What’s next for Ofsted inspections?

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It’s been a somewhat rocky year for Ofsted, after a tragic incident in Reading reignited questions over how inspections are conducted. What does the future look like for Ofsted?

When Ofsted’s new chief inspector Sir Martyn Oliver takes over from Amanda Spielman in January, he’s promised to go through “a big listen” to stop Ofsted from being perceived as “combative or cold”.

However, it will be an incredibly busy start to his planned five-year term. The role of Ofsted in events that led to an unfortunate incident in a school in Reading will be examined at an inquest in November, with the coroner due to deliver conclusions in December.

The incident also put a spotlight on Ofsted’s one-word grades, which have long been criticised for being too simplistic. Former Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw described change as “inevitable” and said that the incident in Reading had made him rethink the grading system.

He backed a proposal put forward by the Labour Party that would replace the single-word grades with a report card summary. The report card would be aimed at helping parents understand where a school is performing well and where it can improve.

With a change in leadership at Ofsted and a potential change in government ahead, what’s next for the institution? We asked Further Education and Skills Consultant and former HMI inspector Richard Moore to share his thoughts in our latest webinar.

Business as usual for Ofsted?

Richard makes the point that there’s nothing new in the criticism of Ofsted, but while a vast range of opinions exist about how Ofsted should work, he hasn’t seen any “particular appetite” to get rid of it as an institution.

He adds that the thought of an unregulated or self-regulating sector for schools, colleges or training providers would make “any government going forward quite nervous”.

“You get some very extreme views (which are perfectly valid for the people that want to have them) that Ofsted should be disbanded and abolished immediately. Then you go to the other end of the scale where people are saying that Ofsted's inspection practice needs to be significantly modified and things like a single grade for overall effectiveness taken away to reduce that pressure,” he said.

“My own personal view is that Ofsted needs to remain. I think the positives of keeping the inspectorate do outweigh the negatives.”

Changes are unlikely this academic year

With Ofsted’s new chief inspector starting in January, it’s unlikely we’ll see any changes to inspection processes in this academic year.

“I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I wouldn’t predict any significant change to the Ofsted framework this year. He’s not going to come out in January and say, ‘we’re not going to have four key judgments, we’re only going to have three and I’m changing the grading to stars’,” Richard said.

Looking further ahead, Richard adds that Sir Martyn will still want to make his mark as a chief inspector. This could involve restructuring the organisation or changing the framework, but timing this would be difficult, as any changes could coincide with a new government who may want to go in a different direction.

I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I wouldn’t predict any significant change to the Ofsted framework this year. He’s not going to come out in January and say, ‘we’re not going to have four key judgments, we’re only going to have three and I’m changing the grading to stars’.

Richard Moore, Further Education and Skills Consultant

The future of Ofsted inspections

We asked Richard to speculate on what future Ofsted inspections will look like and what he’d like to see – here’s what he said.

More regular, shorter inspections

The first would be more frequent, but shorter inspections, though Richard explains that budget could be a barrier.

“In the old college days in the nineties, an inspector would be attached to a caseload of colleges and would go and visit them. Now, would that be too expensive and resource-heavy in terms of workload? All this costs money and there was a lot more money around in the nineties and early noughties, and perhaps in the inspectorate,” he said.

Separate safeguarding inspections

Safeguarding was one of the major issues discussed after the tragedy in Reading, after Ofsted’s safeguarding concerns downgraded a school from Outstanding to Inadequate.

Richard believes we’re likely to see separate safeguarding inspections going forward, and that this change would be well-received by Ofsted inspectors.

“There’s now so much to look at during inspections with regards to safeguarding. A lot of the full-time inspectors aren’t safeguarding experts – they come from curriculum and quality backgrounds. Suddenly they’re thrust upon inspections where they’re having to make big judgments about safeguarding,” he explained.

“I think a lot of the inspectors would actually favour that, but again, it’s going to cost money to do separate safeguarding so how feasible will it be?”

Understanding of the training world

Finally, Richard has a “familiar plea” for inspectors to have a greater understanding of the world of training provision, and realise that it’s very different to colleges.

“This lack of understanding can really affect the consistency of expectations that inspectors have and the judgements they make,” he said.

Richard points to a recent FE Week article by Kerry Boffey, an ex-colleague of his, who described consistency as the biggest issue faced by providers. She said:

“Some inspection teams are well-organised, open-minded, fair and supportive. [...] By contrast, sadly, there is too much feedback from providers that talk about poorly managed inspections.

“Providers can be asked for significant changes to schedules, putting the provider under extreme pressure to rearrange employer visits which can be discourteous to employers – with little or no consideration to the damage this can do to professional relationships.”

Get more insights in our webinar

Listen to our full conversation with Richard for more insights into the future of Ofsted and what it means for the training industry. Catch up with the webinar on demand here.