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Updates on the Work of Ofsted with Christopher Russell

Schools & Academies Show London 2023 
Updates on the Work of Ofsted with Christopher Russell, National Director - Education

Christopher Russell, the National Director for Education at Ofsted, took center stage at the Schools & Academies Show London. With a focus on continuous improvement and safeguarding, he provided vital updates on the work of Ofsted. Reflecting on the recent concerns and anxiety surrounding inspections, Christopher engaged with the audience and answered their questions during the session.

Experience the full session on-demand for free by below! 


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Jon Severs:
Hello, everybody, I know people are still filing in, but we want to give Chris the maximum amount of time possible. So it's my pleasure to introduce Chris Russell, National Director of Education at Ofsted. Chris has agreed to do a Q&A following his presentation. What I will say is, it's a pretty brave move from Chris to do that. So if we could remain respectful in the questions, I think it'd be a benefit to the debate all around. So, Chris, over to you. Thank you.

Christopher Russell:
Morning, everyone. I wanted to update you this morning on a few key areas of our work. And as part of that, I want to talk a little bit and reflect on the particular concerns and anxieties that are around inspection at the moment that we would acknowledge in the aftermath of the tragic events involving Ruth Perry. So I do want to talk about that, obviously, you will understand, I can't talk about that specific inspection or that specific case. But what I can do is talk about some of those wider issues, and also how we're trying to respond to people's concerns and people's anxieties. So I'm going to spend quite a bit of time on that. I also want to talk a little bit about our curriculum work, because it's something that we've spent a lot of time doing over the past few years. And that actually a lot of work currently is coming to fruition. So I just wanted to talk very briefly about that. And I did want to try and make sure I don't talk for too long, so that it gives you some time to ask questions. So I'll try and make sure I leave five or ten minutes at the end if you've got any questions at that point. So, what I wanted to do to begin with really was just talk generally about inspection, I've called the slide ‘the year in inspection’, but I guess really, I'm talking about inspection since we returned to routine inspection in September 2021. And I wanted to start really there by kind of acknowledging the context that we're inspecting against. And I want to acknowledge the difficulties that schools have experienced not just through the pandemic itself, the height of the pandemic, but actually, you know, over that period as well, since then, and still obviously face in terms of their work with pupils. We, although we step back from routine inspection for about 18 months, our HMI was still in schools, doing various things, different types of interim visits, monitoring visits, so very much actually did see the challenges that schools were facing at that time. And, of course, our allies, our Ofsted inspectors who we contract with, our school leaders who are actually dealing with the issues. And we captured that through our research work. So it gave us a good understanding of the particular acute challenges that schools were facing at that time. But we totally, totally recognize that while the challenges for schools have changed, they haven't gone away.

Christopher Russell
: So we understand that, while many families have bounced back, many young people have bounced back, not all of them have, there are more mental issues amongst some young people. Some patterns of absence have become really ingrained, and schools are having to work really hard to challenge those. Headteachers are frequently telling us that they're having to work harder with behaviour, that there are still some residual issues sometimes that they face there. And of course, the impact on pupils achievement inevitably persists. So we totally understand that very long tail of impact from COVID. But what I would say to that is, inspectors understand that and what they're interested in during inspection is, you know, the, the challenges that a school may face, but what they're doing about it, how they're trying to make the best of that and deal with what faces them. So as I said, we returned to routine inspection in September 2021. At the same time, we resumed inspecting all outstanding schools before that, we only inspected a small number. Most of them it was only if we had specific concerns. Now we are inspecting outstanding schools routinely. Also, we're saying obviously we lost 18 months of inspection we can't catch all of that up. But we were funded by the government to catch some of that up. So you know that that is happening over a period of time.

