An end to overall school grades, politically driven inspection criteria and the over-reliance on data are among the central tenets of a new-look inspection system being proposed by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).
In its proposals, published this week, the union has attacked the current Ofsted inspection regime as “ineffective” and claims that it puts children’s education “at risk” because of the impact it has on teachers and schools.
The 16-page document, entitled A New Vision for Inspection in Education, argues that the £142 million a year spent on Ofsted could be better invested and calls for a radical overhaul of how inspection operates.
It claims that Ofsted has failed to address “long-standing problems of quality assurance”, despite its planned move away from out-sourcing inspection to third party companies.
It also says that the way Ofsted gradings are reached, based on a large number of smaller judgements, means that “statistical reliability and validity is impossible”.
The union says that schools and teachers also struggle to “keep pace” with the constant change to the Ofsted inspection framework.
The document states: “Change in inspection frameworks is rarely based upon external research evidence and regularly appears faddish or subject to party political whim.”
It adds: “Ofsted has produced a compliance culture: school leaders seek to provide what they think inspectors will want rather than what they think is good for pupils and learning. At the same time teachers comply with instructions from leadership and too often do not feel suitably empowered to exercise their own professional judgement.”
Last month, Ofsted set out proposals to reform its inspection regime, announcing more frequent but shorter inspections of “good” schools and a common inspection framework for all education institutions. It also plans changes to the way it contracts with, trains and manages its inspectors.
However, ATL believes the reforms will not tackle the problems its document raises.
In fact, the union argues that Ofsted inspection is putting children’s education “at risk”, not least because of the “extensive and unnecessary” workload implications for teachers, which detract from time spent planning and teaching lessons, it says.
Furthermore, it claims that Ofsted inspections “over-simplify the nature of teaching practice” and “limits innovation and professional agency” among teachers.
It also quotes ATL’s own surveys showing that four in 10 of its members have noticed a rise in mental health problems among colleagues, with six in 10 blaming inspection pressures for this.
The document also claims that sometimes an Ofsted grade can cause a spiral of decline in a school: “The difference of one grade in an Ofsted inspection can precipitate much greater decline in education quality as it can lead to teachers leaving to seek work in more supportive, less pressured environments.”
ATL’s inspection proposals
As the general election approaches, ATL’s publication sets out an alternative approach to inspection in which “local inspection and improvement partnerships” work in collaboration with schools and are quality-assured by a national agency staffed by HMIs, who could intervene if necessary or requested.
Each inspection team would be selected based on “key issues identified in a pre-inspection evaluation” and every inspector would have “recent and relevant experience of the area they are inspecting”.
The document outlines what ATL sees as the five “underpinning principles” for a more effective system of inspection:
An end to centrally determined criteria defining high-quality education chosen because they are easy to measure, politically favoured or for “short-term media appeasement.
Inspection that is “supportive not adversarial, advisory not dictatorial, empowering not punitive”.
Self-assessment and professional dialogue would be central, with data “used to guide, not decide”.
A continual relationship between inspection teams and schools meaning that inspectors would not always look at all provision on each visit.
Full summative inspections taking place only occasionally, triggered by “local stakeholder request”, including by the local inspection and improvement partnership itself.
The document adds: “ATL proposes a model built upon local systems of inspection and improvement with collaboration driving the spread of good practice (and) led by partnerships of professionals, with a newly defined role for a national agency to provide quality-assurance.”
Elsewhere, the proposals call for an end to the single overall grade for each school, which it says “disguises the fact not all provision in a school is at the same level”.
It continues: “Following the inspection, two documents would be produced by the inspection team. A short document equivalent to an executive summary and a full report for use by the school and inspection team to monitor progress against the agreed action plan.”
The proposal also outlines how parents and the community could “request an inspection or review of arrangements”, with the local authority acting as the contact point for these requests,
It adds: “Appropriate weight would be applied by this middle tier to isolated complaints about schools and unsubstantiated complaints would not form a part of the inspection and improvement process. The collection and collation of stakeholder perceptions must ensure they are representative and verifiable as well as allowing for confidential comment.”
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, said: “We propose an inspection system that is tailored to school improvement, proportionate in its impact and works with, not against, the teaching profession.
“We do not shy away from the fact these proposals call for a significant change in culture. The time is right, now, to seriously consider the fundamental reform of school inspection. It is too important to be left unreformed and unsuited to its primary purpose – raising further the standards of education in all our schools.
"Many agree that it is time to redesign school inspection. We have provided a model that can answer the many criticisms made of current Ofsted inspections and satisfy the demand for effective accountability with an emphasis on professional agency. Most importantly, children and young people will benefit from schools’ active involvement in improving teaching and learning.” Further informationA New Vision for Inspection in Education can be downloaded at www.atl.org.uk/visionforinspection Photo: iStock