Does what a school inspection team deliver in their feedback, drive school improvement?
In yet another piece of research, focusing on the inspector’s role in the educational sector, this work unpicks if inspection feedback directly contributes to school improvement.
School inspection during COVID-19
Today, Ofsted has announced their plans to conduct Ofsted “visits, not inspections”, and ungraded, during the Autumn term. Given that Ofsted has paused their inspections since March 2020, this decision has garnered very interesting self-reflection.
Many assume ‘the colours of my flag call for the total abolition of the inspection process’.
However, this is not the case. We need Ofsted, especially for illegal schools and safeguarding processes.
The key issue for me is, I just do not believe how Ofsted currently conduct their inspections in schools, is reliable or that their overall gradings improve standards for young people.
Yet more research…
For my doctoral studies, digging deep into Ofsted’s purpose, reliability and effectiveness, published in April 2020, research from the University of Antwerp, by Quintelier, De Maeyer and Vanhoof ask if the existence and strength of relationships between teachers’ cognitive and affective responses impact on feedback acceptance in school inspection.
I will never forget that moment my leadership team were given the overall judgement, “This school is Special Measures.” This feedback weighed heavily on my teaching career, far more than receiving judgement by inspectors who cited some of my other schools as ‘Good’ or ‘Oustanding’ in schools that were broadly the same.
I’ve actually recorded myself on the journey home from each of those events (over the last 10 years) and have these audio files sitting behind this website, waiting for one rainy day where I will publish them to the world. Each recording captures my immediate emotions after an Ofsted inspection. Every single feedback session focused on the overall grade, rather than the specifics of how to improve or to implement the things that required improvement.
Holding schools to account
“In Europe, the use of school inspections to assess and hold schools accountable for goals related to student achievement and educational quality is well established.” However, not much is known about if these inspection processes elicit school improvement.
There is no doubt in academic research or in teacher expertise, but the quality of feedback, how it is given and how it is received, is the greatest driver for student outcomes. The same could be said for teachers.
Only last week, I published some new research about the illusion of learning, and that with the increase of metacognition in our teaching approaches, one thing that is lacking, or at least what teachers should be aware of, is asking students for feedback can improve their teaching further.
This new research highlights that “teachers’ feedback acceptance is required for them to support school improvement plans” and that feedback from Ofsted can be useless if the organisation’s stakeholders do not accept it. We should also be aware of the myths of turning around a failing school.
Emotions and feedback acceptance
I have no doubt that Ofsted inspectors are fully aware of the feedback in which they give, and how emotional responses to inspection feedback can negatively influence the way in which individuals are able to receive and process feedback. I suspect there is little research about their feedback itself and if it actually drives school improvement. We know that Ofsted outcomes are weak predictors of school quality.
The focus of this research paper was to find a link between teachers’ cognitive responses and their acceptance of inspection feedback and to date, there is little quantitative evidence. The paper also picks cognitive responses and feedback acceptance and how both are important factors in the process.
Returning to the special measures experience, inspection feedback lasted 3+ hours. Given what I now know about memory, cognitive overload and paying attention, how do Ofsted inspectors think school leaders can process key information and illicit school improvement if they are going to keep people around the table after two or three intensive days, and then hope to give them key findings after an emotional and, on the whole, exhausting process?
It is no wonder there is little or no research to find on Ofsted improving school standards.
Feedback acceptance and types
The researchers offer an interesting research model as part of the literature review to formulate research questions. I think there is something here for is all about how feedback is accepted in all aspects of education.
The research paper discusses a great deal about cognitive and affective responses, and if you are interested, I do think these findings are an interesting piece of research to help improve feedback in observations and between teacher and pupil. However, I will come back to this another day.
I will just expand on the key cognitive responses highlighted above.
Expertise, according to the researchers, refers to the degree to which an inspector is perceived as capable of making accurate assertions.
Trustworthiness represents the degree in which a teacher trusts and inspectors intentions and motives. Simply put, motivation and bias.
Procedural justice is the perceived fairness of the inspection process.
Distributed justice is the fairness of the inspection outcome. This is an issue that seems to drive most school leaders out of the profession…
Feedback constructiveness is the extent to which inspection feedback is perceived as constructive.
Feedback clarity is how teachers construct their own understanding of the feedback received.
Feedback relevance is a teachers’ perspective on how significant the information is.
I suspect much of the above now makes sense in terms of your own experiences with school inspection and you will be able to identify much from the above in terms of how we can improve the inspection process. again, I think much of the above can also be used in observations and in pupil conversations.
It is important to highlight that the research draws upon quantitative data collected from 687 teachers in 80 Flemish primary schools, not specifically teachers in England. I would be keen to learn if anyone is aware of similar research in the UK.
Teachers’ affective responses to inspection feedback were measured and reported on a scale. The research concludes that teachers responded positively to the inspector’s credibility in the context of the school inspection, to the questions posed and the feedback which they received. It is no surprise that the more the teachers trusted school inspectors the less anger and sadness was reported.
However, “although teachers are satisfied with the inspection outcome, this does not mean they are more likely to accept the inspection feedback” and that the findings confirm that “feedback relevance is a critical success factor for feedback acceptance.”
The researchers conclude that new and established school inspectors should be trained to adhere to justice principles (see above) to demonstrate that their school evaluation outcomes are fair and equally distributed.
Given that this research was conducted elsewhere, I suspect if we conducted a similar study in England, the feedback on our inspection system would throw up some very interesting conclusions…
Whether Ofsted can drive school improvement using their current 1-2 day methodology for school inspection, or in their new proposed “visits” post-lockdown, is another matter. Feed-forward, not feedback, matters.
Whilst I keep digging the research to unpick if Ofsted actually improves school standards, do get in touch if you find some research before me…
Download the full paper: Determinants of teachers’ feedback acceptance during a school inspection visit.