Christopher Russell:
The big picture, I think, which I think should be reassuring is, if we look at the outcomes of inspection, the various types of inspection that we do in schools, the graded inspections, the ungraded inspections, the majority of schools, the vast majority of schools come out positively, they're judged to be good or outstanding. And the pattern of that, and the comparison, the figures where we can make a comparison, have remained very similar before the pandemic, after the pandemic, that tells me various things. Of course, it tells me that despite those challenges, that we would absolutely acknowledge, schools have done an amazing job both through the, you know, the heightened period of the pandemic, but also since then, to actually get over those challenges that they're facing, and to ensure that they do the best possible for their young people. So it tells me that and I think it's a tribute to the work that school leaders and teachers and staff in schools have done to actually do that in an unprecedented situation that nobody expected to meet in their professional career. It also tells me, I think that the inspection framework, that we produced before the pandemic, and we'd actually only used for about six months when we went into lockdown, but obviously, I've come back to using since, that actually, it does work well in the circumstances, and it does enable inspectors to understand the school's issues. And, you know, pick apart what the school is doing, and ensure that the inspection is able to recognize the good work that's going on, even if the school is having to pick up some of those particular challenges. So, you know, I think it should be a very encouraging picture in in terms of those outcomes. Clearly within there, as we've said, we're now inspecting outstanding schools routinely. You have to remember, though, that there are about three and a half thousand of those when we came back to inspecting outstanding schools. So we have to work through those. So the schools that we're inspecting at the moment, the outstanding schools, are typically the oldest they are, they're still really quite old inspection judgments. When we went into starting to re inspect the outstanding schools, over half had a judgment that was over 10 years old. So it is inevitably, it takes a while to work through that. So some of those older ones particularly while, you know, many of those schools are remaining outstanding, there are quite a lot that are typically being judged good rather than outstanding.

Christopher Russell
: When we look at the more recent inspection judgments where we've done some of those schools, those schools are much more likely to, understandably, I think, to retain their outstanding judgment, because we recognize absolutely that over a period of 10 or 12 years, an enormous amount can happen in a school, an enormous amount can change. But the overall picture is a positive one about inspection outcomes. As I say most schools come out of inspection, and they've been judged good or outstanding. I just wanted to say a little bit, though about I'm going to talk in a moment, as I said about the you know the real current sort of situation and particular anxieties that there are, but I just want to go back to September 2021, when we started again, to routinely inspect using the EIF. And I think we all recognized, helped to be honest by the work that we did with key stakeholders, unions, CST etc, were really helped to understand the anxieties that were there I think at that time, which again, we all understood, schools had faced really acute unprecedented challenges during the lockdown, during COVID. And there were uncertainties inevitably about how that would play out and in inspection. So, you know, there have been things that we've done since then, that we've tried to do to sort of allay some of those concerns, and anxieties. I mean, one thing that we did, particularly we've done quite a few of these now are, were really focused webinars, targeted at the things that we knew people were concerned about an anxious about. And the absolute aim of those is to is to inform people so they understand those and hopefully, through that process to deal with some of those anxieties so that people were left feeling better about inspection. They've had enormous numbers of views. We've had huge numbers, who’ve attended them live, we've repeated quite a few of them. And we've recorded them as well so that people can watch them if they weren't able to do it. And I mean just you know the so those are just some of the topics that we've covered through those webinars. And we continue to do that. We continue to try and promote that. And we continue to try and pick up using that and with our other discussions with stakeholders, what are the issues that people at the moment would welcome something about, that would welcome some reassurance or ability to kind of learn about or ask about. So that process continues, and now will be a continual process.

Christopher Russell:
So, I wanted to move on now and talk particularly about the current situation and the particularly acute anxieties and concerns that they've been around inspection recently. And I want to talk about those and talk about some of the ways in which we're trying to respond. Obviously, some of that is a work in progress inevitably, so I'll be talking quite generally, but hopefully, we’ll give you a bit of a flavour around that. The first thing to say is that, as I said, most inspections at the end, the school is judged good or outstanding. It's a positive experience for the school. If we look at our post inspection survey figures, about half of schools respond to that. And about 92% say they're satisfied with inspection about 93% say that the inspection has helped them to improve as a school. So they're positive figures, our discussions with people too, while people don't like being inspected, I understand that but actually, people typically have said to us, that the EIF, the Education Inspection Framework, they found to be the best inspection framework that they've experienced. It's certainly the one from my experience over many years as an HMI, it's certainly the one that we put most work into developing, that we consulted most widely on, we put all the materials out for people to comment on. So we did a lot of work at that time to make sure that people were able to feed their thoughts and comments back so that we were able to get it right. So none of that, of course means that inspection is perfect. And I think Amanda has said very clearly that actually debate about inspection is to be welcomed. It's absolutely right, that people should talk about inspection, it's a big thing for a school. It's right that people should have those conversations and those views. As she said to, I think we're always looking to make changes with our inspection work. And in essence, that's a continual process, we look at how it's working out, we look at what stakeholders are telling us, we make changes, we tweak the training to deal with things where we think, you know, we could do with a bit more focus to train our inspectors. So all of that is a continual process.

