The impact of Covid-19 cannot be the ‘sole factor’ behind an ‘inadequate’ Ofsted judgment, the inspectorate has said today.
The clarification comes amid a host of changes to the watchdog’s school inspection handbook during Covid. It comes ahead of new ‘lighter-touch ‘ inspections this summer and a full return to graded inspection next year.
Here’s everything you need to know.
1. Ofsted will check how curriculum ‘adapted and prioritised’
Between March and July last year, schools were not required to provide education to all pupils due to the pandemic and “may not have been doing so”.
Therefore, inspectors will seek to “understand how the school has adapted and prioritised the curriculum from September 2020.”
Ofsted states this will include how the curriculum was implemented remotely and how curriculum planning has responded to learning gaps.
Sean Harford, national director of education, added: “We still expect schools to have an ambitious curriculum that helps all pupils to study the full breadth of subjects.
“Where this is not fully realised, inspectors will want to see that leaders are working to bring this about.”
2. Inspectors will be ‘mindful’ about old data
Ofsted will not be using teacher assessed grades from 2020 or 2021, but will still consider externally published data throughout the inspection.
The guidance adds inspectors will be “mindful of the age of this data, especially around statutory assessment and qualifications, when making judgments”.
Inspectors will “not expect or accept” internal data” instead of or in addition to published data.
3. Leaders to explain how they supported school community …
Ofsted say inspectors will seek to understand how leaders supported the school community throughout the pandemic.
Areas of interest will include how remote education was put in place, how vulnerable pupils were kept safe and prioritised for face-to-face education and how staff and pupils’ well-being have been promoted.
Other measures could include how Covid-19 staff absences impacted on the running of the school.
4. … and how they ensured ‘best possible attendance’
The guidance states inspectors will discuss how safeguarding arrangements “have changed over time due to the pandemic” as Covid-19 has increased risks.
Attendance patterns will be discussed to understand how “the school ensured the best possible attendance for those pupils eligible to attend in person”.
But attendance recorded between March 2020 and March this year will not impact Ofsted’s judgement of a school. Inspectors will “consider the specific context and the steps school leaders have taken to ensure the best possible rates of attendance since the school opened to all pupil in March 2021”.
When setting out what a school must achieve to be awarded a ‘good’ rating, in the behaviour or attitudes category, the guidance states: “Pupils have high attendance, within the context of the pandemic. They come to school on time and are punctual to lessons.”
5. Covid cannot be ‘sole factor’ behind inadequate judgement
Ofsted states that when considering a judgement between good or requires improvement, inspectors will look at whether the overall quality of the school is most closely aligned to the descriptors set out.
But it adds: “A school will be inadequate under a particular judgement if one or more of the inadequate criteria applies, unless that inadequate criteria applies solely due to the impact of COVID-19.”
6. Watchdog will be ‘sympathetic’ on relationships education progress
Teaching of relationships and health education in all schools, and sex education in secondary schools, became mandatory this academic year. But schools have been given flexibility on when during the year to begin teaching the curriculum because of Covid.
The watchdog confirmed today that all schools will still be required to have taught some of the new curriculum, and to have consulted on and published a policy during this academic year.
However, it said its inspectors will be “sympathetic” to schools that have not been able to fully implement the new curriculum, providing they have “had regard” to the DfE guidance, have a “good rationale” for prioritising what they have implemented and have “clear and effective plans to address any gaps before the end of the 2021-22 academic year”.
If a school cannot provide evidence it has done these things, then inspectors carrying out “lighter-touch” monitoring visits this term “may recommend that the school’s next inspection be a section 5 inspection”.
Ofsted had previously said that failure to teach about LGBT relationships in secondary schools would begin to affect leadership and management judgments from the summer term.
The latest guidance confirms that this is still the case, but as leadership and management judgments are not given during monitoring inspections, this will only apply in the cases where a full inspection is carried out.
7. Warning over blocking inspectors speaking to pupils
Ofsted has also updated a section in the handbook concerning “if inspectors are prevented from speaking to pupils”.
It now says that if inspectors cannot corroborate safeguarding evidence by talking to pupils during the inspection, safeguarding will be judged as “ineffective” and the relevant independent school standards judged as not met.
But inspectors will respect COVID-19 “safety measures agreed with the school leadership when engaging with pupils, formally and informally”.