1 in 2 school leaders term inspections ineffective

Schools in England are no longer to be punished for failing to meet standards in national exams or tests, thanks to policy reforms pledged by the government.

 The measure was amongst those unveiled by Education Secretary Damian Hinds last year, as part of the Department for Education’s new strategy to boost teacher recruitment and retainment levels.

 School leaders and education unions alike have welcomed the change, which will remove what many saw as the double jeopardy nature of floor and coasting standards.

By not classing schools as ‘failing’ or ‘coasting’ based on pupil outcomes in national tests, the new policy removes an assessment burden which many criticised for targeting schools without regard to contextual factors.

 The National Association of Head Teachers has long campaigned against floor and coasting standards, with general secretary Paul Whiteman stating:

 “[The] standards added unnecessary stress and uncertainty without ever helping the process of school improvement. School leaders will be pleased to see the back of them.”

 In lieu of the floor standards, only the results of Ofsted inspections will be used to force intervention strategies on schools, such as a change in management.

The changes however highlight broader issues with approaches to school evaluation and inspections as a whole, with Ofsted also recently coming under fire for failing to help school improvement. 

 Last year, a report from the National Audit Office found that less than half of head teachers felt that their latest Ofsted inspection had led to any improvement at their school, despite the inspectorate’s guiding principle to be a “force for improvement” in education.

 Some school leaders feel that the formal accountability system suffers due to its overly critical approach, as a result promoting competition rather than collaboration between schools and deterring honest, constructive dialogue regarding improvement.

 Instead, research increasingly suggests that a more supportive, less punitive approach to school evaluations is needed.

 To implement effective evaluation and accountability tactics, schools may benefit from pursuing additional evaluates, harnessing more informal, collaborative and supportive options to take control of their own performance.

Peer reviews offer assessment alternative

 For schools looking to go beyond inspectorate feedback, incorporating more  informal, lateral modes of evaluation may bring a helpful, new dimension to accountability.

 For example, schools may benefit from implementing peer review and mutual accountability strategies, which have proven in several studies to be a more effective driver of school improvement than traditional top-down inspections.

 Implementing supplementary lateral school assessment systems can not only bring a fresh perspective to assessments from other school leaders, but can also help to develop management skills within the school staff force and boost schools’ support networks by promoting collaboration between institutions.

 The NAHT’s Accountability Commission has advocated for peer review programmes to be more widely used in schools, holding that the strategy has significant benefits for both schools’ accountability systems and pupil outcomes.

In order to implement an effective peer review system, school management teams should ensure that the reviews remain improvement-focused and are as independent as possible.

School leaders should not only ensure that their peer reviews are led by an individual without any vested interest in the outcome, but also by fellow leaders who are detached enough from the school and its environment to be able to appraise its performance objectively.

 To maximise the benefits of the collaborative, communicative aspect of peer reviews however, schools should also ensure that their own management works with the external peer review team and joins them in the assessment process.

 By pairing external reviewers with in-school colleagues, schools can allow their own leaders an opportunity to gain insight into and analyse the daily workings of the school and provide opportunity for in-depth dialogue between the pairs of leaders, inviting detailed, thorough discussions on the institution’s performance and what can be done to improve outcomes.

 Peer review networks provide insight and CPD opportunities

 To equip reviewers to assess other institutions, schools should provide a short training workshop in self-evaluation and review for participants.

 The review should be informed by the school’s identified priorities and documented with both oral feedback during the visit and written feedback afterwards, focusing on performance strengths and weaknesses.

 When factoring academic results into performance assessments, reviewers should ensure to be as holistic as possible, focusing on contextual value added rather than simply assessing crude exam results without reference to the school’s background or specific challenges.

 As well as informal feedback, peer reviewers should ideally provide a thorough action plan after the review in a report that both offers practical solutions and highlights key themes for improvement of the school’s current performance.

 In order to encourage further, continuing collaboration and strategic planning dialogue between schools, institutions working together on peer reviews should make sure to hold a follow-up meeting to discuss their progress and offer advice for any pitfalls that may have been encountered in implementing the action plan.

 The room for constructive, in-depth and informed dialogue between schools and their peers on improvement tactics gives peer reviews a uniquely helpful perspective on school assessment, separate from either internal self-assessment or external inspections.

 Schools report “valu[ing] the experience of other colleagues looking at our organisation and identified areas.”

 At the same time, the technique also builds leadership and performance management skills within a school’s existing workforce, allowing staff to gain experience in leading evaluations as well as providing them with continuing professional development opportunities through peer review training.

 Those who participate in school peer review initiative frequently report valuing the experience for this benefit, with one governor stating:

 “As a reviewer, I felt it developed my skills to gather, collect and analyse information in a short time frame…I feel I have developed skills on how to give feedback in a constructive way at a higher level than I have done before.”

 The development of leadership and evaluating skills within a school’s own workforce will likely have a positive impact on school performance in its own right and and helps strengthen the pipeline of leaders for senior positions within the school.

Improving Performance Management

 Educate specialises in helping making performance management easier, faster and more effective.

Educate supports teachers, school leaders, governors and education managers to develop and implement best practice staff performance management systems that deliver improved learning.

To learn more on how Educate can help your school improve its performance management practices please email Carol French on carolfrench@educate.co.uk  or call 020 3411 1080.

Ofsted to offer secondment roles for school middle leaders

School leaders will be given the opportunity to spend a year in secondment working for Ofsted as part of a new programme announced by the inspectorate this month.

