders have highlighted is the 90-minute conversation a headteacher has with the lead inspector the day before the inspection begins.

Ofsted has said this is not part of the formal inspection process but allows the inspector to prepare for the visit the next day.

'90-minute phonecall shaped the inspection'

However, Helen Eken, headteacher at Benchill Primary, in Manchester described this call as “pretty intense" and told Tes it was "not just about sorting out the practicalities”.

And Trish Farrelly, the principal of Gossops Green Primary in Crawley, West Sussex, told Tes the opening conversation shaped much of the rest of the inspection.

She added: “I would advise heads to prepare what you want to get across about your school.

"When the inspector arrived, she summarised what she thought I had said but added that 'she didn’t believe a word I had said without seeing the evidence’. So, yes I think that 90-minute conservation definitely frames the inspection.”

Ms Farrelly said that another major change was because Ofsted carries out deep dives into particular subjects to look at curriculum, as a principal, she was largely redundant on the first day of the inspection with the focus being more on subject leaders and pupils’ work.

She added: “I do feel as though this inspection gave the inspectors more of a chance to get to know the school. In the past, I have felt as though inspections gave more of a surface view. It was more rigorous than past inspections.”

The new framework has also been widely discussed on social media.

Posting on Twitter yesterday, secondary deputy head Steve Warner advised schools to be “be on the same page” after experiencing inspection.

Mr Warner said the new framework had a “real emphasis on triangulation between leaders, teachers and students”.

He also described the inspection team as being "very robust and demonstrating much integrity".

Other school leaders and staff have reported positive first impressions of the new framework.

Mo Ladak, an assistant principal, posted on Twitter to say: “Experienced my 6th Ofsted this week. Pleased to report that the new framework has created a much more thorough and fair process.

"The Ofsted inspection team were very smart and efficient yet carried out the inspection with integrity and humanity. It’s definitely better.”

There have also been concerns highlighted that Ofsted's deep dives will expect in-depth subject knowledge, which will be more difficult for staff at small schools to demonstrate if they are subject leads in several areas.

An Ofsted spokesperson said: "While it’s early days, we’ve had some really positive feedback about our new inspections, including the ‘deep dive’ element.

"We want the new approach to be a constructive experience for schools, and we have every confidence in the professionalism of our inspectors.  

“While we can’t comment on individual inspections, schools are given every opportunity to raise concerns during an inspection.”

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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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