We must keep up the pressure on Ofsted


Ofsted has acted to quell increasing concerns about the quality of its inspection regime. However, after the problems with inspection featured heavily during the teaching union conference season, SecEd editor Pete Henshaw urges the profession to keep up t

“It works for government not for schools.”

“It is negative, demoralising and destructive when it could and should be positive, enhancing, inspiring and constructive.”

“It is not accountable to anyone and the inspections are carried out by people who have not taught for years.”

“They only look at the data, not the school, ethos and dedication of the staff.”

“(There is) confusion about what Ofsted’s inspectors are looking for, as well as a culture of fear around inspection which hampers innovation and sensible risk-taking.”

The damning assessment of Ofsted delivered by teachers during this year’s teaching union conference season has become the latest addition to the growing focus on the quality of school inspection and the lack of accountability among inspectors. The comments above come from a survey of 2,000 teachers carried out by NASUWT before its annual conference in Birmingham. In the conference hall, delegates then debated a motion which labelled the inspection service as “not fit for purpose”.

Meanwhile, at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers’ event in Manchester, delegates unanimously backed plans for the union to campaign for a national Inspection Charter to provide better quality control of inspection.

General secretary Dr Mary Bousted also laid into the inspectorate for its constant failure to sort out its problems. She said: “Ofsted is so damaged, so tarnished that it has to be radically and completely transformed. Fiddling at the edges will not do.” She added: “We know one thing absolutely – we cannot leave it to Ofsted to reform itself.”

And at the National Union of Teachers’ gathering in Brighton, the Ofsted process was branded as flawed during an extensive motion which also criticised the fact that many inspectors have “not taught for a sustained period in a classroom for decades”.

See here for our news reports on the Ofsted motions during this year's teaching union conferences.

Another sign of the disquiet among teachers is the launch by NASUWT of its “Inspect the Inspectors” online campaign, which is giving teachers and school leaders the chance to “critique how inspection is carried out in their school”. The union is to use the information to “identify where there are recurring problems with particular inspection teams or lead inspectors, to assess the consistency of judgements made and to check whether inspectors are conforming to Ofsted’s own advice”.

These attacks come after the damning Policy Exchange report last month, which highlighted a range of problems including a disturbing lack of data analysis skills within inspection teams and the unreliable nature of Ofsted’s lesson observation judgements. Most worryingly, it highlighted a huge lack of accountability among the 3,000 additional inspectors (employed by three regional contractors at a cost of £30 million a year to the taxpayer), meaning that we remain unaware of the level of training and previous experience that many of them have.

School leaders are also deeply concerned. During its conference last month, the Association of School and College Leaders highlighted the culture of fear around inspection and the football manager syndrome it is seeing, with increasing incidents of school leaders being forced out of their jobs because of poor Ofsted results.

All of this mounting pressure does seem to be forcing a reaction from Ofsted. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, wants to introduce lighter touch inspections for schools rated as good. He has also promising a “root and branch” review of outsourced inspection. And he has promised to ease the pressure on new leadership teams in schools judged as requiring improvement.

However, as Dr Bousted said to her members, while Ofsted may be attempting to emerge “phoenix-like from the ashes of its former self”, it really has had long enough to sort out its problems. We cannot trust that this time around it will get it right. We must keep up the pressure.


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