The topic of the week is Sean Harford from Ofsted.
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This week, we had a fascinating conversation with Sean Harford from Ofsted.
A Physics graduate, Sean did a PGCE at Warwick University. He held various teaching positions culminating in an Assistant Head role. Sean joined Ofsted in 2003 as Her Majesty’s Inspector and joined the team inspecting school in ‘Special Measures’ or had ‘Serious Weaknesses’.
How do you standardise inspections when every inspector has such a different experience of teaching?
Sean HarfordSean sees this as one of the strengths of Ofsted. The breadth of experience and knowledge really helps. The published Handbook for Inspectors and Framework set out clear criteria for inspection provide transparency.
Ofsted also carry out quality assurance which covers Inspectors’ planning, what they do on site and the quality of reports they produce. Schools can also make complaints which are rigorously investigated. All this goes towards creating a high level of standardisation.
Should Teachers be in a panic about marking?
Ofsted created a ‘Mythbusting’ document and Sean says they are very clear that there hould be no panic around marking. Ofsted do not expect to see any particular type or volume of marking.
[Teachers] should be marking in a way that helps their students. They should be thinking about how it promotes their learning and doing what they believe is right for their children. It’s not about marking for inspectors – it’s about doing it for the learners.
Where leaders have given different messages to staff, Sean is concerned that this might be typical of weak leadership – school leaders in an increasingly autonomous system should be able to take the initiative. Ofsted have had feedback that there may be a problem with how some recommendations have been written in reports but the bottom line is about how schools can be confident about promoting learning. Where a school has come up with a particular method of assessment and marking which works, this is the most important factor. If teachers are being forced undertake practices purely to ‘please Ofsted’, then that shouldn’t happen and Ofsted have been very clear about this in the clarification document.
Does a high exclusion rate always indicate a problem?
Not always – for example it’s not unusual to see exclusion rates spike when a new headteacher joins a school. Exclusions can be a ‘tool in their armoury to improve behaviour’. What Ofsted would not expect is to see this high rate become the norm.
Conversely, low exclusion rates on their own don’t necessarily indicate good behaviour in a school because it could mean schools aren’t using exclusions which might be the rifht thing for pupils in the short term.
Exclusion rates are data – data begs questions and inspections are about going to find out answers to questions.
Ofsted looks at the DfE exclusions data prior to each term and unannounced behaviour visits are planned where the data suggests they might be necessary. Some of these lead to Section 5 inspections and some lead to a simple letter explaining to the Headteacher what was found on the visits. This is an example of data being a signpost to investigate further.
Paul asks if Ofsted support the cases that are sometimes reported of a new headteacher immediately excluding dozens and dozens of pupils. Sean says that it depends on the situation. If there is a real problem, for example with uniform and the headteacher feels he/she needs to make a statement, then this kind of action may be appropriate. However, Sean reiterates that Ofsted wouldn’t want to see this ‘spile’ turning into the norm.
What can individual teachers do if they are constantly being forced to do things by the school leadership on the justification that ‘this is what Osfted wants?’
Sean says that Ofsted want all staff to work together for the benefit of children. If there seems to be no justification other than ‘this is what inspectors want to see’, then teachers should be asking in a professional way what the rationale is. Sean sees this as indicating weak leadership. Sean points out that when Ofsted carry out an inspection and write a report it is intended to be useful to potential parents so they can see what that school is like for their children – not to be used by other schools as a definitive set of instructions on how things should be done everywhere. What works in one school may not work in another one.
When a school is working on getting out of Special Measures, the workload is very high and often teachers become drained and leave. Is this the norm and are there schools which have been successful at retaining staff through difficult circumstances?
The leaders who are effective at leading schools out of Special Measures are not always the best to lead them afterwards. Schools which are placed in Special Measures because they have not been able to provide the right kind of education for their children. These judgements aren’t made lightly – kids get one chance at going to school so we want to make sure that’s the best chance they can have.
There is bound to be an increase in workload and the places Ofsted see who come through Special Measures most effectively manage to get the balance right. The quality of teaching has not been up to scratch and this is generally because leadership and management have lost their way. The best schools in this situation make sure there is a system in pace which is sustainable.
The majority of schools who have been in Special Measures manage to get out and stay out which means that it is a successful process for them. It is undoubtedly hard work for the schools involved but it is so important for the children.
Is Ofsted looking towards a deeper focus on leadership?
From September 2015, Ofsted are going to carry out short inspections of good providers. Good Primaries will receive visits from one HMI for one day and good Secondaries will have two HMIs for a day. The assumption will be that this remains a good school and evidence will be collected in various different ways. Two judgements will be made:
- Does the school continue to provide a good education for the pupils?
- Have leaders and managers demonstrated a capacity to maintain good quality or improve?
Full inspections will continue to have the full range of judgements.
In PRUs is it legitimate to offer IGCSE as the mainstay of a Key Stage 4 English curriculum after 2017 when it is no longer eligible for inclusion in performance tables?
Osfted is not responsible for setting the National Curriculum or for performance tables. The view that Inspectors take of performance table is often overplayed – they are only one factor amongst many others that Ofsted Inspectors will consider. They are, for example, useful to parents when choosing a school. However, Ofsted Inspectors want to use a broad range of data to come to their conclusions. While they play a part, performance tables are not a major component.
The question is really about making sure the curriculum is right for those young people. If it is helping them to read and write better and make progress in the subject, then that’s what the staff in the PRU need to be concerned with.
There was a time when Ofsted told teachers how they should be teaching – have Osfted now given up telling teachers how to teach?
Sean says the shift Paul is referring to coincided with National Strategies which attempted to give structure to lessons, rather than Ofsted ever actually telling teachers how to teach. At the time Ofsted will have commented on what they saw and said whether they thought it was effective or not.
However, Ofsted did concentrate on the area last year. Parents do expect to know about the quality of teaching in a school. The decision was made not to grade teaching in individual lessons, rather they draw together lots of evidence of the quality of teaching across a school. Inspectors can give feedback to teachers if they want it on their teaching but some of the pressure on individuals has been removed as they no longer receive individual grades.
The bottom line is that we are interested in the impact of teaching on the children’s learning, their progress and the outcomes they get – and that’s right, that’s what we should be interested in – but how people do it is up to them.
Is Ofsted on its way out?
The role of Ofsted is probably more important now than it’s ever been. With an increasingly diverse education landscape, with increasing autonomy for schools, in a school-led system, we need accountability. Schools need to know there is someone who is looking out for the interests of parents and children. In the public sector that’s the right way to go. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t change what we do and we are constantly looking at what we do. There have been dramatic changes over the last 10-20 years in inspection. There used to be large teams of inspectors who went into schools, long reports. Now, from September, we have two inspectors going into good secondary schools and that is right as we have a more mature sector, so inspection regulation should be proportionate with that.
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