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Ofsted’s proposal for 15-day conversion period risks undermining all its good work

Tom-Middlehurst-finalTom Middlehurst, SSAT’s head of policy and public affairs writes.

Ofsted’s live consultation on extending the period in which a full inspection can take place following a section 8 inspection, from 48 hours to 15 days, would undermine so much of the work the inspectorate have done over the last two years. It would threaten the reliability and validity of inspection – and is driven by purely logistical concerns.

Currently, ‘good’ schools may receive a one-day section 8 inspection to see if they’re still good. If, after the first day, the inspector thinks a full inspection is warranted, either because the school could be ‘outstanding’, or because it might be RI or inadequate, then an inspection team is put in place within 48 hours. Ofsted are currently consulting on extending this to up to 15 days; if accepted, this may come in during the autumn term.

Not preparing for inspection

Over the last two years, directors Sean Harford and Joanna Hall have gone around the country debunking myths about inspection and what is, and isn’t, expected of schools. More recently the new HMCI Amanda Spielman has also publicly stressed these points. The transition from ‘tick-box’ inspection, when Ofsted mandated what ‘good’ teaching and learning looked like, to a more considered, nuanced judgement, has liberated schools and allowed them to refine their processes to have a greater impact on students. Ofsted is clear there is no one way to teach, assess or providing feedback; and this is creating (welcomed) plurality in the system.

This work has been phenomenal, and should not be underestimated. Ofsted couldn’t be clearer that schools shouldn’t ‘prepare’ for inspection but should just do what they always do, and present inspectors with the evidence, data and self-reflections they usually use.

The new proposals would directly fly in the face of this. If a school is told it has (up to) 15 days before a full inspection, its SLT will inevitably (rightly or wrongly) tend to see this as 15 days’ preparation time. The pressure on schools would be immense; either to find the evidence that it’s still good or to find evidence to prove it’s outstanding. All of Ofsted’s rhetoric about not preparing for inspection would fly out of the window. This must surely be an unintended consequence of the proposal, but it does present a real risk.

Reliability and validity

Moreover, having published its reliability survey earlier this year, showing that 92% of inspections are reliable, this proposal would threaten both reliability and validity. The proposal is that a full inspection will be carried out ‘up to’ 15 days later – in other words anything between 48 hours and 15 days.

First, reliability: if a school has a full inspection 15 days later it may be able to gather certain evidence to retain its good judgement. But the same school with only 3 days’ notice might not be able to. Making sense of that would be a huge burden on inspection teams. If Ofsted does go ahead with plans, then then part of their trial should include a reliability review, with different inspection teams inspecting the same school after 3 days’ notice and after 15 days. To be convinced, I would need to see the same 92% reliability between judgements.

Second, the trickier issue of inspection validity. If we agree current inspection is broadly reliable (ie different inspection teams will make the same judgement under the common inspection framework), validity refers to the extent to which a judgement is true – is a school judged to be ‘good’ actually so? It’s a difficult question anyway, but the 15-day proposal complicates it further. Does a recently judged ‘outstanding’ school that had 15 days prep time merit the same level as ‘outstanding’ as one with only 3?

Logistical concerns

We do understand that the current system puts strain on Ofsted to form an inspection team at short notice, pressure on serving heads who are inspectors, and pressure on schools who perceive it as a ‘snap’ inspection. But the current proposals are driven by internal needs rather than what’s right for schools.

If you agree that Ofsted’s recent work has been commendable (and short inspections themselves have been widely well-received by the profession), then why risk threatening that?

The consultation closes on 22 August and can be accessed on the Department for Education website.

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