Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Speaks on How it Uses Research

On 18 January Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s Chief iInspector, spoke at the annual lecture about how Ofsted and the education sector uses research.

In this speech, Ms Spielman outlined the main reasons why Ofsted uses research and how that research is used during the inspection process.

This comes after Ofsted’s announcement during an invite-only meeting with the Confederation of School Trusts (CST) that it will be reviewing its complaints policy (see my article on that here). One of the main concerns in that meeting for Trust leaders was Ofsted inspectors heavy reliance on comments made by pupils during inspections which resulted in disproportionate weight being given to negative comments in final judgments.

Interestingly, Ms Spielman touches on how research is used in the inspection process to inform these very decisions.

According to Ms Spielman there, Ofsted has four stakes in the use of research:

  • A desire to ground the inspection approach as securely as possible in evidence about education itself
  • To build and iterate and inspection model that can achieve its intended purposes with sufficient validity and reliability;
  • Aggregation of evidence so that Ofsted can generate research for other’s benefit; and
  • Paring down research so that it can be more immediate useful to practitioners.

Then when discussing how Ofsted works, Ms Spielman outlined the principles of good inspection and regulation as, “proportionality, accountability, consistency, and targeting.”

She also stated the three main purposes of inspection were:

  1. To provide information and assurance to parents;
  2. To inform the central government; and
  3. To provide value to practitioners (i.e. sector providers including teachers and heads)

So where does this all fit in with research? Allegedly, this will tie in during the evaluation portion of the inspection process. According to Ms Spielman, “we [Ofsted] aim to ground all our work in research evidence and to operate as transparently as possible.”

This will come as welcome news to those who expressed concerns over the disproportionate use and reliance on negative pupil testimony to come to inspection decisions.

However, providers will still want to be aware of some key faults with the process.

While the research is intended to assist in establishing a basis for the inspection models and standards, it should be noted that this research is ever changing, and what may be best practice now might not be in future.

While inspector judgment is intended to apply the framework, as opposed to inspectors’ individual ideas, room must be left for human error and bias. This leads into questions about consistency.

Ms Spielman spoke on this stating, “…[I]mproving reliability often comes at the price of sacrificing some validity. The narrower the construct you choose to assess, the more precisely you can assess it… But the narrower the construct, the less valuable the assessment is likely to be in practice.”

She then goes on to address how the education and child care sector cover quite a broad range of areas to assess, and concludes, “This means the ‘overall effectiveness’ that were are required to judge is, and is likely to remain, a broad construct.” What this means is that human nature is likely to continue to play a role in assessments for education and children’s services, so Providers will want to ensure that individual inspectors are in fact applying the framework for inspection rationally and reasonably, as this is what often leads to inconsistency in practice.

Overall, Ms Spielman established that the most up-to-date research is used during the inspection process and to inform decisions on assessments and well as set standards and frameworks for inspection. Provides should be mined to keep abreast of these, particularly publications by Ofsted themselves to ensure consistency and pragmatic application by inspectors.

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