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MPs call for alternative to single-phrase Ofsted judgments

A more “nuanced” alternative to “totemic” Ofsted single-phrase judgments should be developed as a “priority”, MPs have said.

In its much-anticipated report on the impact of inspection, the Parliamentary education committee also called for less frequent, more detailed inspections, a longer five-day notice period for schools and a review of the government’s coasting schools policy.

It adds the committee to the growing list of individuals and organisations calling for changes to grading in the wake of the death of headteacher Ruth Perry. A coroner ruled last month she died by suicide contributed-to by an Ofsted inspection.

The inquiry was launched last summer to probe the impact of Ofsted judgments on schools and pupils, including their toll on workload and wellbeing and the “usefulness of inspections”.

Committee chair Robin Walker, a former schools minister, said “on the now totemic issue of single-word judgements, Ofsted and ministers should heed the widespread calls for change”.

Robin Walker MP

He urged new chief inspector Sir Martyn Oliver and the government to “consider a more nuanced system that can provide value to both schools and parents”.

He said there was a “need for a rigorous inspection regime but the bulk of the evidence we received expressed widespread and deep concern about how the system works”.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary at school leaders’ union NAHT, said there was “now overwhelming consensus that single-word judgements have had their day”.

An Ofsted spokesperson said it welcomed the report and its findings looks forward to “responding in full to the recommendations”.

“We have started making changes to the way we work, but we know more must be done to address the pressures faced by school leaders and staff. 

“It is important that all changes we make are done in the best interest of children and their parents and carers, that is why we will launch a Big Listen in the coming weeks.”

Here’s your trusty Schools Week round up of the committee’s key recommendations…

DfE and Ofsted should…

  • Work together ‘as a priority’ to develop an alternative to single-phrase judgments that ‘better captures the complex nature of a school’s performance’
  • In the short term, Ofsted, DfE and school websites ‘should always show the full list of judgments’
  • In the short term, work to reduce the frequency of inspections to approximately every five to six years for ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ schools and three to four years for schools judged ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’
  • In the longer term, DfE should back Ofsted in lobbying the Treasury for extra funding to allow for “more in-depth inspections, without compromising on frequency or the principle that all schools are subject to periodic inspection”
  • Ensure there is an efficient and independent process for schools to challenge the findings as well as the conduct of an inspection
  • Publish separate complaints data for each sector in its remit in its annual report and accounts
  • Carry out research to “fully understand the causes of inspection-related workload pressure and assess what changes would be genuinely helpful in reducing this”

Ofsted should…

  • Consider a small increase in the notice period given to schools before inspections. The committee heard five working days would be “appropriate”
  • Consider whether smaller schools could be given a longer notice period or greater flexibility around deferrals
  • Ensure inspectors fully take account of factors such as a school’s size, the number of its pupils from disadvantaged groups and with SEND, recruitment and retention challenges
  • Review its policy on ‘inadequate’ judgements due to ineffective safeguarding and ensure that schools are only being judged ‘inadequate’ in cases where they are fundamentally failing to keep children safe
  • Increase the length and depth of analysis provided in inspection reports to ‘ensure that they are genuinely useful’
  • Allow schools access to the evidence used to reach a judgment when making a complaint
  • Ensure, as a minimum, that a lead inspector has expertise in the type of school they are inspecting and in larger teams the majority of inspectors visiting a school should also have that relevant experience
  • Publish data on inspectors’ expertise regarding phase of education and subject, and the proportion of inspections led by at least one inspector with the relevant phase expertise
  • Commission an independent assessment of the factors affecting retention of experienced HMIs and act to address the issue
  • Report to the committee on a six-monthly basis on progress in addressing the “significant concerns” raised in the coroner’s prevention of future deaths report
  • Explore how it can boost its engagement with parents, pupils, governors, and trustees before and during the inspection process
  • Regularly survey parents, pupils and staff “outside the inspection process” to help identify “schools most or least in need of inspection”
  • Publish its planned evaluation of the Education Inspection Framework “as soon as possible” and review its implementation

DfE should…

  • Look into setting up an independent body with the “powers to investigate inspection judgments through scrutiny of the evidence base”
  • Assess whether its policy of forced academisation of schools with two ‘requires improvement’ “judgments is proportionate”
  • Conduct a “full audit” of support available to schools to help them improve
  • Improve the transparency and accountability of the work of the regional directors
  • Provide an annual report to Parliament setting out the scope, detail and impact of their work
  • Make regional directors available to give evidence to the committee
  • Ensure regional directors “genuinely take into account the views of local stakeholders when taking a decision and should also publish guidance setting out in more detail the criteria for academy orders”
  • Consult on the best approach to increasing the regularity of safeguarding inspections through a less intensive compliance audit, carried out either by local authorities or an independent body
  • Authorise Ofsted to develop a framework for the inspection of MATs as a “matter of urgency” and set out a plan for building the appropriate expertise and capacity in this area

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