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What are Ofsted’s Criteria for Leadership and Management?

In this blog, inspection expert and analyst, Adrian Gray, reflects on Ofsted’s leadership and management grade, and highlights some criteria which have received particular focus in recent inspection reports. 

Why do leadership and management matter so much for Ofsted? 

The interaction between Ofsted and school leaders has been much in the news lately because of the Caversham inquest, and subsequent debate over how inspection practice should change. The arguments have centred on the impact of an unhappy inspection outcome on school leaders and the headteacher, in particular. 

These concerns were picked up by the recent parliamentary select committee report, which asked for a closer look at the consequences for headteachers following a ‘less-than-good’ outcome. Part of the Ofsted response is to repeat the policy that individual leaders are not named in a report, although this makes little difference if you’re the headteacher and therefore responsible for the quality of leadership in general, including, to an extent, the quality of work of the governors, if appropriate. 

We have come a long way since the days of a separate grade for the headteacher’s and senior leaders’ leadership and management. Yet we all know that a school is a system of leadership with, generally, a headteacher at the apex, who is responsible for ensuring that the system is smooth and effective. So, it can be a bit like owning a car - as the driver you’re responsible for ensuring that the tyres, for example, meet requirements. 

Ofsted's 'Education inspection framework’ 

The 2019 Ofsted Inspection framework seemed, in some ways, to have devolved consideration of leadership and management to far more people than in the past. Over the previous decade, Ofsted had focused its inspections very much on senior leadership plus the core subject leaders with, to an extent, SENCO or EYFS (or 6th form) leadership thrown in. In 2019, subject leadership was thrust much more into the limelight, and for the first time in years, a history or DT subject leader could find themselves being interviewed by an inspector, working to Ofsted’s defined perspective on that subject. 

Some headteachers observed that they felt a bit disenfranchised from inspection as a result, certainly on the first day, but we need to consider how this affects consideration of leadership and management. In fact, in general, the quality of subject leadership will be reflected in the quality of education judgement, whilst the impact of that (because of where the responsibility lies) then influences the grade for leadership and management. 

There is a logic to this: headteachers really ought to know the quality of their subject leadership and have plans to improve and develop it, where necessary. The 'School inspection handbook' describes one factor in its leadership and management section as “the extent to which leaders focus their attention on the education provided by the school”. However, there is a consequence too – in virtually every inspection the two grades are the same, to the extent that it’s barely worth having two grades at all. Only rarely, for example when a school is improving under new leaders, do you see any difference. 

Key indicators of effective leadership and management 

So, what else matters for Ofsted in the leadership and management judgement? Basically, all types of leadership will be covered, including aspects of subject leadership. This includes the contribution of governors and officers of the academy trust, if you have them. It includes elements of specific roles such as the SENCO, and the management of specific issues such as pupil premium. 

Now that academy trusts come in all shapes and sizes, with differing approaches to local governance, one of the most important things to get right at the start of your inspection is to be clear with your inspector about who does what and is responsible for what. For example, trusts vary in which curriculum decisions they devolve to local leadership, and inspectors ought only to hold to account the people involved in the decision. The role of local governors also varies, so this needs to be clear as well. 

Inspection criterion: evidencing impact and improvement 

In order to understand how inspection actually works in practice, I did some analysis of the reports for schools that ended up as less than good. What were the leadership and management issues that inspectors picked up on? 

Interestingly, the most common issue was insufficient monitoring and consequent weaknesses in evaluation. This raises several issues, including the debate over what a ‘good’ self-evaluation form looks like and the importance of it, which took a knock when the government decided to abolish the Ofsted SEF in its ‘bonfire of red tape’ a few years ago. You cannot run an effective and improving school without thorough self-evaluation. I have had a few conversations when people have proudly shown me their ‘SEF on a page’. “What’s the point of this?”, I wonder, because they hardly meet the idea of ‘evidence-based management’. 

