Is Ofsted value for money?

Written by: Kevin Courtney | Published:
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary, National Education Union

Kevin Courtney says that many teachers believe Ofsted is not fit-for-purpose – a punitive system which does not help schools to improve...

The National Audit Office (NAO) is carrying out a study into whether Ofsted’s approach to inspecting schools is providing value for money. The NAO will be considering if Ofsted inspects schools in an efficient and effective way and if its inspections are having a positive impact.

As part of its 2015 report entitled Exam Factories, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) highlighted that the accountability measure arousing the greatest concern among school leaders and teachers was Ofsted.

The Ofsted problem is still with us. When the National Education Union asked its members for their thoughts about the NAO enquiry, it was plain to see that teachers continue to believe that Ofsted is not fit-for-purpose.

Rather than contributing to school improvement, it frequently has an opposite effect. Ofsted can’t possibly be value for money, as it is not achieving what it is expected to do.

What stands out for teachers is that inspections are a damaging combination of the superficial and the punitive, which does not add value to the work of a school.

The inspections themselves can’t and don’t take into account everything about a school: “They come in for a day or two,” said one member, “they don’t get a real perception of the school.”

Another member noted that the report produced after an inspection “does not reflect the non-academic learning that takes place”. This is partly because the inspection process is steered by results and data – Ofsted “seems to already have an opinion when they come in – often data-driven and not a holistic approach”.

Another member said that inspection “doesn’t relate to pastoral success; (it is) just about results”.

Inspections in their current form can’t provide the full picture of a school and so an over-reliance on data, often without any regard to context, is used in order to determine success.

This is not conducive to genuine school improvement. Grading or judgement of a school is not an effective way to help it improve – you can’t make someone jump higher simply by measuring their latest jump.

“Inspection is currently a hugely punitive event,” commented another teacher, whereas in a different world, “it would offer schools the opportunity to be praised for what they do well and support and advice where needed”. We need “a system that helps us improve our schools ... not a judgemental inspection”.

These opinions are strongly linked to the ill-feeling that Ofsted creates in schools. Members graphically depicted the stress created by the threat of Ofsted, and the sense of anti-climax that often follow their judgements: Ofsted is seen to offer “vilification and punishment” rather than focusing on “support and improvement”.

Punitive grading and merely pointing out areas for improvement do not in themselves support schools to address the problems they may face.

Members also had mixed views on the consistency of inspections, the experience and expertise of inspectors, and the potential systems which could replace or improve the current accountability regime. However, three things were abundantly clear – inspection is currently too high-stakes and causes great levels of unnecessary stress, Ofsted does not have a positive effect (it is seen as the stick rather than the carrot), and Ofsted is not fit-for-purpose (it does not help to raise standards or support schools on a journey of improvement).

The National Education Union has relayed the views of its members to the NAO in order to help them collect evidence for their study.

We will continue to call for reformation of the school accountability system towards one based on peer-review, genuine contextualised evidence, and support.

  • Kevin Courtney is joint general secretary of the National Education Union. Visit


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