Sir Martyn Oliver, the government’s pick to be the next Ofsted chief inspector, faced his pre-appointment hearing in front of the education committee today.
Here’s what we learned.
1. He has three main priorities for the role …
Oliver told MPs “the last thing the system needs right now … is a revolution”, but outlined three things he wanted to achieve in the role (read our news story here for more information on this).
The first is a “big listen” to the sectors Ofsted inspects. His second priority is to get “more leaders” involved in inspections.
The third aim is to “look holistically” at how disadvantaged children are supported by all services in each local authority area.
2. Pledge to ‘look at’ single-phrase judgments
Quizzed about the reliability of the current suite of four single-phrase judgments, Oliver said: “I do think it needs looking at, because I do think it leads to a sense of, is there a sense of trust in the system that you can move from one judgment to the other?
“How can you explain that? I’ve got some thoughts on it, but they are quite rightly formative at this stage and I want to actually talk to the experts who are delivering on the ground and have been doing it for years.”
3. Criticism of current framework toned down
Oliver was one of a number of high-profile trust bosses who in 2020 criticised Ofsted’s new inspection framework, which placed a greater emphasis on the quality of education and less focus on pupil outcomes.
But he was far more complimentary this morning, saying current chief inspector Amanda Spielman “should be hugely congratulated for forcing the substance of education front and centre”.
However, his concerns over “consistency” remain, and he said pupil outcomes were also “important”.
“I think it’s difficult to explain how some schools had a ‘good’ quality of education and some of the best outcomes in the country and I think it’s difficult to explain how you get some of the worst outcomes in the country getting a ‘good’ inspection.”
But he said the “beauty” of the framework was that “coming out of a post-Covid era, it would be hard to be in a situation where it says ‘outcomes = Ofsted grade’. That wouldn’t do anyone any favours at the moment.”
4. Ofsted should review attendance ‘right now’
Recent statistics have shown that one in five pupils were “persistently” absent from school last year, with an attendance gap between poorer children and their better off peers widening.
Oliver said that “right now I desperately need Ofsted to do a thematic dive into attendance…We need to go out and see the best practice.”
But this should not then take the form of an academic paper, Oliver warned. Instead leaders should be given information on how other schools improve attendance, such as which staff they employ and how much they are paid.
“That’s what heads need. They don’t just need a bunch of airy fairy ‘this is what you could do’.”
5. MAT inspections ‘inevitable’
Spielman has repeatedly called for inspections of multi-academy trusts, something Labour has pledged to introduce if it comes to power.
Oliver said today it was “inevitable I would hope that we need to look at how Ofsted can inspect groups, and I don’t just mean multi-academy trusts”.
“I could mean the same when it comes to groups who own different care homes. I think the landscape is changing and Ofsted must change with the landscape.”
6. Ofsted King in the North
Oliver revealed today he’s asked the Ofsted board for his terms and conditions to state his base would be in the north of England. The inspectorate has offices in Manchester and York.
“The board have already intimated that that’s something they are seriously going to consider. I think that’s a really important message we can pass out to the system.”
7. ‘Reflection, not isolation’
Outwood Grange, Oliver’s trust, has faced criticism over its approach to behaviour. He was challenged this morning on his record as a “zero-tolerance” head.
Schools Week revealed in 2019 how as many as half of pupils in some of the trust’s schools were placed in internal isolation.
But Oliver insisted “it’s not isolation, it’s a reflection room. Students are never isolated. They’re working in there with pastoral experts. No child is ever written-off.
“Zero-tolerance is a term I don’t understand, I don’t recognise, I don’t believe anyone recognises. I have zero tolerance for bad behaviour that disrupts children’s education.”
8. Suspensions and exclusions defended
He also defended suspension and exclusion rates, saying OGAT had “some of the most difficult and broken schools in the system”.
“When you go into a school like that, and you work with them and after just one year you double their results. These are children you are giving, who are disadvantaged, a much greater chance of succeeding in their life.”
Suspensions in Outwood are also “actually very short”, he said, averaging a day and a half. “And our figures on permanent exclusions are lower than most in the areas in which we work.”
9. ‘Off-rolling troubles me greatly’
While he said some parents removed their children for elective home education for the “right reasons”, he said he knew there was “off-rolling taking place in the system”.
He said this was a “sackable offence” for his heads, adding it was “an area where Ofsted can shine the light”.
“It troubles me that there are children who could be bouncing about from one LA to another, from one service provider to another.”
He said some children attended unregistered provision full-time, which is illegal. He has also heard about unregistered settings creating “a second company, so for one day they can be in one organisation and then another day they’re in another organisation”.
10. Inspections should consider EHCP rate
Oliver said he was “troubled” by variations between some schools in the rate of pupils with education, health and care plans. He said one of his schools had “seven times the number of EHCP students than schools that are around it”.
“I think, again, what we can do is say when we’re inspecting, let’s look, what is the EHCP percentage? Is there a reason?”
For example, he said where a council was not issuing EHCPs soon enough, schools may have many SEND-identified children but without the plans, which bring with them statutory responsibilities, and extra funding.
“Again, can we join all of this up once and for all in this country. Let’s stop just saying ‘it’s the school, it’s the local authority’ because there are great people working in these institutions.”