Schools should self-evaluate, says new inquiry

The school inspection system should be transformed to build trust with parents and teachers and drive improvement across all schools, according to the Beyond Ofsted inquiry. 

The body, chaired by former schools minister Lord Jim Knight and sponsored by the National Education Union (NEU), has been examining the future of school inspections. Its advisory board of education experts includes representatives from parent groups, academy trusts, policy groups and academia. 

In its work, Beyond Ofsted has considered a number of models, each based on a range of evidence including newly commissioned research, international comparisons, research literature, and the opinions and expertise of the inquiry’s advisory board and other stakeholders. 

The inquiry recommends removing Ofsted from direct contact with schools and reforming it to operate at the level of school group-level governance. It also recommends that the inspectorate’s role should change to be fully independent of government and that safeguarding audits should take place under a new, national safeguarding body. 

As part of its work, Beyond Ofsted assessed different types of accountability models across the globe. These ranged from systems in which there is no in-school inspection, to those which resembled the current inspection system in England albeit with a more supportive framework than Ofsted currently provides. 

After considering these options, a hybrid model was chosen as the most impactful and appropriate. The inquiry believes that self-evaluation through a long-term relationship with an adviser is the best approach to school improvement. The model proposed by Beyond Ofsted would provide external accountability to parents, self-evaluation and long-term support. 

The main components of Beyond Ofsted’s recommendations are:

  • An opportunity for transformational change
    • Schools would move to a model of self-evaluation with validation by a School Improvement Partner (SIP). This would typically be someone experienced in school leadership and improvement, including serving headteachers. 
    • Ofsted would have a reformed role at the level of school group governance, by inspecting the capacity for school improvement work by the trust or local authority, and the effectiveness of the school/SIP partnership on a three-to-five-year cycle. 
  • A way to build trust with parents and teachers
    • Schools would self-evaluate their progress and develop a SPR (School Performance Review) which the SIP would validate and then support the school to deliver an action plan from it. 
    • SIPs would work closely with school leaders and teachers and build a real understanding of the work of the school. 
    • Parents would receive more readable and useful information on areas of a school’s performance and practice, in the form of a narrative rather than a single-word judgement.  
    • Safeguarding checks would be carried out annually separately, by a new national body.
  • A system that drives improvement across all schools
    • Schools would develop a long-term relationship with a SIP who understands the school’s context and challenges. 
    • Ofsted inspectors would be better trained in the school phase and education setting their inspections would cover. 
  • An inspectorate independent of government
    • Ofsted would still carry out thematic inspections to give feedback to the DfE on the impact of government policies. For example, it might report on what it has seen of the capacity for careers guidance in schools, or how broad and balanced school curriculums are.    
    • The purpose of the SPR is to enhance the school’s capacity for improvement and to provide information to stakeholders. It would not be used by the Department for Education or by Ofsted to hold schools accountable. 

Given the transformational nature of its recommendations, Beyond Ofsted also recommends an immediate pause to routine inspections to allow time to regain the trust of the profession. Parents and governing bodies would, however, retain the right to call for a school-level inspection if concerns are raised. 

Lord Jim Knight said: “The evidence is clear. Ofsted has lost the trust of the teaching profession, and increasingly of parents. There is now an opportunity for transformational change. 

“Our recommendations are designed to restore trust and address the intensification of leader and teacher workload, while reforming a system which is ineffective in its role of school improvement. 

“There is good evidence that a long-term relationship with an external partner of improvement builds trust and drives improvement. It allows that person to get to know the school’s unique context and advise accordingly. 

“This approach is at the heart of our recommendations in this report.  We should increase accountability to parents with the opportunity of real time transparent reporting of school outcomes, including regular surveying of parents and pupils.

“The leadership of the school should be supported by an external partner who has regular engagement with the school around the inputs of the curriculum and pedagogy.  This would produce an action plan for governance and the school community to understand what is working well and what can be done better.” 

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