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Ofsted: 9 inspection reform recommendations from NAHT

Ofsted should temporarily switch to a model of ungraded inspections and boost notice periods for schools as it prepares longer-term reforms in response to Ruth Perry’s death, a leaders’ union has said.

The NAHT, which represents tens of thousands of headteachers and other leaders, has published a report on “rethinking school inspection”.

It comes as Ofsted is putting the finishing touches to its official response to a report from the coroner in Perry’s inquest, due to be published on Friday.

She warned last month that there was a “risk of future deaths if there is only lip service paid to learning from tragedies like this”.

Here’s what the NAHT wants to see.

1. Immediate steps required

The NAHT report began with some immediate demands – some of which are already happening.

These include a review to learn from the Perry case, engagement with unions, training for all inspectors and a phone number for leaders to raise concerns about inspections.

Ofsted should also immediately commit to publish all training materials “including handouts, aide-memoirs and notes”.

2. Interim ungraded inspection model

After those initial steps have been taken, the NAHT said Ofsted should revert to a model of “interim ungraded inspections for all schools (except those identified as schools causing concern), similar to those conducted during the pandemic period”.

These would be focused on “evaluating and reporting a school’s strengths and weaknesses through a short letter” and would allow time for Ofsted to undertake work on longer-term reforms.

During this time, the notice period for inspection should be extended so settings receive around 48 hours’ notice. Notification “should not span a weekend”.

3. Scrap grading system

The NAHT then goes on to propose reforms for a “fair, proportionate and humane inspection system”.

This would involve removing both the headline overall effectiveness and supporting grade judgments.

Instead, inspectors should provide a “deeper diagnostic analysis of the strengths and areas for development of a school”.

In the “very small number” of cases where a school is not providing an acceptable standard of education or where pupils are unsafe, inspectors “should be able to report and identify such instances, so that appropriate support can be put in place”.

4. More detailed inspection reports…

Inspection reports – now “overly simplistic and generic” – should be reformed to “contain more detailed information about a school’s strengths and areas for development”.

There should also be “clear recommendations about specific areas for improvement”.

5. …but scepticism over report cards

NAHT leader Paul Whiteman

But the NAHT warned leaders were “sceptical” about the concept of report cards – proposed by Labour if it wins the election.

The union said it was “not yet clear which data would be included in a report card and how it would differ from already available public information”.

“At worst this would risks creating a new series of cliff-edge, high-stakes measures, while it seems unlikely this approach would capture the richness of a more detailed written report, or the individual context and circumstances of an individual school.”

6. Shake up the inspection framework

The report also called for a revision to the inspection framework and methodology, warning that Ofsted decision to create a single overarching framework “has not worked”.

“We understand the desire to work from a common set of principles that underpin all inspections, but it is clear that dedicated, discrete inspection frameworks and methodologies are needed across the different school phases, types and specialisms.”

The union also demanded a “full review of the inspection methodology, including how inspectors decide the initial focus for an inspection and how evidence is gathered”.

A new inspection framework “must not be used to prescribe or define specific approaches to curriculum planning or delivery, as the current one does”. Nor should it be used to” enforce any particular pedagogical viewpoint”.

7. Review notice and decouple safeguarding

There should then be a longer-term review of the notice schools are given. NAHT believes around 48 hours should be the minimum.

The union also supports Labour’s plans to “decouple” checks on safeguarding from inspection.

There is a “strong argument for some form of an administrative annual assessment or review, including, for example, checking the single central register, safer recruitment process and referrals”.

However, “this would not have to be conducted by Ofsted – indeed there may be real benefits if the assessment was conducted by local authority safeguarding experts”.

8. All inspections led by HMI

The union also said that all inspections should be led by a His Majesty’s Inspector, who are in-house inspectors, as opposed to serving leaders who also inspect.

The role should “carry significant status and be seen as an attractive career option for late career leaders.

Schools should also only be inspected by an inspection team with “extensive and relevant phase experience”.

For example, inspection of special schools, PRUs and AP should be conducted “only by those inspectors with relevant experience”.

The NAHT also called for inspection at academy trust level.

9. New complaints process

A new, “graduated” complaints process is also required.

This should culminate “in a wholly independent complaints body, which is able to overturn inspection judgements and make binding recommendations on the inspectorate”.

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