The reason inspectors pick up on monitoring is that it’s an easy target. Let’s say the inspector finds some inconsistency in how teachers support reading across the curriculum: what do they ask themselves next? Well, they will want to know if leaders know there is inconsistency (which is why you should get your weaknesses on the table early!), and then it’s an easy step to asking why they don’t know - to which the answer is “Lack of monitoring”. To underline this, note that one of the criteria inspectors will explore is “the extent to which leaders create coherence and consistency across the school”. 

Inspection criterion: staff training 

Analysis also shows that staff training has become more important as a factor in inspections since 2019. Actually, it forms one of the key sections of the ‘good’ grade descriptor: “Leaders focus on improving teachers’ subject, pedagogical and pedagogical content knowledge in order to enhance the teaching of the curriculum and the appropriate use of assessment”. 

In a way, this is also because lack of training forms one of the other possible answers to the question “Why is XXX inconsistent in the classroom?” It also helps answer the question, “Why is the quality of subject leadership inconsistent?” Well, to be honest, subject leadership across ten or so subjects is inevitably going to vary to an extent in almost every single primary school and even in most secondaries, especially where non-specialists have been landed with something. You know the pattern in primaries – the newest member of staff ends up with the subject others don’t want. And before you say, “That never happens!”, I can personally testify to having conversations about it; I have asked new subject leaders, “Why were you chosen to lead this subject?”, and had the answer, “To be honest, I don’t know”. Good leaders choose subject leaders carefully and have a plan for those who might face some initial challenges. 

So, it’s important to have an answer to your inevitable inconsistencies. The best approach is to be able to explain that your monitoring and evaluation, including some staff self-evaluation, identify these weaknesses, for which you can provide, here, a plan to address them. 

Inspection criterion: sharing reliable data with governors 

If you have a governing body with powers, then it’s important to show they’re effective. The key interface between the school’s professional leadership and its governors is the quality of information being shared - exactly the products of good monitoring we were discussing earlier. Governors should receive good, reliable data, but they should also verify this through their own monitoring and perhaps through third parties also. Can your governors show that they have an impact? In fact, governors should have their own section on your SEF in which to evaluate themselves. Can they give examples of how they have done some monitoring, identified an issue, and taken effective action? Remember, if governors are ineffective, then part of the responsibility for that lies with the headteacher. 

Inspection criterion: governors’ knowledge of the curriculum 

Another area that some governing bodies have tripped up on has been their knowledge of the curriculum. This Ofsted framework has certainly ramped up what is expected of governors on this, so you might ask yourself what role they have played in drawing up the ‘intent’ statement, and how they know the curriculum is doing what it’s meant to, amongst other issues. Who on your governing body can lead an informed discussion about this? 

Inspection criterion: staff welfare 

Staff welfare is also important now, though it rarely surfaces in a report other than in reference to having a realistic approach to assessment. Nonetheless, inspectors will ask staff about whether leaders care for staff wellbeing and whether staff are free from harassment, including from parents and even pupils. It clearly helps if you have your own staff survey data to support this. Similarly, make sure your staff can talk about their own training and development programmes. 

There are some other issues which can affect your leadership and management grade. One is the use of any alternative provision. Don’t forget that you’re responsible for knowing what is going on with all of your off-site pupils. You must meet all your legal requirements including teaching about equalities and protected characteristics. Inspectors love to ask pupils if they know all these, maybe as it’s an easy thing to ask! They will ask pupils about how allegations of abuse are handled, and of course you must explain how pupil premium funds are used. 

Inspection criterion: safeguarding 

Let’s also not forget safeguarding - as if we could. Ineffective safeguarding affects your leadership and management grade, although I suspect that is one thing about inspection that everybody does know. 

The National College offers expert-led CPD for all roles and responsibilities and covering all topics, including Ofsted, subject leadership, governance, mental health and wellbeing, and safeguarding, to help you ensure that your school or education setting is prepared for Ofsted inspections, and improve outcomes overall. 

If you’re concerned about keeping up to date with the latest education policy, practice and research, consider a membership with The National College. Not only does it provide access to thousands of professional development resources for all staff, but also enables leaders to create training programmes precisely tailored to individual and collective needs, to help you ensure compliance and drive up standards.