9 Questions for OfSTED’s @HarfordSean by @TeacherToolkit

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This is a blog about my 1-2-1 meeting at OfSTED headquarters with Sean Harford on 23 April 2015.

Here are the questions I posed to Sean, who is the National Director, Schools, OfSTED. There are an amalgamation of my own, and others collated from 2 headteachers, two teachers and an anonymous blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @HarfordSean … Tweet this blog?

“And the latest by Ofsted is …”Al Shaver Ofsted News

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Image: Credit: jimkaat

Question 1:

Are there any plans for Ofsted to inspect the wellbeing of the school work force?

Sean says; We have worked recently with the DfE and unions on the Workload Challenge and Mythbusting documentation to help quell workload issues. School staff are also given a questionnaire at the point of inspection if the headteacher decides to distribute it. I think these questionnaires are underused. There is a possibility we could move towards an electronic solution, but either way there will always be a need for anonymity and if we genuinely gathered a picture of wellbeing, staff may be afraid to provide their true responses, as this may affect their leadership and management judgement, and hence potentially the school’s overall effectiveness grade.

Question 2:

How can you prove that the outcomes of inspections are not influenced by their timing? Should schools be inspected in the first part of the year when validated data are not available?

Sean says; Of course, the first half-term of the year does look at unvalidated data, because RAISE Online is not available until late October and even then its data are not validated until the new year. Condensing the 6000 or so inspections we carry out annually into a smaller window would be problematic. There are several issues here, for example, the need to inspect schools with 6th forms before the May half term because the students will not be on site after that which clearly reduces the availability of students. The run up to certain holidays curtails inspections too. Inspecting in the run up to Christmas is always contentious, but primary schools in particular should not be worried about putting on plays – for example, these always provide good evidence of a school’s approach to SMSC development. We couldn’t cut down the window even further – we need to inspect across the academic year as much as possible.

In terms of the inspection outcomes and the timing in the year, we monitor the grade profile across the year to check these don’t vary unduly by term. Of course the sample of schools is always different too from term to term, so this can’t be an exact science.

Question 3:

Why is there no official report for the ‘no lesson gradings’ pilot conducted in the Midlands in June 2014?

Sean says; The pilot was conducted by Serco as our contractor in that region and initially was set up on a formative basis, based on the schools’ responses and inspectors’ reactions and feedback. We asked schools and inspectors what was going well and what could be improved throughout the process and used this information in June 2014 to announce that we would no longer be grading individual lessons. We were content that we could still gather sufficient evidence to judge the quality of teaching across the school fairly.

We also discovered in the summary, that there was no difference of inflating/deflating overall inspection judgements whether lessons were graded or not.

Similarly we have been carrying out testing of the reliability of the methodology for the new short inspections which start in September. We wanted to know if the methodology leads to the same judgement by two inspectors in the same school on the day. We think we now have a method of doing this and will be rolling it out from September to gain solid evidence and a measure of consistency. We also want to know which inspection activities lead to greater consistency. For example, does it matter if we look at three or 10 lessons to make a judgement valid? What time spent with senior leaders in discussion provides sufficient evidence? There is no plan to trick anyone; inspectors know we are testing methodology, not them individually…

Sean Harford OfstedTweet this?

Question 4:

Could you describe how peer-to-peer inspections might work?

Sean says; This is clearly for the future, as we set out in my speech to ASCL earlier this year, and there is a need to work with government and the sectors to get this right; it would require a change in legislation for this to happen. But just as we want serving practitioners to play a much bigger part in inspection from September under our new arrangements, this could be a path to this peer to peer review. There is much detail to debate and to discuss.

In the meantime, from September, our regional structure will allow us to have lead HMI linked with about 10 (mainly) serving practitioner Ofsted Inspectors (OI). This will build ‘inspection communities’ or ‘networks’. In essence, the lead inspection practitioners in the regions will be the HMI, but the OI currently working in schools linked to them will conduct inspections and have the ability to influence inspection practice from the bottom-up, using their current practice in schools to also shape the future of inspection. (At this point, Sean drew a simple map to elaborate on the plan). If sufficient numbers of serving practitioners take on this OI role, which I see as being much more than just ‘doing the numbers’ (of inspections), we will then have a route to a fully trained, inspection-expert sector that will have the knowledge, skills and understanding to carry out meaningful peer-to-peer review. This all helps to build confidence in inspection within the sector.

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Question 5:

What does the offset picture look like for schools moving (or not) to non-graded observations? If outcomes require improvement, then teaching and learning over time cannot be better, which makes one wonder, what significance no grading of lesson observations actually has on the outcome of an inspection?