Christopher Russell
: Now, as you can imagine, you know, that's become much more of a process for us at the moment, because we recognize those particular concerns and anxieties that people have got. So you know, we are looking at that in terms of the changes that we're able to make to help reduce that sort of anxiety. So some of the things that we're doing, as I said, you know, most people actually do have a positive experience of inspection. They come out of it with a positive grade, that they're happy with a positive experience. Not everybody does, I recognize that, and we're human, and inspectors sometimes get it wrong, absolutely acknowledge that. And sometimes we go back, we realize the inspection hasn't collected the evidence, it should, etc, etc. But what we want to make sure is that our complaints process is as good as it can be as responsive as it can be, that people feel at the end of it as much as possible, that they've had a fair hearing, they've had a thorough hearing. So we're having a really good look again, at the complaints process. Another thing we're doing, for example, is around timings. This is something that we realized was a concern when we went back into routine inspection. In normal times, people have a pretty good idea roughly when their inspection is going to be. But of course, COVID has really disrupted that. So we tried to do things to give people more of an idea. Early on, we think we can do a lot more there, because we know particularly for outstanding schools, they really feel like they've got no idea, they're on tenterhooks, they have no idea when they're likely to be inspected. Now, of course, we don't tell people inspection dates, and we don't want people to prepare for inspection. We just want people to, you know, to do the work as a school and we just come in and inspect but we understand that people like a bit of a feeling about when that's going to be. So we're just finalizing that work so that we can give particularly outstanding schools but other schools as well, more of an idea about when and inspection might be likely, as we run up to this period of 2025, as the sort of COVID delay works out of the system.

Christopher Russell:
Other things we're looking at, we recognize, again, if you're an outstanding school waiting for inspection, it's a long, long time since you were inspected, we've changed frameworks, probably about, I don't know, three or four times since then maybe. And actually, while we've done things in the past webinars and so on, for outstanding schools, we actually really want to focus on that group and do much more. So we're actually setting up small group face to face sessions with staff from those schools with head teachers so that we can really give them bespoke sessions on inspection, and what it means and try and ensure that people are as comfortable as they possibly can about that, about being inspected. There's also I think, a number of clarifications that we've done some work on, and there's more to do there things like; who can you share the report with? Who can be in meetings? These kinds of things where we realize that people sometimes think it's a different situation to actually how it is. So we want to make sure that we get some of those messages out as well. But I wanted to say a particular thing about safeguarding because we recognize there are particular anxieties around safeguarding. And I don't think there’s anxieties in you I mean, when I think back over my time as an inspector, but also in school, it was the area that people were concerned about. And I think what I'd want to stress there, first of all, is that I mean, of course, it's important we look at safeguarding, and inspection. It's not where we spend most of our time by any means. But it's important that inspectors look at it, it is important that inspectors ensure that that what's going on in safeguarding is effective and that children are safe. But I do want to really stress, you know, how much it takes for us to give an ineffective safeguarding judgment, it isn't a bit of paperwork or, a very minor issue. It's actually, you know, much more serious issues around keeping children safe. Typically, it's something's gone wrong with a culture of safeguarding the school such that there's probably more than one thing that has gone wrong, and there are serious issues that leave children potentially unprotected. So I guess to illustrate that we have to look at the number of times we make that judgment, its actually really, really rare and no inspector makes it without proper discussions and talking to people. So if you are considering that safeguarding may be ineffective, you phone the duty desk. And I would stress most calls to the duty desk about safeguarding don't end up with ineffective safeguarding, they end up with effective safeguarding, but the school has got some tweaks to do with it.

Christopher Russell
: So, you know, that's a process that would check that and then the judgment of ineffective safeguarding would be checked again and moderated fully down the line. So, you know, those judgments are not made lightly, they're very, very carefully checked. And there is absolutely no pressure on inspectors that they should be making them. They make the judgment on the ground, but they talk to people to justify if they're thinking of going down that route. But just to get a feel for the numbers of those kinds of judgments. I mean, it's a couple of percent of schools that actually have got weaknesses across many areas and are in special measures. And actually, not all of those, maybe about half of those have got ineffective safeguarding. But I think, we can see that that's part of a bigger picture of issues that have gone wrong. My experience is what head teachers particularly worry about, is everything else is good in the school, but that they worry that something has gone wrong with safeguarding that they're not aware of, and that trips them up. As I said, that ineffective judgment is the same, it's only made after really careful consideration. And also the number of schools, the proportion of schools that have got everything else is would be good or outstanding, but the issue is just in safeguarding are tiny, it's about 0.15% of the on the graded inspections that we do, but we've also got to remember that we do a similar number of ungraded inspections where we also check safeguarding, and if we had concerns, we would turn it into a full inspection and so on. So it's actually a tiny, tiny handful of schools that sort of end up in that situation. But my experience is that's what people particularly worry about. But we are obviously committed to really looking at all of these issues, but particularly around safeguarding where we know there are those particular concerns. So we are having a really good look at that. I think there's a lot you know, we're making sure that we've got real clarity for schools about that. We do a lot of training on safeguarding anyway as you can imagine, but we're making sure that that is absolute doing everything that it possibly can.

