Plans to have Ofsted inspectors arrive at schools within two-and-a-half hours of heads being notified of an inspection have been scrapped.
The watchdog announced today it will not proceed with plans to have lead inspectors conduct “on-site preparation” on the day before inspections, after three quarters of respondents to a consultation rejected the move.
But headteachers’ groups have warned the inspectorate’s plan to replace the proposal with a 90-minute phone call between the lead inspector and school leaders will also heap more pressure on schools.
The new approach has been set out in the final version of Ofsted’s new inspection framework, which has been published today. It follows a backlash against the original proposal, which headteachers warned would amount to a no-notice inspection for some schools. Some also questioned what would happen if a headteacher was off-site on the day of the call.
Although Ofsted found that its on-site preparation plan, which could have seen heads receive the call at 10am and welcome the lead inspector as early as 12.30pm on the day before inspection, worked well during pilot inspections, its leaders said today they had to respect the views of the sector.
“There was a really strong negative reaction in the consultation,” said Matthew Purves, Ofsted’s deputy director for schools.
“We listened. We said throughout that we’d be listening. But actually the key thing there was the reason we suggested on-site preparation was to have better dialogue before the inspection between school leaders and inspectors.
“As a result of piloting that, we discovered there’s a way of doing that with a kind-of extended phone call actually the day before inspection, using all those findings from the pilots and the experience it’s now part of the inspection methodology going forward.”
Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector, said the new proposal was “a significant step forward from the more administrative phone call we have at the moment”.
“It balances getting into greater depth with the sector’s concerns about what if the head was somewhere supporting another school. It’s a pragmatic way of getting the value in a model that acknowledges the concerns that have been expressed.”
According to Ofsted, the new 90-minute phone call between inspectors and school leaders will “provide the opportunity to start building that vital positive working relationship between inspector and school, for professional dialogue to begin about the education provided by the school, and to discuss logistical arrangements and the timetable for the inspection”.
But Nick Brook, the deputy general secretary of school leaders’ union the NAHT, said: “Is it likely that we’re going to start seeing school leaders starting to prepare their notes to have in their desks should the phone ring?”
“I think the way we’d look on this is it’s just extending the tariff. Its eeking out another 90 minutes of inspection activity because they know full well that there is a huge amount for them to cover in two days, and I suspect inspectors are going to struggle to do this new framework justice within the two days that they have on site.”
Small schools get exemption from longer inspections
Brook also raised concerns about a move by Ofsted to exempt the smallest schools in England from a move to lengthen so-called “short inspections”.
Earlier this year, the watchdog proposed that the current two-day visits for schools already rated ‘good’ would increase to two days, prompting concerns about the impact on workload for staff at smaller schools.
As a result, Ofsted has now said that ‘good’ or non-exempt schools with 150 or fewer pupils on roll will continue to receive a one-day inspection.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of ASCL, said his union agreed “that there should be a difference in scope between section 5 and section 8 inspections, but all inspections must be of the same high quality and all schools must have the same opportunity to showcase their provision”.
“We look forward to speaking to Ofsted about how these adapted plans will ensure the quality and equity of inspection is maintained in small schools.”