Sean says; There is no restriction on the quality of teaching grade if outcomes require improvement. When schools are improving, often good teaching leads the way and good outcomes follow. Inspectors accept that outcomes often lag improvements in teaching and that a school, judged to require improvement which is then inspected around two years afterwards, is not necessarily going to have good published outcomes in place at the time of the re-inspection. That’s why the achievement grade isn’t just based on published data, but also on a school’s ‘in-year’ data.

Question 6:

How can schools be protected from false allegations that trigger an Ofsted inspection? What is the screening process when a complaint has been, triggering an inspection, particularly when Ofsted cite confidentiality in favour of complaint?

This question is from an anonymous blogger who raises the issue; “of a witch hunt via by parental complaints that triggered an inspection.” Ofsted cite confidentiality in favour of compliance but this leaves them open to false allegations.

Sean says; A qualifying complaint made under the legislation will trigger a section 11A inspection. To qualify, the complaint must be on an issue allowed under the legislation and the complainant must have exhausted ‘local routes’ (complaining to the headteacher, then the Chair of Governors, then the LA/EFA). The Chief Inspector can waive local routes if the allegations are serious enough. As part of the 11A investigation, an HMI will nearly always call the school to discuss the complaint; we will also talk to the LA, or if the school is an academy or free school, the EFA. We will then decide from this information, the complaint and allegation whether it may be vexatious and determine if a false name is being used, or a false allegation is being made before moving forward. This can result in an inspection, but the vast majority of complaints do not result directly in an inspection.

Question 7:

Why can’t Ofsted separate medical persistent absence from school data?

This question of attendance data comes from an anonymous teacher. “The question I would like to ask Ofsted concerns attendance data and the issue of PAs with mental health issues.  The evidence is overwhelming that over recent years, while mental health issues are on the increase, that local authorities and CAMHS simply don’t have the capability to deal with the problems.  This usually means a 6 month wait, if you are lucky, to be seen and then months of help to try and overcome problems.  If this results in becoming unable to go to school regularly there is no allowance for this as a medical issue. Schools simply want the PAs removed from their data to avoid any issues with Ofsted.  Why could Ofsted not separate medical PAs from the data so that schools can concentrate on helping young people with these issues rather than trying to remove them from their data?”

Sean says; As with all data, persistent absence data may lead to questions being asked by inspectors, but not judgements being made just on the strength of that raw data. If a school has pupils with mental health issues, it can explain the issues and the inspector can take a view on the impact of the issues on the overall persistent absence figures. Through a professional dialogue, the inspector will make the judgements then based on those discussions and the disaggregated data.

Image: edp24

Sean Harford OfstedTweet this?

Question 8:

I’d like to compare some school data with you.

And so I did …

Question 9:

Life after levels: I’m just going to give you a rant from a Headteacher.

“Ofsted – somebody, somewhere at government level needs to know and understand that the removal of levels, whilst it has triggered an excellent debate about assessment for learning at the proper pedagogical level, it has simultaneously wasted immense amount of time and will continue to do so as different teachers/schools/academy chains/local authorities all have to invent their own “communication interface” for parents.  If I see one more item/blog/article with the expression “life after levels” I fear my case will have been entirely proven!  As an old cynic the government/Ofsted / establishment message is crystal clear:

  • KS2 equals National Test = keep it,
  • KS4 equals National Test = keep it,
  • KS5 equals National Test = keep it.

These tests judge/evaluate/sort/ratify/stratify children and schools – which is exactly what they are for.  KS3 – we don’t have the resources or the interest, hand over to school, which would be fine except for the amount of time that is being wasted; and that the outcome will be inconsistent when the programmes of study are supposed to be completely consistent.  If we are to have a National Curriculum, and we do, then we need another universal.  What do we label “mastery”, what do we label average for your age, what do we label as struggling? The assessment for learning bit is fun, just allow schools to focus on that bit.”

Sean says; “Of course this is not our issue to decide, it’s for the DFE and I know it has caused some anxiety. Although, as the headteacher who raised the question here agrees, the debate about levels has been healthy and personally I think very useful. This is where a school can really shape a system of assessment to underpin their own curriculum, and that kind of autonomy is really important. We are in a transitional period and because of that we haven’t been judging schools on their readiness for life beyond levels. We have got a feeling for how things are going in terms of schools developing their systems and most are at the developmental stage. I am on the DfE commission, headed by John MacIntosh, looking at ways to support schools for the changes; the commission hopes to publish a report soon.”

Thank you for your time.

@TeacherToolkit with @HarfordSean at Ofsted HQ
@TeacherToolkit with @HarfordSean at Ofsted HQ

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And finally, the obligatory selfie with Sean.

Ross – @TeacherToolkit

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