No notice inspections

Adrian Elliott's picture
The Birmingham schools affair has led to a predictably rushed response by the DfE and Ofsted and it seems in future no notice will be given to schools of inspections. The decision has led to a barrage of comments in the media, not least because of an unseemly row between Michael Wilshaw and Michael Gove over who prevented the policy being introduced previously*.

In reality, it was probably a sensible decision to abandon the plan last year and more discussion should take place with heads, governors, inspectors before going ahead with now.

The practical problems for schools (and probably inspectors) will be immense; indeed, many exist now with the 18 or so hours notice period and removing that will simply exacerbate them. Comments in, for example, the CiF section of the Guardian about inspectors arriving on sports days were poo-poohed by some contributors saying this information would be available school web-sites. But as anyone with recent experience of schools knows there are a all sorts of events which may currently be cancelled or postponed after the call from Ofsted. Postponement might not be an option with no notice and this could lead to key staff being absent, for instance, and/or the chances of the inspection team getting an accurate picture of the school being reduced.

The local school of which I am a governor was recently inspected. I was asked by the head and chair to be one of a small group of governors to meet the inspectors. It took some time to contact me as I was away visiting family and without the present window, however short, I probably couldn’t have made it back in time. Of course there are other governors but most are working full time and would find it just as difficult to make meetings at such short notice. Indeed, I feel there is something inherently discourteous about the assumption that thousands of unpaid volunteers, many of whom are contributing an enormous amount of time and energy to schools, should make themselves available immediately when Ofsted snaps its corporate fingers.

But above all I think no notice inspections blow away any remaining thoughts (if indeed any do remain) that inspection is about school improvement through professional dialogue. One contributor to the Guardian discussion on the issue said why should schools get any notice: after all the police don’t tell criminals they are about to launch a raid!

That might not quite be the view yet of Ofsted and the DfE but it seems to be getting a lot closer.

*LSN NOTE: Ofsted has now announced it was the inspectorate and not Michael Gove who dropped the idea for no-notice inspections two years ago. See report in Guardian.
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Mollie Weston's picture
Thu, 12/06/2014 - 15:51

What the hell do the general public think Ofsted are looking for, if they are comparing inspections with a police raid?

Helen's picture
Thu, 12/06/2014 - 16:04

Surely it would be possible for inspectors to arrange a meeting with governors at a mutually convenient date and time after the inspection, if this is a major objection?

David Barry's picture
Thu, 12/06/2014 - 17:11


That would then mean that while the school got no notice of an inspection, the Inspectors walk in at say, 8.30 am and say "your inspection has started" under your scheme the Governors, alone amongst the school community would get notice. It would mean the Inspectors meeting Governors some time after the main inspection as well. I cant see that working well.

If there are "no notice" inspections the effect is to cut governors out completely.

David Barry's picture
Thu, 12/06/2014 - 17:16

Actually "no notice" inspections" put OfSted under some pressure to get things completely right when they arrive. I experienced an OfSted some years ago, where when the team turned up, they had the wrong documentation, and had to go away again and come back...

And another OfSted where a clerical error had got the size of the school wrong, so they had to withdraw and a new larger team came in a couple of days later...

Significant potential for embarressment ...

Adrian Elliott's picture
Thu, 12/06/2014 - 18:32

David, that's right it puts the inspectors under a lot of pressure. Schools , even with a few hours notice , can prepare documentation specifically to help inspectors. Can't seem them having that permanently on standby.
Mollie you're right. I did wonder in how many other countries such a comparison would be made although I guess there are strange folks everywhere.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 12/06/2014 - 19:33

This is not a new idea. It was kicked around shortly after SMW took up his post and caused a heated debate. In the end it was ASCL and NAHT who persuaded MG not to go with it and hence we ended up with the half day notice (i.e. call as close to midday prior to the inspection).

I don't see any major issue with no notice inspections. After all is said and done a well led, well run school with a HT who has mentored and coached their SLT should not have any difficulties handling an inspection. Indeed, for some time now HTs have been advised to have their inspection folder/box ready and up to date in preparation for an inspection.

Brian's picture
Thu, 12/06/2014 - 20:37

I listened carefully to Michael Wilshaw and others trying to justify no-notice inspection yesterday. The example they gave was in one of the Birmingham schools the staff had been able to arrange a Christian themed assembly when this was not normal practice. Sir Michael failed to point out that his inspectors had discovered this 'deception'. Presumably he has such little confidence in his inspectors than he doubts their ability to ask sophisticated (?) questions of pupils such as 'Do you normally ...? ' or 'How often have you .... before?'. They might even notice that all the pupils mentioned in the school's behaviour records don't seem to be in school ... according to one BBC blog contributor yesterday it is 'common practice' for schools to bus out 'naughty children' when they get a few hours notice.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 12/06/2014 - 20:44

No notice inspections were floated back in Jan 2012, and here is the evidence:

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