How do you judge whether a school is good or not?

Clare Flintoff, chief executive of ASSET Education. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Clare Flintoff, chief executive of ASSET Education. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Ofsted is making some changes to the way they inspect schools in Suffolk and other local authority areas and it means parents will need to know about how it works to help them interpret inspection reports ahead of choosing a school for their child,

Here Clare Flintoff, CEO at ASSET Education, which is a group of 13 Suffolk primary schools, explains more.

How do you judge how good a school is? You could visit the school, talk to other parents or ask around to find out about its reputation in the community.

You would also be advised to check out the school's latest achievement data and their last Ofsted inspection report (all available online) but be cautious and ensure that you know a bit more about Ofsted, and in particular the criteria they were using to judge the school at the time of the inspection, before making your mind up.

Most parents are unaware that there are different types of inspection, some more rigorous than others and that historical school judgements may not be a fair reflection of what is going on in the school today.

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Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills) carries out hundreds of inspections every week to ensure that the education, training and care services in England are provided to an acceptable standard. They are independent of government and impartial but they are also hugely influential in determining school policy and direction as it will be a brave (arguably foolhardy) school not to refer to Ofsted checklists when self-evaluating and planning their provision.

Most schools will ensure that they are doing what Ofsted is checking up on, and will aim to show that they are doing it really well.

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From the very first inspection in 1993 schools have used the latest version or interpretation of Ofsted's 'common inspection framework' as a checklist in order to prove that they meet the standard.

Since 2015 we have become familiar with self evaluation under four headings - "Leadership and Management", "Teaching and Learning", "Personal Development, Behaviour and Welfare" and "Outcomes for Pupils". But all of this is about to change.

Earlier this year Ofsted published their plans to introduce a new framework for inspection from September 2019 and made the unexpected move to introduce a new "Quality of Education" judgement which will include an assessment of the curriculum taught, how well students are learning and the outcomes they reach.

When a school gets a short "Section 8" inspection - a 'lighter touch' inspection mostly carried out in schools that have previously been judged 'good' - this judgement area will be the main focus.

In a move which has been largely welcomed by educationalists, Ofsted will be widening their inspection of a school's curriculum to ensure that it is 'broad and balanced' rather than narrow and exam-focused. "

Personal Development has now been separated from Behaviour and Attitudes in a move that highlights the issues we are currently facing in student well-being and mental health and the fact that behaviour is an issue in many schools.

Not surprisingly the judgement on Leadership and Management remains.

Schools inspected from September 2019 onwards could still be judged 'outstanding', 'good', 'requires improvement to be good' or 'inadequate' but parents need to be aware that, because of the changes to the criteria and judgement areas, comparisons should not be made with earlier inspections. This is also true of schools judged prior to 2015. It can be a confusing picture.

However, in the world of education, the new framework has largely been welcomed. Amanda Spielman, HM Chief Inspector of Education, has ensured that her team has done its homework. They have carried out their own evidence gathering and have considered the latest educational research. Hopefully they have learnt from mistakes made in the past.

There is no doubt that we understand much more about how human beings learn and develop than we have ever known. In building on evidence based research Ofsted are focusing schools' attention in the right areas.

So, if you are in the position of having to make a decision about a school, by all means check out their Ofsted report, but also ask the school how they are building on educational research to improve provision in the classroom and find out how their school curriculum will provide the experiences, the breadth and the depth that your child deserves.

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