Ofsted – no longer fit-for-purpose?


Ofsted’s negative influence on our schools cannot be allowed to continue, argues Dr Mary Bousted.

Once again I am writing about Ofsted. Why am I so concerned? Because I believe that Ofsted is no longer, if it ever was, a force for good in our education system.

I believe that Ofsted damages and limits the aspirations of school leaders, whose jobs are as secure as those of football managers, and who face the sack if their school is judged inadequate or requiring improvement. The level of fear drives the excessive workload which has become the defining feature of the working lives of teachers and school leaders. Stress, exhaustion and burn-out await too many. And the level of tension under which teachers work takes time, energy and focus away from what should be most important – the quality of their teaching. 

The truth must be told: in too many schools teachers no longer feel they have the authority to make professional decisions about the strategies and practices they use in their classrooms. We have recently produced proposals to establish a new inspection system.

We call for the abolition of the grade for teaching quality since no school, in any category, has teaching which is uniformly “good” or “outstanding” or “requires improvement”. The best available research demonstrates that the variation in teaching quality within a school is four times greater than the variation between schools. That fact alone makes the award of one Ofsted grade for teaching quality a nonsense. 

Lessening in-school variation would be the most powerful means of raising teaching standards across the school – but if this is to happen, then the complexity of teaching needs to be recognised and different subject areas in secondary schools should be encouraged to learn from one another. This is far less likely to happen if a one-size-fits-all “requires improvement” judgement knocks the confidence and commitment of teachers who, in reality, are doing extremely well in raising standards of achievement in their school, despite being tarred with an inaccurate, all-encompassing Ofsted grade.

We want inspection to be carried out by subject experts. Teachers are weary of Ofsted inspectors pronouncing judgements on subject areas, and age phases, over which they have little knowledge and no experience.

We want schools to engage in dialogue with local inspection teams to identify which subject areas were not performing as well as they should. Experts in those subjects and age phases would then conduct the inspection and engage in detailed, expert professional dialogue with teachers with whom they share detailed subject knowledge and expertise. Inspection really would, in this scenario, be a vehicle for self-evaluation and school improvement.

We want to retain the experience and expertise of HMIs because it is widely acknowledged that Ofsted has major quality control issues with the practices and judgements of its additional inspectors. Ofsted has sought to address this by bringing its training of additional inspectors in-house. This is a step in the right direction, but as they will still be self-employed, and as there is no guarantee of Ofsted’s capacity to deliver the amount and quality of the extra training needed, the variability in the quality of inspection teams will continue to be a major problem.

We argue that a national body of HMIs should provide the quality assurance for the expert local inspection teams which we envisage in our new inspection proposals. This would provide an effective guard against cosy consensus developing in some areas, and would retain the valuable experience and expertise of HMIs.

There is a growing consensus that Ofsted is not working and a growing number of influential education experts who believe that major change is not only necessary, but urgent. You can read ATL’s alternative vision for inspection online (http://bit.ly/1F5q1o0) and join in the debate. 

  • Dr Mary Bousted is general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. Visit www.atl.org.uk



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