In her speech to the annual conference of the Confederation of School Trusts, Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools paid tribute to Trusts which she said have taken a wider leadership role through the pandemic, – supporting each other, their communities and the wider sector. But she also cautioned that it is Ofsted’s job to remain agnostic about school structures.
Ms Spielman cited evidence from the inspectorate’s Autumn Interim Visits to Schools, which is summarised by Ofsted in the article entitled, The trust in testing times: the role of multi-academy trusts during the pandemic, published in January 2020.
CST asked Ofsted to delve a bit deeper into the ways in which trusts are supporting their schools through the pandemic. Ofsted opened an additional evidence card during the Autumn interim visits. For the school leaders Ofsted spoke to, the support of their trust was crucial. They told Ofsted about support with safeguarding, interpreting COVID-19 guidelines, developing remote learning and integrating this with the curriculum.
Daniel Muijs (then head of research at Ofsted) and Karl Sampson, the article’s authors, conclude: “One of the aims of bringing schools together in trusts is to provide them with levels of support and collective learning that would not be achievable for any school on its own. These findings show how important this can be to schools’ resilience in the most challenging of circumstances, and how being part of a greater whole builds that resilience.”
This is a significant piece of evidence which supports CST’s position that all schools should be in a strong and sustainable trust. It aligns with the announcement that the Secretary of State for education made at the conference on Wednesday in which he outlined his vision for all schools to be part of a multi-academy trust.
Ms Spielman also confirmed that Ofsted is prioritising monitoring schools rated less than good. She said that if Ofsted finds that school has significantly improved, then Ofsted has the option to carry out a full inspection so that schools will be able to get a new grade, rather than it being another monitoring visit.
She said that Ofsted will be inspecting a small number of good schools that haven’t been inspected for a long time and are outside their inspection window. She stressed that the vast majority of good or better schools will not be getting an inspection this term.
She emphasised that Ofsted will take time before an inspection starts to understand a school’s individual circumstances, and the effect COVID has had on the school and children. And she confirmed that Ofsted will be using external data differently, taking into account how old it is, and will not be taking teacher assessed grades into account.
Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts said:
“We were pleased that Ofsted responded to our request to look more carefully at how schools in trusts have been supported by their trusts during the global pandemic. This evidence is corroborated by research that we have undertaken jointly with the University of Nottingham.
“Amanda Spielman is right that there is a conversation to be had about how we can help persistently weak schools to improve. It is our belief that strong and effective Trusts do provide resilience against failure, as Amanda Spielman noted. This is because Trusts a collaborative framework that intentionally develops a knowledge-building approach across their schools. As Ms Spielman has said, “strong trusts help schools move up a gear, if you like, and are quick to act if a school goes into reverse.”
“In reflecting on next steps, Ms Spielman said: “inspection isn’t just a ‘thing’. It should evolve – just as the education system evolves.” We agree. And we look forward to constructive discussions with the inspectorate as the system evolves.”