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One thing we can predict about the early days of the new Ofsted framework is this: inconsistency will be a problem. iAbacus co-creator John Pearce offers three steps to help senior leadership teams prepare for the unknown.

Despite the welcome changes in the 2019 Ofsted framework, from previous experience there is one predictable certainty about its inception.

We can be sure that the approaches by individual inspectors within and across teams will be variable, sometimes in the extreme. It always was and always will be, especially in the transition period as the new framework beds in.

SSAT also point to this in their excellent review of the new Ofsted framework “What will the inspectors be up to”.

So, consistency will become a problem for Ofsted and some schools. There is bound to be a howling out about unfairness as the autumn term progresses.

Golden opportunity

This presents a golden opportunity for Ofsted. Maybe, just maybe, inspectors will demonstrate a professional willingness to work more closely with, even alongside, their professional colleagues in schools.

Will our profession come together in closer partnership – not only to judge schools but, far more importantly, to work out, with those in the schools, how to make improvements?

A critical issue is Ofsted’s (applauded) intent to involve and incorporate the school’s own self-evaluation and to have in-depth interviews with staff prior to “deep dives” (horrible phrase but it is already catching on).

Add to this the new, forensic, telephone interview prior to the visit and we get some clear implications for schools:

  • Be prepared. I used to joke about “getting your revenge in first” but it’s not far off the mark. Remember you know your school better than anyone, certainly anyone from outside.
  • Know what inspectors are likely to be looking for. Leaders and teachers have to become fully aware of the new framework – especially the criteria for judgements and proposed processes.
  • Be ready with your own judgements, evidence, analysis and plans (not just your self-evaluation!). Helping schools do just that was the origin of the iAbacus.

Three steps to prepare

Whether you use the iAbacus or not, the iAbacus process can help you.

  1. Undertake a risk assessment to identify your high risk (low performing) key aspects of the new framework
  2. Troubleshoot your high risk/vulnerable areas by undertaking a forensic self-evaluation and analysis, in order to have your plans to mitigate concerns ready for inspectors.
  3. If you have time, update your self-evaluation and school improvement plan (SEF/SIP) using the 2019 Ofsted Framework but augment it with your own criteria clarifications and vision (including for the curriculum).

If you do this you will be well prepared.

I’ve a final observation which some might read as cynicism, but it’s based on decades of experience – work as an inspector, but also leading and working alongside inspectors and advisers and seeing how their work is received in schools.

Unfortunately, the regulatory feel of the first inspections in the 1990s set a negative tone in our profession which remains hard to remove.

Ofsted slowly have been moving away from the quality control model of the 90s towards quality assurance – what I championed in 1986 as “validated self-evaluation” (The Evaluation of Pastoral Care, Clemmet and Pearce, 1986 Blackwells).

Ironically, this shift in approach also has led to “validated inspections”. Why? Because, how better can an inspector be sure his/her judgements are right (and less likely to be challenged) than if they involve senior staff from the school in making them?

Don’t ever underestimate how this bolsters the confidence and influence of professionally developed, aware and savvy leadership teams.

I wish you good judgement.

 

iAbacus can be deployed as: Risk assessor, or Troubleshooter, or full blown SEF/SIP Planning tool. I honestly think there is no better tool for this. To see how, watch the video Three Ways to Use iAbacus.

John Pearce was one of the first inspectors trained by HMI in 1992 and has both trained and quality assured inspectors and advisers in English and Welsh local authorities. He was Regional National Curriculum Adviser for East Midlands. After several executive and interim headships in special measures schools, he was appointed NCTL Leadership Consultant, going on to train and support school improvement advisers and consultants in England and Wales.