Driving up standards is the ultimate aim of all who work in education.
Yet the final barometer of that success or failure, the government inspectorate Ofsted, is often faced with criticism for the criteria it uses and even the conclusions it draws.
Whether fair or not, its lack of a common assessment system for all institutions teaching same-age students can see it accused of failing to judge by the same rules and standards.
However, this lack of harmony is expected to change when Ofsted introduces its proposed new Common Inspection Framework (CIF) in September across early years, schools and further education.
At its core are two key policy changes which, along with the proposals overall, are to be welcomed for the benefit of the improved clarity they should bring to education institutions and learners alike.
The CIF will aim to ensure comparisons between institutions can be judged as fair and equal by standardising inspection criteria, making it easier to compare the inspection of different providers that cater for similar age ranges.
This will be done by introducing uniform headline categories of effectiveness in the areas of leadership and management, quality of teaching, learning and assessment, personal development, behaviour and welfare and outcomes for children and learners.
And for schools, academies and further education and skills providers judged good or outstanding at their last Ofsted inspection, the CIF will bring in shorter but more frequent inspections. Whereas today the gap between inspections can be six years, the new policy will be for a more punchy three years.
While this may sound intrusive to those for whom an awaited Ofsted inspection can send shivers down the spine, more regular inspections should, in fact, help soothe these nerves. After all, a danger facing many good and outstanding institutions is that of resting on their laurels, and six years is ample opportunity for that.
It is too long to wait, and those providing good education should not worry about being judged – they should instead welcome it for as it will sharpen their teaching and ensure leadership teams get better.
Standardisation of criteria is also a positive change which should give learners and parents better understanding of the value of their future education route when they move from one provider to another.
Figures from Ofsted’s latest annual report bear out the fact that change is needed. They show 62% of the 364 providers inspected in 2013/14 were judged to be good, but only 5% were outstanding, with one in six learners being taught with a provider judged less than good.
In March last year Learning Curve Group was rated “good” overall by Ofsted and “outstanding” for public services, health and social care and outcomes for learners. To my eyes, the message the new CIF brings is that being good isn’t good enough – we must all aim to be outstanding and that is certainly the journey we are on now!
Brenda McLeish is the managing director of Learning Curve Group.