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Build your capacity to drive improvement. OFSTED Inspection from September 2015

John Pearce, ex Headteacher, ex Ofsted inspector, now Freelance School Improvement Adviser and creator of iAbacus, reviews the new Ofsted Framework for September 2015 and is delighted to see that a leadership’s “capacity to drive improvement planning” is elevated to pole position.


The new Ofsted Framework for September 2015 have, at last, lifted the “Effectiveness of Leadership”, at all levels, to the top position in Areas for Judgement. Ofsted has fully recognised the relationship between self-evaluation and action to lead and maintain improvement. This is signified by the decision that when, “the capacity for improvement” is built and a school is good it will only need a light touch inspection and if outstanding it may even be exempt. School Improvement Advisers have been working on this assumption for decades but it is great to see it accepted by Ofsted. So, the new inspection regime will leave untouched professionals with a proven capacity in order to focus on settings requiring improvement. There is even a promise to, “offer more support”. This does not mark a return to a softer advisory function but more likely a move to a System Leader role where inspection and support are purposefully entwined. It certainly becomes obvious, as we analyse the changes, that the critical measure in the new inspection process is, “leadership’s capacity to drive improvement”.

The new documentation stresses the importance of leaders’ and governors’, “vision and ambition; high expectations, aspirations and excellence” together with their, “quality of continuing professional development” and perhaps most importantly, “rigour and accuracy of self-evaluation and how it leads to planning to secure continual improvement”. The cycle of school improvement from vision through evaluation to CPD is completed. No more separate SEFs and SIPs as Self-evaluation, Analysis and Action Planning link in a continuous and virtuous circle.

Another significant development, marking a withdrawal of the: mute observer; silent recorder and cool analyst inspector, is the long list of, “Ofsted does not require/award/specify/expect” statements, in the two pages of paragraph 28. These relate to: Lesson Planning; Observations; Data Analysis and Inspection Documentation. Gone are requirements for the setting to produce anything other than that needed for its normal practice. We, the first Ofsted Inspectors trained on Framework 1, wasted hours, like the embattled leaders who prepared them, deep in plastic boxes stuffed with policy documents and PR folders produced for each new inspection. Believe me, the “Ofsted does nots” are a reassuring read for leaders and teachers wanting to reduce both workload and pressure. It’s also a powerful checklist to thrust under the noses of Rogue Inspectors and Paranoid Heads who will no doubt cling to behaviours learnt under the older frameworks. Good and outstanding leaders will grasp this new Framework as a real opportunity, to take control, to be left alone.

Most significantly there appears a real attempt to work with colleagues in schools and move to a professional development approach signalled by: the re-emphasis on the removal of Lesson Grades; the involvement of senior staff in observations and the strengthening of feedback to individuals and groups.

How will the inspection process work from September?

If you are currently judged Outstanding Ofsted is likely to exempt you from inspection but read the detail in the Framework for qualifying conditions (paragraphs 13-19). If you are Good, you will have a Short Inspection for one day with one HMI, and either receive a letter to say you remain Good, or a notification of a quick Full Inspection. If HMI worries you are in decline your Full Inspection will be triggered in 24 to 48 hours and the full range of judgements may be made. If HMI senses you are Outstanding, s/he will arrange for the judgement to be confirmed in a swift Full Inspection.

If you are currently judged Inadequate, or Requires Improvement, you will, as now, receive a Full Inspection but under the new Common Framework, where your leadership’s, “capacity to drive improvement” will be a key issue in determining the final overall judgement. And remember, this means leadership at all levels.

How the new Short Inspections will work.

