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Ofsted eyes tweaks to inspector role to boost expertise

Ofsted is “keen to understand” how it could “reconsider” aspects of its inspector role to boost expertise as it battles with staff being poached by academy trusts and the “highest ever” level of apathy towards joining the inspectorate.

It admitted that salaries “in many parts of the sector exceed” the wages it is “currently able to afford”, in response to the parliamentary education committee’s report on its work. 

The retention issue comes after a survey revealed that more teachers than ever had no interest in joining the inspectorate – and exploratory analysis suggests inspectors are visiting schools outside of their area of expertise.

Trusts poach Ofsted inspectors

Between November 2021 and November 2023, excluding those who retired, 42 per cent of schools’ inspectors left to join multi-academy trusts.

While the HMI salary has declined in real terms amid “budget constraints”, exit surveys show that “ways of working and workloads are often significant contributing factors”.

But there are also recruitment problems. Asked last month if they would “ever consider becoming an Ofsted inspector”, nearly half of teachers said they “definitely would not”. 

It was the highest proportion saying they had no interest in the role since the question was first asked by Teacher Tapp four years ago.

The watchdog said its “Big Listen” public consultation is an “opportunity to work with the sector on addressing these issues”. 

“We have been open about the constraints we work within, including competing with higher salary offers, but we are keen to understand the parts of our job offer that we could reconsider.

“This might include greater flexibility, our training offer, or the type of work that our inspectors undertake. But it is crucial for us to hear directly from professionals on what barriers may be preventing them from working with us – including those with more specialist knowledge.”

Are schools getting suitable inspectors?

MPs want Ofsted to ensure that a lead inspector has expertise in the type of school they are inspecting. In larger teams, the majority of inspectors should have that experience.

Ofsted said its “ambition” was to “match expertise to inspection wherever possible”. But this was “more difficult for types of specialist provision for which there are fewer providers”.

Sir Martyn Oliver

Sir Martyn Oliver, the chief inspector, previously told Schools Week that “ultimately, the idea would be to make the sectors being inspected feel as if the people inspecting them are commensurate to the setting”.

It is not possible to accurately check how big a problem this is. 

Schools Week analysed whether the lead inspectors in the most recently published inspections had relevant experience based on their pen portraits, which are a short summary of an inspector’s CV.

Of the 20 primary schools, 14 HMIs’ pen portraits stated they had worked in primaries. Among the 20 secondaries, just eight referenced prior secondary experience.

Of the 10 SEND schools, half appeared to have relevant experience.

Ofsted said pen portraits were only “snapshots of an HMI’s prior career and experience” and “not meant to be exhaustive lists of all areas of their expertise”.

“Cross-referencing school inspection reports with what is or isn’t mentioned on a pen portrait doesn’t make for accurate analysis.”

But NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman said: “Schools should only ever be inspected by Ofsted teams with direct, relevant experience of the phase they are inspecting.”

Calls for better public data

Paul Whiteman
Paul Whiteman

A study by UCL’s Institute of Education and the University of Southampton looked at more than 30,000 school inspections in England between 2011 and 2019.

It found both primaries and secondaries had visits from inspectors who appeared to be specialists in the other phase. Specialisms were defined as where inspectors spent 70 per cent of their inspections at the same school phase.

John Jerrim, professor of education and social statistics at University College London and study co-author, said they only had “anecdotal evidence” about how prevalent this issue is. He hopes Ofsted will provide further data so researchers can investigate.

Ofsted has committed to “developing further the existing pen portraits of inspectors to describe the expertise within our workforce”. 

Ofsted response to MPs: in brief

  1. £8.5 million more funding needed to “increase the length and depth” of inspections, as MPs called for.
  2. Exploring splitting complaints figures between those based on concerns over grades or inspector conduct.            
  3. MAT inspections “inevitable”, but group visits could include councils and dioceses too.
  4. Review risk assessment model for which ‘good’ schools get graded inspections.      
  5. Website will be changed to show the “full range” of judgments, not just the overall effectiveness grade. 

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