Last reviewed 23 May 2014

In January 2014, Ofsted’s subsidiary guidance introduced substantial changes in how inspectors should make judgments about governance, pupils’ achievement, behaviour and safety, and teaching in state-funded schools. Our previous article Redefining governance: focus on the governing body’s core functions dealt with the former in detail; in this article, Tony Powell looks at the most important points for the other three.

Pupils’ achievement

“Inspectors should not insist that there must be three years’ worth of data, or that these data must show good progress or achievement, before judging a school’s overall effectiveness to be good overall. A school can be good if teaching, leadership and management, and behaviour and safety are good, and if there is sufficient evidence that progress and/or achievement of current pupils are good also. This is often the case when a school is improving from requires improvement, serious weaknesses or special measures. However, inspection reports must state clearly if this is the case.” (Paragraph 5)

This is an extremely important change for all schools. Obviously the guidance has been provided because many inspectors do insist on having three years of positive data before they will make a judgment of “good” achievement and therefore “good” for the other key areas.

Ofsted is pointing out that there is a lag between improving leadership and management followed by the quality of educational provision and then outcomes for pupils.

Behaviour and safety

The main thrust of the changes is to raise the bar on the overall judgment on behaviour and safety within the report and to focus inspectors and schools on low-level disruption.

“Often, the grade for behaviour and safety is a grade higher than overall effectiveness. Where this is the case, reports will be given additional scrutiny. Please make sure that sufficient evidence is gathered to warrant the grade awarded.” (Paragraph 68)

Clearly Ofsted believes that some inspectors are being too positive in their judgments. Inspectors will respond by justifying their judgments more clearly or by matching the grades for behaviour and safety and overall effectiveness.

Expectations of behaviour in the classroom are shown in a new footnote in the evaluation schedule: “For example, inspectors may consider how quickly children settle at the start of lessons, whether they have the right equipment, their willingness to answer questions, whether they remain focused when working on their own, the tidiness of their work and the pride they show in its presentation, and the overall effort that they make.”

Ofsted has also begun a programme of unannounced inspections of behaviour.


There is a widely held belief in schools that Ofsted inspectors are looking for fast pace, active and independent learning and a variety of teaching and learning strategies in the lesson. Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI), is adamant that this was never the case. This has been reinforced by speeches, an open article by the National Director, Schools (Martin Cladingbowl) and a new section on teaching in the subsidiary guidance. The main points are as follows.

  • Inspectors must not give the impression Ofsted favours a particular teaching style. Moreover, they must not inspect or report in a way that is not stipulated in the framework, handbook or guidance.

  • In classrooms, inspectors are not simply observing the features of the lesson but are gathering evidence about a range of issues through observation in a lesson.

  • When giving feedback, inspectors must not argue that they are unable to give a particular grade because of the time spent in the lesson.

  • Inspectors must not aggregate the grades given for teaching in a formulaic or simplistic way.

What about the future?

Subject to consultation, Ofsted intends to make the following changes for reporting on provision and outcomes in the early years foundation stage and sixth forms.

  • A separate, graded judgment on overall effectiveness.

  • The grade will be determined by a consideration of separate evaluative criteria on:

    • achievement

    • quality of teaching

    • behaviour and safety

    • leadership and management.

  • The report will include a discrete paragraph explaining the overall judgment.

  • The findings will be taken into account for the overall effectiveness of the school.

Currently, inspectors comment on provision and outcomes in these stages, and factor their findings into the evaluation of the whole school. However, it will be very useful for inspectors and schools to have separate descriptors so judgments can be made more systematically.

HMCI speech to Association of School and College Leaders Conference

Sir Michael Wilshaw sometimes signals changes to inspections through speeches, which are as much instructions to inspectors as messages to schools.

Much of his recent speech to the Association of School and College Leaders Conference was devoted to dealing with what he described as “unwarranted attacks” on Ofsted, describing changes already made in response to criticisms and explaining how teaching is evaluated. However, Sir Michael also gave an outline of his strategic vision for Ofsted and some specific proposals.

The underlying principles

Three principles underpin the proposed direction of change.

  1. Inspection is too important for Ofsted to have only an oversight of third-party arrangements. Ofsted needs to undertake a root and branch review of outsourced inspection.

  2. Ofsted needs to continue to move towards more proportionate and risk-based inspection of schools that need greater intervention. Therefore Ofsted will move away from routine section 5 inspections of “good” schools.

  3. Her Majesty’s inspectors (HMI) should lead the great majority of inspections. HMCI is planning to substantially increase the number of HMI posts and second-in outstanding practitioners from schools.

Before the creation of Ofsted, the regional HMI for history organised the professional development programme for all history advisors in the North West. It is unlikely that HMCI sees such a role re-emerging, and there are not many subject advisors left in any case, but large numbers of part-time inspectors will need to look for alternative employment if Sir Michael Wilshaw carries out his plan.

Specific proposals

Ofsted will not be able to expand its resources, so increased inspection time for some schools means less for others. Also, HMCI does not consider that “good” and “outstanding” schools always need full inspection teams. He therefore proposes to introduce “light touch” monitoring visits.

Schools currently graded “good” will have visits every two or three years for one day by one HMI. The monitoring HMI will only recommend a full inspection when it is anticipated that a change of grade will be required because of an overall improvement or decline.

“Outstanding” schools remain exempt from inspection unless there is a fall in performance or some other important concern is expressed. Currently this would trigger a full inspection, but HMCI proposes that one HMI would visit the school for one day to investigate. If the school were dealing with the issue effectively, that would be reported. If the inspector judged there to have been a substantial decline, a full inspection would be recommended.

These changes will require discussion with the Secretary of State and a full consultation. HMCI proposes that Ofsted, the Department for Education and professional associations should work on this. It would be implemented in practice over the next 18 months. At the same time there will be a full revision of the Ofsted framework.

The most optimistic timetable would mean implementing a new framework and new arrangements in September 2015, but perhaps more realistically in January 2016.