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RE inspectors will no longer hand out grades to schools

21 March 2023

Church of England

ANGLICAN and Methodist schools and academies in England will no longer be graded on how effectively they uphold their Christian foundation, under a new framework that instead requires an inspector to “make a judgement” on this.

The new framework for the Statutory Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools (SIAMS) was announced in November 2022. SIAMS inspections, carried out under section 48 of the 2005 Education Act, cover the religious education (RE), collective worship, and spiritual, moral, social, and cultural education in Church of England and Methodist schools and academies in England. SIAMS was created by the C of E education office 30 years ago.

Currently, SIAMS inspectors award a school one of four grades: Excellent, Good, Requires Improvement, and Ineffective. From September, this will be scrapped. Instead, the “vision and practice” of schools will be categorised as either “living up to” or “not fully” living up to the Christian foundation.

Introducing the new framework in an article for Schools Week last Friday, the national director of SIAMS, Dr Margaret James, writes: “SIAMS will not reduce its findings to a grade word or number. Instead, it will provide a narrative account of the school’s strengths and areas for development.”

Reasons for schools being placed in the second category (not fully living up to Christian vision), “could include, for example, RE not being effective, collective worship not enabling pupils and adults to flourish spiritually or people not being treated well, and will require urgent attention”.

A presentation on the new framework in November explained that inspections would focus on “impact” by “asking high-level questions, scrutinising a range of evidence, and observing typical school practice”. Six questions for all schools would replace the current “exhaustive lists of criteria”, it says. Voluntary aided schools would have a seventh question on the teaching and learning of RE.

The set questions (with sub questions) focus on the extent to which a school’s “theologically rooted Christian vision” is maintained and enhanced through the curriculum, collective worship, and culture, and on the quality and effectiveness of RE.

Dr James writes that dispensing with tick-box criteria “respectfully” allows school leaders to demonstrate how they are carrying out vision and practice and to “provide robust evidence to substantiate their claims”.

She continues: “Replacing grades with judgments has understandably grabbed the attention of headline writers, but all of the changes we’ve brought in have arisen from our vision of what school inspection should look like so that it too serves the common good.”

What it means to be a church school was unchanged, she said, and no new demands were being imposed on schools. “However, the collaborative, context-specific manner of inspection heralds a radically new approach, recognising the professionalism and expertise of school leaders and focusing exclusively on the impact of actions rather than on the actions themselves.”

The pressure of graded school inspections came to the fore this week after it was reported that a headteacher, Ruth Perry, took her own life in January while she waited for the official publication of an Ofsted report that she had learnt would rate her school — Caversham Primary School in Reading — as inadequate.

Her family said in a statement: “We are in no doubt that Ruth’s death was a direct result of the pressure put on her by the process and outcome of an Ofsted inspection at her school. We do not for an instant recognise Ofsted’s ‘inadequate’ judgement as a true reflection of Ruth’s exemplary leadership or of the wonderful school she led.”

They joined the National Education Union and others in calling for a reform of the inspection system, which they said should be “positive” and “genuinely supportive”.

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