The way our schools are inspected is a vital issue. Accountability is important – not just because of the money schools spend on it – but because we are educating children. However, Ofsted is not the right framework for accountability; it is not the right system.
Some of the stories that teachers tell about Ofsted are shocking, such as nursery teachers inspected by people with no nursery experience, dance teachers inspected by people with no experience of dance, and inspectors who told a teacher whose class was in a library reading that they were “only reading”.
Research shows that Ofsted judgements of teacher lessons are only right 50 per cent of the time. You might as well toss a coin as have an Ofsted inspector. Where is the quality in that?
We know of Ofsted inspectors who moonlight as Department for Education academy brokers to persuade schools to become academies. Then they inspect schools which as a result of their judgements are forced into academy status. We know that academy chains are getting advance notice of Ofsted inspections and allegedly given chances to re-write the inspection reports. Where is the independence in that?
Add to that we have the chief inspector of schools Sir Michael Wilshaw making pronouncements such as that low morale in a school staffroom is a sign of a headteacher doing a good job. Where is the sense in that?
And what are the outcomes? Heads and teachers unwilling to take on jobs in disadvantaged schools, afraid for their jobs as a result of poor inspections, afraid to take risks and be experimental. Heads demanding increasing amounts of paperwork from teachers because they think that’s what inspectors want to see. Teachers’ working hours through the roof – 60 hours a week: time spent on paperwork for accountability not on preparing exciting lessons for our children.
It is quite simple: Ofsted and its chief inspector have failed. Sir Michael’s use of negative rhetoric about schools and teachers is deplorable. The purpose of a school evaluation system should be to enable schools to “know themselves” honestly in order to support their development and effectiveness. The current inspection system creates precisely the opposite set of conditions.
Openness and confidence about owning the processes of school evaluation have been replaced by the paramount need to put on a performance for the inspectors. Ownership of institutional evaluation has been replaced by fear of it.
The importance of involving teachers in the development and refinement of self-evaluation and external evaluation cannot be overstated. Such an approach is critical to ensuring that schools engage fully with the process of improvement. The evidence from other countries shows that where teachers “own” assessment and evaluation, standards go up, not down.
It is high time this process which drives many good teachers and headteachers out of the profession ends. While teachers understand the need for accountability, school evaluation is at its most effective when school communities understand its purpose and relevance. Overwhelming evidence from research and practice demonstrates that evaluation by schools themselves must be at the centre of school inspection and support.
We believe the government should look to and learn from the “light touch” accountability systems of high-performing countries such as Finland and New Zealand which are predicated on trusting schools and teachers to do the best by their students, rather than based on the idea that this can only be achieved through threats or penalties.
Trust must replace fear. We need a complete change from this destructive system of inspection.
Kevin Courtney is deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers. Visit www.teachers.org.uk