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Are snap Ofsted visits a good or bad idea?

By Mark Richards,

24 Jan 2020

It probably comes as no great surprise to learn that the Conservative Party’s recent proposals to ‘strengthen’ Ofsted inspections by increasing the length of a standard inspection from two to three days, and to introduce ‘snap’ no-notice inspections, have been met with universal condemnation from headteachers and teaching unions.

The proposals have been called ‘draconian’ and concerns have been raised that the move would be potentially damaging, meaning that a school’s focus would be on inspections rather than teaching.

The general consensus from within the profession is that longer, snap Ofsted visits would cause more harm than good. The Case For: No-Notice Inspections Of course, the basic argument for no-notice inspections is that it is believed that they would result in inspectors being able to gain an honest and true reflection of where a school is at.

The idea that any school could be inspected at any point should ensure that an inspection really captures the school’s performance.

In theory, there is some mileage in the idea. The case for longer inspections is also straightforward enough.

Many within the profession argue that 2 the standard-day inspection schedule is simply not long enough to make a sound and conclusive judgement about a school.

In theory then, the opportunity for inspectors to spend more time evaluating the performance makes a good deal of sense. The Case Against: A matter of trust The real concern is that there is a big difference between theory and practice.

Although there is some merit in both the notion of no-notice and longer inspections, how it would work in practice is what is worrying schools the most. Added to this is a feeling that this another example of the government showing a lack of trust and belief in the professionalism of teachers. Unions criticise government proposals Unions have claimed that the suggested move to 3-day inspections is further evidence that the current inspection system cannot be trusted to deliver fair and reliable judgements on a school’s performance.

It’s argued that the inspectorate is already spreading itself too thinly as is not adequately resourced as it is. Unions have also been quick to point out that previous proposals to introduce no-notice inspections, when Michael Gove was Education Secretary, had to be abandoned because of practical difficulties.

It has also been noted that Ofsted is already able to carry out snap visits when there are serious concerns about a school. It’s the nature of inspection that still causes most concern.

Critics continue to argue that high-stakes inspection actually holds schools back as they are in a constant state of flux being ‘Ofsted-ready’, rather than focusing on improving teaching and learning.

Further concerns regarding snap inspections are that it would not give schools enough time to prepare the necessary data.

Similarly, at such short notice, it might be the case that key members of staff or governors would not be available to meet with inspectors.


1- Why Ofsted feels the need to publish 'mythbusting' documents

2- How can we improve Ofsted's role in school improvement?

3- The Ofsted inspection framework - What's changing?

4- More good and outstanding schools than ever before, but is Ofsted still failing?