Ofsted – a board’s eye view
Nina Sharma, NGA policy and information officer, provides a snapshot of key findings from our report into governors’ views and experiences of the new inspection framework
The first term of Ofsted inspections under the new Education Inspection Framework (EIF) made waves across the sector. While its direction received wide praise, its practical implications have been questioned. NGA collected the views and experiences of governing boards that encountered the new EIF in action between September 2019 and January this year, in addition to analysing 844 published inspection reports, from the same period, to examine how the EIF is working in practice.
Inspecting to improve education
Two-thirds (64.6%) of respondents were satisfied with the inspection process overall, while the rating schools received from Ofsted largely matched their self-rating. Out of the respondents, 71.9% felt that the rating they were awarded accurately reflected their school.
Yet our findings showed that the potential positive impact of the new inspections is hindered by a significant lack of resource, with numerous reports of inspections becoming increasingly rushed, leaving inspectors expected to
cover a huge amount of work in a very short space of time.
One big positive of the new EIF is that there was a clear consensus that the feedback meeting was beneficial for those governing to understand why the rating was decided and the educational improvements that should be made, with 83% of respondents highlighting the value of the feedback meetings. Overall, 38.3% were very satisfied with the feedback meeting, a further 37.4% were satisfied, 11.3% neither, while just 13% were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied.
Overall, governing boards tell us the role of governance is being diminished within the new inspection process and only 15.8% of respondents said the inspection had helped them to a great extent in terms of improving governance in their organisation.
As governing boards adopt an increased role in curriculum, largely driven by the new framework, evidence shows the distinction between governance and operational aspects of schools is being distorted by some inspectors.
The focus on deep-dives has introduced a tension between including boards, while not pulling them into the operational.
There is, however, one notable positive for MAT governance, with almost 75% of inspectors now speaking to the MAT trustees and those governing in academy committees, suggesting an increased understanding of the multiple tiers of MAT governance.
The role of finance in inspections is somewhat unclear. Inspectors do not currently look at the third core function – ensuring financial health, probity and value for money – in detail, and the feedback suggests that this only tends to come up when related to another issue (eg curriculum planning).
One surprising aspect of the new EIF was the introduction of the new inspection report format. Ofsted clarified last November that the new EIF includes an amendment stating each inspection report will contain a separate paragraph addressing governance, only “if appropriate”. However, the consistency in how governance is referenced to and the extent to which it is included, if at all, varies drastically. It’s fair to say the new reports have not gone down well with school leaders or those governing, though Ofsted says they have fared better with parents.
Of 844 school reports we assessed, 66.4% mentioned governance, albeit in varying capacities, with many reports giving governance a single, slightly tokenistic, mention. Respondents to our survey told us the reports are brief, too simplistic and sometimes seen as rather patronising, with 82.6% saying their reports did not link the curriculum and governance at all.
NGA has engaged in dialogue directly with Ofsted on this, and with the EIF currently going through an evaluation process, we are hopeful the reporting situation will change.
Over Two-thirds of respondents felt that the rating they were awarded accurately reflected their school
Words to the wise
Respondents offered these tips for anyone governing schools with upcoming inspections:
- Know your school – “Highlight the strengths and acknowledge the weaknesses, with the actions taken to address them. Good governance stems from consistent interaction with the school.”
- Know your curriculum – “Focus on where it fits with your vision, talk about what you want your children to learn and achieve during their time in school.”
- Remember, governance is all about team – “The more governors that can attend the inspection the better, as each has different knowledge and skill sets.”
- Be open – “As long as you are prepared and know the school and its plans well, trustees and governors should be confident to talk openly about anything.”
- Be honest – “They are looking to see that you know your school and are working to improve. Collect examples through the year of key decisions. Do argue your point if you think they have not understood something.”
- Stay informed – “Make sure you are kept in the loop by the headteacher through the process. Support the staff and headteacher – it’s much more stressful for them.”
To read the report in full, visit NGA’s research page
Read our cover story:
Visible governance: Kirstie Ebbs outlines NGA’s bold new campaign to celebrate the power of governance
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A leader’s view: Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders speaks about his views of governance
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