Christopher Russell
: And I think we want to really work to make sure that people have got a full understanding of the depth of issues that actually would be needed for a school to be found to have ineffective safeguarding. But I think there's another thing too, because of the way things operate now, I think what worries a lot of heads is that they'd be in this situation, they think the school is good apart from safeguarding. But they won't get a chance to put that right and to get that recognized in an inspection because typically, what happens now is those schools will be academised down the line, so they wouldn't be monitored in the way that they would once have been. So what we want to look at is, can we do something to actually get back to those particular schools sooner, to recognize that those issues have been have been dealt with. Now, that's not a week later, because these kinds of issues don't get sorted in a week, but our experiences, if other things are good in a school, and clearly, there's capacity, therefore, to make the other things good in school, where schools have got, you know, some time a few months, to focus really sharply on this particular issue, then they can make a big difference to it. And we can recognize that through inspection. So we're also looking at that. I'm very keenly aware of time, and I do want to leave a few minutes for questions. So I just want to speak briefly, though, about our curriculum work, because, as I said, it's something that has happened, particularly during Amanda's tenure as Chief Inspector. And, you know, it has been well received. So where we are in the process, you hopefully will have seen some of the things that we've done, some of the blogs, some of the videos, etc, that we've put out there. And what we've done for every subject is a kind of research review.

Christopher Russell
: So what we've tried to sort of crystallize is what does research show about that subject, what that subject, what looks like, kind of positive sort of things going on in that subject, etc. What we're now doing, and we're doing these in very quick order actually, we've put the first one out, science is that we're looking at subject reports. So what we want to do is put a report out there for each subject, splitting up primary and secondary to kind of feedback what we found about that subject when we've done that report, that is just a stress around that that is not an alternative EIF, an tentative framework, the way in which we judge schools is the is the handbook, the framework that you know is in the public domain, that's not changing. This is about subjects to help schools, to do something which actually, we used to do and HMI used to do a lot, you know, many years ago, in actually feeding into the sector, much more specific things about subjects to help people. We know schools will use those in different ways, you know, and what we don't want is to put them out there and for them to cause stress, they are meant to be helpful. We know that in your school, you may be focusing on history, but actually at the moment, you know that geography isn't your priority, okay that's down the line for you to do more work, whatever, we understand, that's the reality of curriculum development. So we want those publications to be useful to you and to staff in your schools. But, the important thing to stress is that doesn't change the basis of EIF and the framework and the handbook that we judge people against. Of course, it you know, it complements that in terms of people's understanding, but it you know, it is separate from the work that we do there. Okay, that's a quick run through but like I say, wanted to make sure that I've got sort of five minutes or so at the end. Just to sort of pick up any questions. It's quite difficult here with the lights to actually to see people but I'm not sure if anybody wants to ask any questions about what I've said.


Q1: Hi, hi there. Hello. Those of us who are in Church of England schools also have the Section 48 Religious Character Instruction, the Church of England are very good that they publish on their website, which schools are going to be inspected within the year. So we don't know the date of inspection, but we know it's going to be in that year. Two questions really; one, have Ofsted got any plans to do something similar? And a second question, if I may. You've shown how complex schools are in your slides and how many things leaders have to think about? Can schools really be summed up in a one word judgment?