The new feature Short Inspections, led by one HMI, were welcomed in the pilots. As above, these will be for settings previously judged Good and will take one day, usually with one day’s notice. They are based on a belief that, “Most good schools and providers stay good” (Matthew Purves, Ofsted’s Head of Inspection). Short Inspections will not be on the full range of judgements but will judge “Safeguarding” and, critically, the “Capacity of leaders and managers to continue to drive improvement in their setting”. One principal, in the pilot, said, “The meetings (with HMI) were not about producing paperwork and providing evidence, they were about dialogue and interrogation of our self-evaluation processes – that really provided the evidence”

There will be 3 outcomes from a Short Inspection:

  • The vast majority are thought likely to remain good – these will receive a letter.

  • Evidence of a decline will usually trigger a Full Inspection within 24 to 48 hours

  • Evidence of improving towards outstanding will also trigger a Full Inspection, in order to recognise the good work they are doing.

Having detailed all that, leaders in a Good and Outstanding settings, are well advised to read and become familiar with the Grade Descriptors in the new Framework (Part 2 page 32 onwards). My experience of school decline, is that in many cases, it happens very quickly, invariably because a leader somewhere forgetd or ignores a criterion for judgement.

How the Full Inspections will work.

Full Inspections feature less prominently in the press releases and videos from Ofsted, probably because they remain little changed. But they do remain and will focus on settings previously judged Requires Improvement and Inadequate. Full Inspections will cover the full range of judgements and, once again, “The capacity of leaders and managers to drive improvement in their setting” will be the critical judgement.

Changes in the rubric of the New Framework for September.

This really is a Common Framework because it will be used to judge all settings, from early years to FE and include independent schools. The new Areas for Judgement, reflecting a greater emphasis on the leadership of school improvement are:

  • Effectiveness of Leadership and Management

  • Quality of teaching, learning and assessment

  • Personal development behaviour and welfare

  • Outcomes for children and learners

A written judgement in all reports will also be made on Safeguarding and the Framework also makes clear that SMSC and Special Needs judgements can affect any overall judgement. So, once again, there are in effect 6 areas for judgement, not four, in Full Inspections.

The same judgement levels will be used as now: Inadequate – Requires Improvement – Good – Outstanding. Details of the Grade Descriptors for each area are laid out in the usual way in Part 2 of the Framework Handbook. I will be writing more on the detail of these criteria because these are crucial reading for all involved in education, at all levels. More importantly there are a range of powerful ways to use and modify these descriptions in: self-evaluation judgements, selecting evidence, analysing and in planning actions for improvement.


From September Ofsted inspectors have made Educational Leadership the top criterion. This recognises that only School Leaders can improve schools. Educational settings that have leaders who have a demonstrable, “capacity to improve” and, “ drive improvement in colleagues and students” will be recognised as competent professionals and subject to a lighter touch, or no touch. Settings with leaders who lack that capacity, or where that capacity has yet to show itself in staff and student performance, will become a focus of both inspection and support.

The obvious conclusion (implicit in Ofsted’s criticism of its former bureaucratic self) is that leaders: heads; principals; governing bodies and all involved in driving improvement would do well to cut the fat from over complicated systems and bureaucracies in order to find lean, efficient, simple and straightforward processes. I see this as a real chance for transformational leaders to break free from the unreasonable expectations Ofsted once laid on the profession and, to be fair, we invented for ourselves.

I want to remain optimistic about the future of education, as austerity growls and bites. So, I’m hoping leaders with capacity will seize this opportunity to save time and reduce bureaucracy for staff. We have to throw away those bulging plastic boxes and replace them with succinct, simple, school improvement plans on a few pages of A4. Some of us have identified ways to create straightforward, secure, on-line, collaborative systems which can be accessed anywhere, anytime. These systems were designed by and for those who want to, “look at what they do with a view to doing it better” and “do it simply”.

Most useful links:

Ofsted website details the changes to Inspection September 2015

Matthew Purves, Ofsted Head of Inspection, explains the September 2015 Framework

Heads and Principals describe their experience of pilot Short Inspections

The Ofsted Handbook for each remit:

  • early years

  • maintained schools and academies

  • non-association independent schools

  • further education and skills

iAbacus on-line School Improvement Evaluation and Planning tool


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