Ditch grades, safeguarding audits: ASCL’s Ofsted inspection plan

The school leaders' union has set out wide-ranging proposals it says will help the watchdog win back the profession's trust

The school leaders' union has set out wide-ranging proposals it says will help the watchdog win back the profession's trust

20 Jan 2023, 8:30

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Ofsted should ditch graded judgments and replace them with a “narrative description” of a school’s strengths and weaknesses, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has said.

In a policy discussion paper published today, the union also said schools should be told in which year they’ll be inspected (see full proposals in box

Longer-term changes should include separate inspection frameworks for different school phases, while safeguarding and health and safety should be checked through light-touch annual audits, the union said.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said graded judgments were a “woefully blunt tool to measure performance”.

He added that negative judgments “come with huge stigma attached and create a vicious circle that makes improvement more difficult”, worsening recruitment and retention challenges.

ASCL said proposals in its discussion paper had been offered for “comment, critique and stress- testing” and did not yet represent formal policy.

Rather than “attempting to distil all the work and school improvement a school does into a single phrase”, narrative judgments would allow reports to focus on what a school does well and how it could improve.

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman considered dropping the ‘outstanding’ grade early in her tenure, but decided against it.

A 2019 report by the watchdog said grades “provide parents with a useful headline indicator” of quality that is different but complements results data.

But ASCL insisted that a narrative description would give parents a “more nuanced understanding” of effectiveness.

The union said proposals had been offered for “comment, critique and stress-testing” and did not yet represent formal policy. However the plans are likely to have support from many in the sector.

A Teacher Tapp survey in September found nearly 60 per cent of respondents did not agree Ofsted was a “reliable and trusted arbiter of standards”, up from 52 per cent in 2019.

Fergal Moane, headteacher of Hitchin Boys’ School, in Hertfordshire, which retained its ‘outstanding’ grade in 2021 backed the plans.

“As public servants, headteachers accept the need for accountability, but Ofsted’s current approach is detrimental to the holistic improvement of the school system,” he said.

“The single biggest improvement would be to dispense with graded judgements.”

Headteachers’ Roundtable chair Caroline Derbyshire said: “It is pleasing that so many school leaders are now on the same page. Let’s hope our views are heard.”

Steve Rollett, deputy chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, warned that any change to judgments would need to “be coherent” within the regulatory framework.

“I don’t think you can look at judgments in isolation from the rest of the regulatory framework. I think you need to look at it all together,” he said.

Tom Middlehurst, ASCL’s curriculum, assessment and inspection specialist, said the changes “could help [Ofsted] win back that trust” of the profession.
Ofsted declined to comment.

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