A joint blog from Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governance Association and Matthew Purves, Deputy Director, Schools at Ofsted on changes to Ofsted inspection reports as part of the new Education Inspection Framework which came in to force on 1 September 2019.
Emma Knights, chief executive, National Governance Association
Over the past year NGA has spent time reflecting on and engaging with the changes to the Ofsted framework which came into effect last week. Ofsted’s decision to put the quality of education at the centre of inspection has been widely welcomed by the governance community, with nine in ten respondents to the School Governance in 2019 survey supporting changes to the proposed new framework.
We appreciate the dialogue we have had with Ofsted during the last year and were pleased that HMCI Amanda Spielman gave a keynote address to our summer conference. For governors and trustees who are not completely briefed on the changes, you might like to watch a webinar that Matthew Purves, Ofsted’s Deputy Director of Schools, and I delivered towards the end of the last term. We have also, of course, updated our Ofsted Q&A in the NGA knowledge centre
Changes to the inspection report
The format of the inspection report is changing considerable; this was not included in last year’s consultation on the framework and therefore has been little discussed by the sector. One of Ofsted’s three responsibilities listed on the government website is “publishing reports of our findings so they can be used to improve the overall quality of education and training”. Over the summer, Sean Harford, national director of education at Ofsted, wrote in a blog that reports “will be briefer, clearer, and better focused on the users of those being inspected”.
I completely understand that parents are a very important audience for Ofsted reports. However, having seen the new format, which is substantially different, NGA is concerned that another audience – one with oversight of the school’s improvement strategy – has been overlooked. No prizes for guessing that I mean governing boards. There will no longer be a separate section on each of the four judgements; that also means there will no longer be the paragraph on the effectiveness of governance.
NGA is disappointed as this change risks reducing the emphasis on governance by inspectors. We have been assured by Ofsted this will not be the case.
Ensuring those governing get the information they need
We have been in discussions with Ofsted about how we can make sure that governing boards do get the information from the inspection that they need to oversee the education being provided at the school and that any relevant actions are taken. The final feedback meeting, to which all the governing board are invited, will become even more important in making sure that this happens, as Matthew Purves explains below.
We also suggested another change: that the chair of the governing board be invited to attend, strictly as an observer, the inspectors’ final team meeting with the headteacher. This is still being considered by Ofsted and may be piloted on a regional basis. Even if this does not go ahead, Ofsted is committed to reviewing whether the new reporting arrangements are working to ensure governing boards can play their role in improving the quality of education.
NGA is very keen to hear from any governors and trustees whose schools are inspected this term: please email firstname.lastname@example.org with any feedback you have. We are also planning another joint webinar just before Christmas to which all NGA members will be invited.
Matthew Purves, Deputy Director, Schools, Ofsted
Just last week, Ofsted started inspecting schools under the new education inspection framework (EIF). Inspectors will focus more on what children are taught and less on schools’ internal data, which often serves to create unnecessary workload for teachers, leaders, governors and trustees.
Inspectors will prioritise meeting trustees or governors during inspection
Governance is a hugely important part of the leadership and management judgement under the EIF. Inspectors will be seeking evidence of trustees’ or governors’ impact throughout inspection. They will have in their minds the three functions of governance from the school governance handbook (for more on this, see the webinar Emma that mentions above
Inspectors will speak to as many trustees or governors as possible on inspection. Most inspections now last two days, and I hope that this will make it easier to arrange those meetings. When inspectors speak to those responsible for governance, they will explore the contribution that governors make to the life of the school, informed by the first-hand evidence they have been gathering. The headteacher and other members of staff do not sit in on these meetings.
‘Final feedback’: tailor-made for trustees and governors
One of the most important parts of inspection is the ‘final feedback’ meeting, where inspectors share what they have learned about the school during inspection and give their provisional judgements.
Lots of different people are invited to this meeting, but it is particularly for trustees and governors: inspectors will want to give you a full and detailed picture of what the inspection has found. We ask as many trustees and governors as possible to come to this meeting. We have put a renewed emphasis on this in our inspector training this summer.
Not every trustee or governor can get to this meeting. For that reason we have trained all inspectors to make it clear that we are very happy for the clerk to governors to take a written note of the meeting. And we have also said that the feedback from this meeting may be shared with all those responsible for the governance of the school, regardless of whether they were able to attend the meeting or not. Obviously please keep this confidential among trustees, governors and staff until the inspection report is published.
So please, can I encourage you as a trustee or governor to prioritise attending this meeting or getting high-quality feedback from it. It really is a treasure trove of information about your school.
Inspection reports: simpler, clearer parent-friendly language is useful for us all
I am really excited about the new-look inspection reports. They’re shorter, clearer and more focused. They will simply be a better read than what has gone before.
We have been working carefully with parents up and down the country to make the new reports shorter and clearer. They will tell parents what it’s like to be a child or young person at the school – what is being done well and what could be done better. They will always talk about behaviour and bullying, and the quality of the education on offer.
In particular, the reports will be crystal clear about what needs to improve and why. This will give trustees, governors and leaders the key information they need to drive improvement in the school.
I think you will find much to like in the new inspection reports. Many people tell us that the current reports can be off-putting for readers, and that the language is too often filled with jargon. It is my sincere hope that the feedback on the new reports will be very different. Inspectors who have been working with new reports tell me that they are finding that the more complex or serious the issue they have uncovered, the more the new approach pushes them to express this in the clearest possible language.
For those who are looking for more detail, there is also a section at the end of the report (‘what the school needs to do better’) which is exclusively reserved for inspectors to write to leaders and those responsible for governance in educational language about what the school needs to do next.
I am confident that the new reports will support trustees and governors to understand what Ofsted has found on inspection and to take action. But I recognise that NGA has concerns. We take anything the NGA says extremely seriously—and the truth is that there will always be things we can do to refine and improve the way we report. So over the next term I will be looking at these reports very carefully as they come out and keeping the details of the new format very closely under review. Things can always be improved when we listen, reflect and work together.
Finally, can I thank you for what you do week-in and week-out, giving your time so freely to support our children. My very best wishes to you for the term ahead!
We invite you to share your views in the comments below.
Has your school been inspected under the new Ofsted education inspection framework? We want to hear about your experience.