Recently it’s been announced that Ofsted will not begin ‘proper’ inspections until January 2021, but will visit schools from September onwards, to check in on institutions, still publishing reports, but not awarding grades. This is due to the coronavirus pandemic, allowing students and teachers to return as normal in September, without the added pressure of Ofsted inspections.
This approach has been met with backlash from some educational settings, who claim they’ve made an incredible amount of progress since the last Ofsted inspection in autumn 2019 – and were awaiting their next inspection in spring 2020. Of course, this has been postponed due to school closures, but for some, not having a record of those achievements for that term is disappointing, especially when it comes to trying to recruit new students for September.
However, for many, it’s a chance to start the new term, which will be very different from so many before, without fear of negative grading due to adapting to a post-lockdown period.
Others have argued that the January date for the return of official Ofsted inspections is too early, with concerns over another spike in COVID-19 cases, due to the colder weather. The visits from September could also be seen as a distraction for teachers and faculty staff, who will have enough to focus on, aside from being observed by Ofsted.
Lockdown has also highlighted the gaps so many educational settings have in regards to blended learning and from September, it’s clear that having an effective blended learning approach will be central to a school's offering. Currently, aside from safety and wellbeing of students and staff, blended learning is the most important element of a school's provision that they should be focusing on, rather than their traditional inspection and the pressures this puts schools under.
Alongside this, the blended learning approach is not mutually exclusive from satisfying the more traditional inspections from Ofsted. If you have the right blended learning solution in place it will support your Ofsted reporting, whether old-style or new. As it’s only the autumn term that the inspections are changed for, the evidencing of progress needs to be implemented this term, so schools have something in place to support future inspections.
Although some schools and colleges are disappointed that an inspection didn’t happen during the spring term, to showcase their adjustment to the pandemic situation, it’s not just Ofsted that can record and inspect. Schools are responsible for monitoring their own processes and progress – a blended learning model, which so many schools have had to implement during this period, provides schools with the opportunity to report, analyse, and record achievements.
Ofsted has also stated that the visits throughout the autumn term will be about having conversations and discussions with senior leadership teams, to identify any barriers they’ve faced throughout lockdown and with opening schools back up properly in September. Conversations will also focus around the ‘blend of classroom teaching and remote education’ – providing many schools with the opportunity to showcase how they’ve adapted throughout the pandemic.
What’s clear throughout all of this, however, is that having a robust blended learning model throughout all schools is critical. Although we can’t be sure, a second wave in COVID-19 cases may occur, and if so, measures similar to those implemented in March, such as school closures and lockdown, may happen again. Without an effective blended learning model in place, schools won’t be able to adapt to the same situation again, and students will continue to miss out on essential education.
It’s clear that although the Ofsted visits in September and the autumn term will not affect a school’s official grade, they will need to show some kind of documented process for remote education plans, as well as blended learning in general. In the Department of Education’s guidance document, they state:
“Where a pupil is unable to attend school because they are complying with clinical and/or public health advice, we expect schools to be able to immediately offer them access to remote education.”