Ofsted Expects – the new guidance for inspectors (Sept 2013 – updated December 2013)

In December 2013 Ofsted published new versions of the Subsidiary Guidance for Inspectors and the Inspections Handbook. These are the SIXTH versions of these publications that have been released since the current framework was introduced. On this occasion the changes to the way that governance will be inspected are minimal, and the focus of this blog is still the significant changes introduced in September 2013, but with updated references to the new documentation. I’m also grateful to @clerktogovernor @oldandrewuk and @5N_Afzal who have brought my attention to the publication of the new documentation and some of the significant changes.

For ease of reference – and just in case you’re not desperate to read the whole documents – I’ve extracted the governance sections here (Subsidiary GuidanceInspection Handbook and Grade Descriptors) and I’ve italicised the changes and new bits.

I’ve italicised the December 2013 amendments to his blog below also, for reference for those of you who’ve read it before…

I’ll stick to the headlines and won’t get distracted by the minor changes. For example I definitely WON’T be mentioning the new paragraph 134 (138 in the December version) in the Handbook which says “Inspectors should pay particular attention to the contribution being made by the headteacher and ensure that they give sufficient credit where a headteacher is bringing about improvement in a school.” (what? they don’t get enough credit in reports already?? 😉 ).

Anyway, as I was saying, the headlines:

School to School Support

I think this is the first time there has been any reference to credit being given to a school giving support to another school. The Handbook now says (under the Leadership and Management judgement) “In some cases, schools are making an effective contribution to improving the performance of other schools and, where relevant, this will be reported on by inspectors.” (para 135). This is a much-needed change if the school-to-school support agenda is going to be sustainable and I hope will be given more attention in subsequent frameworks.

Interestingly the December Handbook has gone a step further and added a new criterion to the grade descriptors for outstanding leadership and management: “Senior leaders in the school work to promote improvement across the wider system.”. I welcome this, as a necessary change to reflect the absolute imperative that schools look beyond their own gates. This will require a change of culture in many governing bodies I suspect. I hope the system support that many chairs of governors contribute, including – but not exclusively of course – National Leaders of Governance, will be taken into account under this judgement.

Primary School Sport Funding

Both documents have introduced reference to the fact that primary school governors will now be held to account for the way the school is spending the new sport funding.

The Handbook has a new bullet point which says (under the heading ‘effectiveness of monitoring and evaluation and the extent to which it is shared with governors’): “how well the school uses the new primary school sport funding to improve the quality and breadth of PE and sport provision, including increasing participation in PE and sport so that all pupils develop healthy lifestyles and reach the performance levels they are capable of” – phew, that’s quite a big ask in terms of monitoring impact.

If, like me, you don’t yet know much about this, you might want to start here, and then start asking some questions in school.

Governor Training

You can see the influence on this issue, of the Education Select Committee’s report on school governing bodies. One of its conclusions was: “Too many governors have not had suitable training. The Government says this can be encouraged through Ofsted. Ofsted should report back in due course whether their intervention is effective. If it is not, mandatory training should be considered again.

Well Ofsted’s first stab at this is a new phrase in the Handbook which says “Inspectors should consider… the effectiveness of governance including how well governors …        support and strengthen school leadership, including by developing their own skills“. So we can expect inspectors to be asking us about governor training records, how we keep ourselves up to date, and what the impact of these activities is.

It won’t surprise you to know that I’m delighted to see this. The next best thing to making governor training mandatory is having Ofsted inspect it, in my view.

Governor Accountability

The Subsidiary Guidance has introduced a new bullet point to paragraph 74 “Inspectors should consider whether governors…  are transparent and accountable, including in terms of governance structures, attendance at meetings, and contact with parents and carers“.

I see Lord Nash’s influence here. When he addressed the National Governors’ Association conference in July he said: “Governance should be transparent.  I see no reason why every board of governors shouldn’t publish an annual statement on their structure and membership. A statement that clearly sets out the key issues they’ve been addressing and the proportion of meetings each governor has attended.”

I don’t always agree with Lord Nash, but I think this is a great idea and it seems we’re going to be held to account for whether we’re doing it – or something like it. Sometimes we need reminding we’re in public office and we should be transparent in what we do. (Note to self – must action GB decision *finally* to start publishing our minutes on the website…).

External Reviews – and the Pupil Premium

External reviews of governance have been a feature of the framework for a year now and are being increasingly recommended. The new guidance specifies that monitoring visits must assess the impact of these reviews – and quite right too. (If, like me, you conduct reviews it’s worth reading the guidance in detail around this – “The review’s impact will be assessed and reported upon by inspectors conducting subsequent monitoring visits or the next section 5 inspection.” *gulp*).

More significantly, a new form of external review is being introduced – Pupil Premium  reviews. It doesn’t seem to me clear yet how these will link with reviews of governance – but there is some fairly detailed guidance on the DfE website. I’ll be saying more about this in subsequent months I suspect.

What I do think is that the reviews are going to be time-consuming and expensive. As with all these things it’s so much better to get it right in the first place where we can.

The December Subsidiary Guidance strengthens the terminology around PP reviews, for example it is now possible for them to be recommended even where leadership and management has been judged to be good. They have also been more clearly separated out from reviews of governance, which I think will have some interesting implications, but I would want to see what happens in practice before I comment any further.

Well that’s it. All the headlines anyway. And I know that we don’t become governors to please Ofsted, but we can never forget this key accountability and forewarned is forearmed etc. In any case I basically believe that Ofsted is on the same side as us – wanting schools to do the best they possibly can for their children. Though if you ask me whether it felt as though we were on the same side during our last inspection – I would have to say… er ….

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