Ofsted: New 'school visits' will allow 'appropriate challenge without passing judgment'

Ofsted has said its new school “visits” will allow inspectors to provide “appropriate challenge” to school leaders without “passing judgement”.

It was confirmed last week that proper Ofsted inspections will not start again until January next year at the earliest.

But Ofsted will start to “visit” schools after the summer holidays to “reassure parents, ministers and the public about how schools are managing the return to full education of their pupils and students”, including considering “blended learning” and safeguarding.

The rationale, consistency and tone set by inspectors is going to be more important than ever

After a pilot with volunteer schools in September, the full programme will be rolled out in October. As part of that, all ‘inadequate’ schools will be visited, along with a “sample” of schools with other grades.

Ofsted said inspectors will use the visits to “work collaboratively with leaders, listening and providing appropriate challenge”, before using the findings to report the national picture across England.

The outcomes of discussions with school leaders will also be published in a “brief” letter so that “parents can understand what steps are being taken to help children back into full time education”.

The letter will establish the “context of the visits and what leaders agree are their next steps in resuming pupils’ full-time education”.

But visits will not be graded.

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman said the visits were about “constructive conversation – we’re not trying to catch schools out.

“After all, we share the same aim: helping this generation of children and young people make up for lost time and get the high-quality education they deserve.”

She added Ofsted will be able to help schools through “collaborative conversations, without passing judgement – this isn’t inspection by stealth”.

“We’ll use our visits to listen to school leaders’ experiences and plans, and to provide constructive challenge.”

Details of the visits state they will be based around a “series of professional conversations” that

  • identify the barriers schools have faced and are still facing in managing the return to full education for pupils
  • how leaders are ensuring pupils resume learning the school’s extant curriculum, including the blend of classroom teaching and, where necessary, remote education
  • how pupils are settling back into expected routines and behaviours
  • how any identified and specific health and well-being issues for particular pupils are being addressed and what may be needed at local and/or national level to support this
  • safeguarding

Inspectors won’t be using the education inspection framework, but an operational note will be published in September with further details. Schools will get up to a day’s notice of a visit.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said leaders will need “a lot of convincing that these visits will bring real value or otherwise they will simply be a distraction”.

“As such, the rationale, consistency and tone set by inspectors is going to be more important than ever. These visits must not turn into inspection by another name, at a time when schools and colleges will have so much to deal with.”

Ofsted said information contained in the published letters following visits will contain information “agreed with leaders about their next steps in managing the return to full-time education for their pupils”.

This isn’t inspection by stealth

The inspectorate has pledged not to judge schools on their response to the pandemic, nor require any pre-written planning. They have also ruled out using lesson visits as a method of collecting evidence, and said teachers won’t have to prepare any lesson plans or examples of assessment.

Ofsted said it would be having further conversations with unions about the visits and will publish more details as appropriate.

Full inspections are planned to return in January, but Ofsted said the date will be “kept under review”.

However Barton said it’s likely schools will be “periodically dealing with coronavirus outbreaks, continuing to manage extensive safety measures, and supporting children whose learning has been disrupted, including many who will be taking GCSEs and A levels next summer.

“To add routine Ofsted inspections into this turbulent mix seems like the wrong priority, and we welcome the commitment to keeping the date under review.”