Speaking in Birmingham, Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman unveiled the plans to school and college leaders at the Association of School and College Leaders’ annual union conference.

 The new programme highlights the inspectorate’s current focus on “the importance of collaboration and discussion on inspection.”

 From September 2019, Ofsted has proposed that inspectors do their preparation for a visit at the school the afternoon before the official inspection starts, encouraging the lead inspector and school leaders to work together and strategise collaboratively for the benefit of the school.

 Speaking to union members, Spielman maintained that consolidating “the shared experiences of inspectors and school leaders” via secondments would benefit both groups and in turn the education system, stating:

 “Ofsted is part of the education system, not separate from it.”

 The twelve month programme is aimed at middle leader subject leads and heads of department, who will “get access to [Ofsted] training and development, and, through inspection, gain insight into what all different types of schools are doing.”

 After 12 months, the watchdog says that school leaders should return to their schools “and hopefully will have gained hugely from the experience, benefiting the school in turn.”

 From Ofsted’s perspective, the scheme will allow the inspectorate to “gain expertise from middle leaders” and more closely understand the “up-to-date experiences of running a school.”

 It is also positioned as a vehicle to boost Oftsed’s recruitment of contracted inspectors, after the National Audit Office warned the regulator that it needed to devise a strategy to stem its decrease in staff and ensure that enough trained inspectors remain to carry out school assessments.

 The programme is set to start early next year with a pilot scheme of current, trained inspectors already serving as school leaders, with plans for places to then be “open to any school leader who has had some whole school responsibility.”

The benefit of inspection training for school leaders

The proposal has been met with understandable reservations by education professionals, with many concerned for the implications on school performance of removing key leaders from work for twelve months at a time. 

 In voicing support for the programme, ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton nonetheless acknowledged the “logistical hurdles” for schools seeking to “cover the gaps in staffing which would result from secondments, particularly given that there are currently very significant teacher shortages.”

 Alongside and in spite of its potential drawbacks however, the new scheme also brings to light the valuable benefits that a closer understanding of Ofsted amongst school leaders can bring to both performance and pupil outcomes.  

 On a broad scale, Barton says the secondments could indirectly benefit all schools by “enabl[ing] Ofsted to benefit from the insight and expertise of people who are in the education engine room, planning, delivering and supporting the learning of young people.”

 In terms of benefits for school leadership and performance, the ASCL head says that inspectorate secondments “would also provide valuable career development for secondees, which could help to improve retention rates in the longer term.”

 Ofsted envisions that the secondments will form “part of the development journey of talented school leaders who are on a trajectory to headship or beyond.”

 Leaders who have qualified and served as inspectors report becoming better leaders as a result of their training and experience, learning how to objectively assess school performance and identify problems, as well as how to recognise the good practice and progress that may lie behind potentially misleading performance data. 

 A wide range of experience evaluating the performance of other schools can provide school staff with a depth of understanding regarding the specific challenges and risk factors facing schools in specific conditions, as well as the most effective ways to overcome them.

 Additionally, as a result of their “shared experiences” with inspectors, these school leaders are likely to be more confident and proficient both in conducting self evaluations and in working with external inspectors during their own inspections to improve outcomes for their school.

 By supporting inspection training, schools can therefore provide ambitious leaders with attractive continuous professional development opportunities which benefit the school significantly: boosting long term retention rates and developing an array of management skills key to school performance.

 Such training equips employees with the confidence and expertise to develop their own practice and become skilled policy-makers, preparing them to take on new roles and creating a pipeline of strong, experienced candidates for future top leadership positions. 

 Working with school inspectors to get the most out of visits

Whether staff partake in inspection training or secondments or not, to get the most out of the inspection process, schools should try to be as collaborative with their inspectors as possible.

 To counter and overcome the anxiety, stress and pressure often associated with inspections, leadership teams to aim to approach visits as a collaborative endeavour in which inspectors are working with schools to help them hone their performance strategy and identify the best path to progress for them.

As wide a range of the school community as possible should be invited to share their experiences with the inspectors, whilst school leaders should strive to communicate clearly and directly with inspectors before, during and after the inspection. 

 In order to work effectively alongside inspectors throughout the process, leaders should use the initial phone call and email exchanges with their inspector ahead of the visit to begin an open dialogue and establish a common ground of understanding going in to the visit.

 As schools which are well-briefed on their own goals will be better placed to clearly discuss them with external regulators, senior management teams should ensure that they instil a common internal understanding of the school’s progress and weaknesses through self evaluations. 

 At the moment, with the new curriculum-focused inspection criteria coming into force this September, school leaders would be wise to take time to establish their “curriculum intent” — setting clear, informed and achievable goals.

 To this end, school management teams should dedicate time to reading into their curriculum and meeting to discuss potential changes or suggestions, as well as any evidence which supports of could add to their current strategy.

 Setting researched and considered ‘intentions’ will help set the foundations for a constructive, collaborative inspection as well as providing a blueprint for primary school performance management strategy beyond external inspections.

Improving Performance Management

Educate specialises in helping making performance management easier, faster and more effective.

 Educate supports teachers, school leaders, governors and education managers to develop and implement best practice staff performance management systems that deliver improved learning.

 To learn more on how Educate can help your school improve its performance management practices please email Carol French on carolfrench@educate.co.uk  or call 020 3411 1080.