It’s time to #PauseOfsted

Written by: Dr Mary Bousted | Published:
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary, National Education Union

Ofsted is unable to operate its new framework competently. Change is needed, which is why the #PauseOfsted campaign is timely and welcome, says Dr Mary Bousted

It is now abundantly clear that the new Ofsted Education Inspection Framework (EIF) is in trouble. Launched with such fanfare in September, the EIF has failed to be fairer to schools in deprived areas, who are still, despite Ofsted’s assurances that things would change, disproportionately likely to be given negative Ofsted judgements.

Teachers in primary schools, and heads of small departments in secondary schools, have told us that their already intensive and excessive workload has increased dramatically as they write intent, implementation and impact statements.

Mock “deep dives” into subject areas are creating huge stress in an already stressed out profession.

Even worse, the evidence is mounting that Ofsted is unable to operate this new framework competently. It was always obvious that a generalist inspectorate would have huge difficulty in coming to valid and reliable judgements about curriculum quality in subjects in which inspectors have neither a degree, nor any teaching experience.

The training provided for them by Ofsted focused on the general principles of curriculum design. It did nothing to prepare inspectors for coming to judgements about the quality of a school’s curriculum in discrete subject areas and age phases.

It is only now that Ofsted has stirred its stumps to appoint lead HMI for subjects and age phases. Subject guidance for inspectors is only in draft form in two subjects.

Ofsted would definitely have something to say if schools launched into a new initiative with this level of unpreparedness and ineptness. But Ofsted appears to believe that it is immune to criticism.

The problem for Ofsted is that, for once, its faults have been recognised and there has been a powerful reaction. Ofsted has been summoned to schools minister Nick Gibb’s office to try to avert all-out war with the CEOs of three powerful MATs – Outwood Grange, Harris and Inspiration Trust – who complain that inspectors do not have the capability to make the “fine grained” judgements on curriculum.

Tales of inspectors downgrading schools because pupils were not able to answer daft questions (such as the seven-year-old who was unable to point out Cambodia on a globe) are running rife on social media. The reputation of the inspectorate is badly dented.

And now the Headteachers’ Roundtable group has launched a campaign to #PauseOfsted by asking school leaders to stop working for Ofsted as inspectors.

Stephen Tierney, the chair of the Roundtable and a recently retired MAT CEO, puts the case powerfully: “Knowing the systemic disadvantages of schools serving poorer communities, are we doing good by inspecting and degrading other schools? Knowing the effects of high-stakes accountability on retention, especially in those same schools, are we actually doing harm? Knowing that for all its intent, the implementation and impact of the new framework are already perpetuating this inequality, are our actions just? And in the end, is it really the best way to improve school performance?” (Tierney, 2020)

These are important questions, which is why we have also advised our members not to work as inspectors.

Like the Headteachers’ Roundtable, we support an independent school inspectorate – but not the one we currently have, operating so destructively in our schools.

It is time for a rethink. It is time to #PauseOfsted and to consider properly and carefully just what system of school and college inspection is needed.

  • Dr Mary Bousted is joint general secretary of the National Education Union.

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