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Ofsted inspections: observation of teaching and learning – change since 1992.

We are delighted that Peter Browning, one of the current EdD students at the Faculty of Education, has written the following guest blog post. A few weeks ago Peter was searching for school inspection reports and more specifically a Department for Education publication from 1992 (“Framework for the Inspection of Schools”) to track the use of the term “leadership” to compare with the language used in 2015. The Faculty Library Team found the publication in the pamphlet collection and also identified other relevant material of interest. Whilst talking to Peter he commented on one specific difference (of many) between inspections in the early 1990s and today….

inspection reports 3 June 2015In my present role, as a school improvement partner within a local authority just north of London, I support, monitor and challenge schools in the drive for improvement. The remit is to be in partnership with schools and the intention is that the school’s ability to evaluate its work is enhanced through the challenge offered through dialogue with an experienced individual. The work of Ofsted, in many senses, forms a backdrop to this work but one fundamental difference is that the work is ongoing, and regular, whereas the inspectors involved with a specific inspection, almost exclusively, do not visit the school ever again. Additionally, I am concerned with working with a school to improve provision each day. Presently, a school can expect an inspection within a three year cycle but this does not appear to be an exact prediction. A small range of scenarios can mean an inspection earlier than this. Tensions arise in schools when their three years are up and head teachers can be on the alert for a phone call indicating a visit with half a day’s notice. Head teachers have learnt that if a phone call is not forthcoming by lunch-time on a Wednesday then they have the all clear, for that week, until the following Monday. Do head teachers really watch this? They do. Do class teachers really watch this? They do, if their head teacher does!


Whilst reviewing some early Ofsted inspections from the first in 1992 to search for the use of the term “leadership” in inspection reports, I noted an element that I had forgotten about when I checked the evidence base of each inspection. In particular, I focussed on the time spent by inspectors observing teaching and learning. A typical scenario in 1992-93 showed that a Primary school of 10 classes would be visited by a team of 6 inspectors who were allocated to the school. Just think about that for a moment: 104 lessons were observed. Think about that too; do your division sum – right, 10 lesson observations per teacher. Admittedly the inspection team had to report, in detail, on 10 subjects and would have been in the school for four full days, reporting to the head teacher and governors towards the end of the fourth day. This was very demanding for teachers, many of whom had never met an inspector in their entire career before 1992. Schools were given, on average, 10 months notice of an impending inspection so you had time to ready yourself!

Roll forward to 2000 and one school of which I was head teacher had 262 pupils on roll organised into 10 classes and was inspected early that year. There were 5 inspectors allocated to the school for the full 4 days of the inspection. I had forgotten the detail, but on finding the report I noted that 66 lessons were observed. I recall my deputy head teacher having 13 of them and she was a good teacher so she swelled the overall positivity of the evidence base. Fast forward, same school, inspection 2013 and the numbers on roll are slightly different – 227 and 8 classes – but in that inspection there were 14 lesson observations.

The system of Ofsted inspections, since 1992, has been subject to regular change. In antsorin-Magnifying-Glass-Colorthe main, the changes have come about as a result of evaluations of the system by academics, educationalists, unions and teachers. The importance of accurate self-evaluation and the school’s ability to show that it can improve itself has resulted in a far more streamlined approach to the process of inspection. A scrutiny of the evidence base of most recent Ofsted inspections shows that in one area, namely observations of teaching and learning, an individual teacher can expect to have one observation of his/her teaching, two at the most (Ofsted 2015). I did identify where the first use of the term “leadership” in Ofsted inspection reports occurred but that is for later…

Peter Browning

EdD Year 1

Faculty of Education, Cambridge

As Education Subject librarians, it is an absolute pleasure to interact with our researchers and as you can see there are lots of hidden treasures in our pamphlet collection and Archive; just contact us, we are always happy to help you search…

The reports:

Inspection reports June 2015

Department for Education (1992). Kenilworth First School, Borehamwood : Hertfordshire Education Authority 8/12 June1992, A report from the Office of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools Reference 343/92/P. London: Office for Standards in Education.|depfacaedb|291989

Department for Education (1992) Framework for the inspection of schools: Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools. Office for Standards in Education. London: Office for Standards in Education|depfacaedb|295011

Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED). (1993a). South Hill County Primary School, Hemel Hempstead : Hertfordshire Education Authority 13-17 September 1993. A report by HMI Reference 419/93/P. London: Office for Standards in Education.|depfacaedb|290310

Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED). (1993b) Highover Primary School, Hitchin; Hertfordshire Local Education Authority, 19-23 October 1992: A report from the Office of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools Reference 58/93/P|depfacaedb|291826

Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED). (1993c). Standards and Quality in Education 1992-1993: The annual report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools. London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office (HMSO).|depfacaedb|294937

Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED). (2015) Inspection of Woodside Primary School, Hertfordshire Local education Authority 6-7May 2015 Reference 117321. Inspection Ref: 462092. London: Office for Standards in Education