Christopher Russell:
I think on the first one, I mean, it's a really interesting question. And of course, you know, well before recent events, people have asked us that question. Can't you tell us the year we're going to be inspected? I think our concern about that, is that, is that going to reduce inspection stress or is it going to heighten it? Because what we would say is, and genuinely, schools do really well where they don't prepare for inspection, they just do the right things for their young people. And actually sometimes where people are trying to do things which they think inspectors want often, you know that's a miss and it actually isn't in young people's interests. And it, you know, it means that people waste time really. So our concern about that is, if we went that precise, that would we be actually helping to reduce the stress around inspection? Or could we potentially be intensifying it? That's not I mean, there's a balance here, if I'm honest, I think I mean, as I said earlier, I understand at the moment, compared to before the pandemic, people had a reasonable idea when it was coming up. Obviously, the challenge now is the delay, the suspension of inspection, the catching up, all of that does make it really tricky. So I think we have to do something specifically at the moment, to give people more of an idea. But I think, once we're in a kind of normal position, my experience normally is people are okay with that. And let's be honest, you do have a reasonable idea of when it's going to be anyway, given the sort of the, guidelines that we publish around when we come back in the handbook. So, you know, you can pretty much work out what year it's going to likely be anyway, we all know that, obviously, sometimes issues come and we come in earlier and so on, but it does give people a pretty good, good picture. To answer your other question about the good. I mean, as I said earlier, you know, obviously, any debate around inspections, legitimate, there are different ways of doing inspection, obviously, a major change would need to be well thought out and would need to fit in with, with, you know, the government's approach. And those wider things, as Amanda has said around that. I guess what we'd say as well is that we don't just boil a school down to that original, that individual grade, we grade different components that we try and write as clearly as we can, we all know that, you know, a good school can be, you know, very different to another good school, or whatever. So we try and ensure that, in the way that we write, that we actually bring those things out. So, you know, I recognize what you say clearly, the difference for a score between getting an RI grade or a good grade is, is very significant. But I don't think we just say that's your grade. And, you know, that's the report, it just says good on the front or whatever. We actually really try and tell the story of the school and bring out those different elements and judge those different elements differently where you know, where the school is doing different in different areas.

Chris, first thing to say is thanks for doing the Q&A. I'm Tom from Teachers Talk Radio and our listeners are really really concerned about the situation with Ofsted. My first question is, there's two parts to this is, do you or Ofsted, regret the way it as an organisation has reacted to recent events? There have been many people who have said, that it has come across as uncaring or it hasn't come across as though it really understands the level of grief and anger. I mean, is there any sort of regret or insight within the organisation around that? That's my first one.

Christopher Russell:
Well, I mean, I guess I'd say to that is, you know, I'm sorry, if you feel it's come over like that. I mean, you know, what happened to Ruth Perry, clearly, you know, it's a tragic event. And we will absolutely recognise that. In terms of us responding more widely to those broader issues. I mean, hopefully I've given at least a flavour of that today. We're not timid, we're not just ignoring all of that. I mean, a lot of my job before that was to try and work with people to ensure that anxiety and concern around inspection is kept as low as it possibly can be. And we recognise at the moment, that there are those particular concerns there. So we want to work with people, we want to do anything that we can, through some of the things that I mentioned plus other things where there are good ideas there to, to actually, you know, to respond to that and to make any changes that that would be helpful, but also to provide reassurance because sometimes it's about reassurance about what people think about inspection, rather than the reality. All of that's a problem. And what I would say is myself and my colleagues, none of us want people to feel worried or anxious about inspection. We all know you'll never totally eliminate that. I totally get that. But it's our job to do anything that we can working with other people to reduce that as much as possible. Because none of us want that, none of us wants people schools to be to be concerned about inspection.

: And my part B, if that's okay, was around I don't know, at the recent NAHT conference, there was calls from the sister of Ruth Perry, Julia Waters for headteachers to hand in their badges to quote and to reject the opportunity to be an Ofsted Inspector. I wondered whether you had any thoughts on that? Or whether you mean, do you reject that that call? Or do you understand where it's coming from?

Christopher Russell:
I mean, ultimately is for individuals to decide what they think is most appropriate. I mean, our experiences people aren't doing that. People, because we value the work that we do with our Ofsted inspectors, our OIs, their members of the sector, we think it's really important, that we work with a huge amount of OIs who benefit from the inspection that they do, and their schools and their colleagues and other schools that they've got relationships with also benefit from all of that. And I think people do recognize that, we also recognize that through working with the OIs, you know, that also gives us a relationship with the sector because inevitably, those people are wearing two hats. And that's good. That's good for us, really, but yeah, like I say, we're not seeing that and, you know, we very much value to the relationship that we have with OIs on all sorts of levels. Okay, I think time is probably up, but unless there was a last question. Okay. Well, thank you very much, really appreciate your time attending today. And as I say, those, you know, those discussions, those conversations will go on to ensure that, you know, we'll do everything that we can to reduce the those anxieties and concerns around inspection. So thank you very much.