Leaders urge Ofsted to share inspection training guides

Ofsted under pressure to publish 'aide memoires' that summarise inspection criteria for each subject after several were leaked

Ofsted under pressure to publish 'aide memoires' that summarise inspection criteria for each subject after several were leaked

4 Oct 2022, 13:11

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Ofsted in under increasing pressure to publish inspection training sheets over concerns they may give schools with access to them an unfair advantage.

It comes after an “aide memoire”, understood to be provided to additional inspectors, led to furore after being shared on social media at the weekend.

The Confederation of School Trusts (CST) and Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) have now written to the inspectorate to demand their publication.

Heather Fearn, head of Ofsted‘s curriculum unit, emphasised that the same “messages” were available in its published research reviews and argued that inspection materials were created for “the activity of inspection”.

But school leaders argue that the subject-specific crib sheets provide useful condensed summaries of the information.

Schools Week is aware of inspection guidance for at least 10 subjects, across both secondary and primary, being leaked via social media.

In lieu of Ofsted making them readily available, some in the sector have begun collating and sharing leaked training sheets online, with some arguing it had created an additionally “unfair” situation for leaders not on social media.

Critics argue publication is about “transparency and fairness”

Tom Middlehurst, curriculum and inspection specialist at ASCL, said the union had written to Ofsted to ask for the publication of aide-memories “in the interests of transparency & fairness” on Tuesday morning.

It followed the CST also calling for the publication of the documents. Its deputy CEO, Steve Rollett, said he “understood” concerns that such documents could be “misinterpreted” when used in isolation from inspector training sessions.

“But I think, on balance, publishing them is the right thing to do now,” he said. “Having read them here they appear to be easy to understand with low risk of misunderstanding.”

He added that because research reports were “quite lengthy”, it was “plausible” that school staff would find the summaries useful.

“That they are now circulating beyond the inspection workforce means those not able to view them will feel the current situation is unfair,” he added.

Meanwhile, early-years expert and education author Sue Cowley also pointed out that leaked documents had compounded the situation.

She encouraged Ofsted to email schools published versions of the aide memoires. “Otherwise it’s a completely unfair situation for those not on social media,” said Cowley.

“Untenable” situation for Ofsted

Speaking to Schools Week, Jonny Uttley, the CEO of multi-academy trust the Education Alliance, said the situation had become “untenable” for Ofsted.

“You’ve got schools and trusts where they have trained inspectors, and I know of multiple examples where [the aide memories] being used in those trusts internally and now you have a group of people on Twitter [with access to them],” he said.

“It’s reaching a point where it’s untenable for Ofsted not to make the summary documents available to all schools.”

He argued that school leaders had a “finite” amount of time to read through published research reviews to locate the information.

“If you’re a small standalone primary, I can’t imagine heads have anywhere near the time,” he said. “For those schools I imagine it would be a god send to have a one-page summary document for each area.”

“It is a really useful summary of the research and also elements of the inspection process. We’re reaching a point now where they’re in such wide circulation.”

Ofsted was approached for comment on the issue. On Monday, Fearn underlined its perspective on making such material readily available to non-inspectors.

“The issue is that materials written to train inspectors are created to support the specific purpose – the activity of inspection. Driving inspection based approaches [in] schools is also a drawback,” she said on Twitter.

Uttley empathised in part with the sentiment, saying that sharing all documents intended for training purposes could add “confusion” or encourage leaders to focus too much on inspections.

“But I actually think some schools may already try and do that. Ofsted can’t do anything to protect those schools, that’s the leaders problem,” he said.

“There is a huge amount of pressure around inspection, and it would be perfectly appropriate for Ofsted to say lets share these resources so that everybody has them.”

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