No-one would argue that our public education system, funded by billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, must operate within a strong accountability framework.
However, when that framework is driven by an inspection system which creates a climate of fear across the school system, forces teachers to focus on meeting the needs of inspection rather than the needs of the children and young people they teach, and when inspection becomes the politicised driver of government policy rather than holding government policies to account, it is clear that there is something fundamentally wrong.
Ofsted’s independence, purpose and credibility has become seriously compromised in the eyes of the teaching profession.
We have repeatedly raised with ministers, politicians and Ofsted itself serious concerns about the capability of a number of its contracted inspectors, the reliability of its judgements and the adverse impact it is having on teacher morale and professionalism.
Ofsted has now announced yet more changes to the inspection framework, with chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw setting out plans to change yet again the way schools are inspected to focus on shorter, more frequent inspections for schools graded as “good” or “outstanding”.
However, as usual, the proposals will, if implemented, create more problems than they aim to solve.
These latest pronouncements that there will be a reliance on performance data and discussions with the headteacher are likely to exacerbate the pressures of league tables and floor targets which are already leading to a narrowing of curriculum provision for children and young people.
These changes will not address the variable quality of contracted inspectors, the flawed conclusions often drawn from lesson observations, and the extent to which fear of inspection dominates schools and their relationship with pupils and parents.
These changes will not change the negative impact of Ofsted which is driving schools to impose punitive and excessive monitoring and surveillance of teachers.
These changes will not stop the misuse of capability procedures, particularly with regard to older teachers, or the practice of placing new teachers on temporary posts simply so that schools can “keep their options open” as to their performance in the classroom.
This latest announcement by Sir Michael Wilshaw is yet again just replacing one high-stakes form of accountability with another.
Rather than yet another ad-hoc announcement about changes to the Ofsted framework, which serves only to destabilise schools, as they scramble to respond to what they perceive the changes will mean, reform of the system is required.
Not tinkering at the edges, but a root and branch review.
What our public education system needs to maintain its world class status, which is currently being seriously compromised by a combination of a punitive accountability regime and deeply flawed education policies, is an inspection system which is truly independent, developmental, and which supports schools to continue to improve. It also has to act in the interests of the public, not the government.
Teachers don’t fear inspection or accountability, what they fear is the damage being done to the education of children and young people by an Ofsted inspection system which is not fit-for-purpose.