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.
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