Call is made to axe inspection service providers and create a leaner Ofsted


Ofsted should axe all of its contracted inspection providers and move to a leaner, “quality assessment” model of school inspection, a headteachers’ leader has said.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), suggests that a new system in which Ofsted assessed schools’ own monitoring and evaluation would be more “effective and fit-for-purpose”.

Mr Lightman, who represents 18,000 school and college leaders, set out his views in an article responding directly to Ofsted’s director of schools, Mike Cladingbowl.

Writing in The Guardian last month, Mr Cladingbowl asked: “Is it possible to reduce the high-stakes nature of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ inspection regime – and the unintended consequences that sometimes flow from it – while retaining the rigour and commitment to high standards that has been the Ofsted hallmark? 

“How can we deter schools from doing endless ‘mocksteds’, imitating imperfectly what really happens on inspection?”

He ended his article by calling for the “views and reactions” of the profession as Ofsted considers “the options for reform over the weeks ahead”.

In his response, which has been published on the ASCL website, Mr Lightman stressed that the quality of inspector training, especially by inspection service providers, is “not up to standard” and that there remained “a culture of fear” around inspection which hampers innovation. 

He says it is time to “rethink what inspection is for and how it is conducted”.

He writes: “The role of the HMI could move from one of quality control, to that of quality assurance of a school’s own self-evaluation processes and whether it has the capacity to improve. HMIs would contact every school on a regular cycle or when a cause for concern is identified. 

“The HMI could then either ‘sign the school off’ or decide that a more in-depth inspection is required, led by the HMI. This would reduce the unhealthy extent to which the threat of inspection dominates many school leaders’ work and makes teachers afraid to try new approaches in case they do not meet with ‘Ofsted approval’.”

Mr Lightman also says that inspection service providers should be axed in favour of teams made up of serving and recently retired heads working directly with HMIs.

He writes: “Ofsted should be a lean organisation. Currently it relies heavily on three inspection service providers, contracted to hire and train inspectors and carry out inspections. When the current contracts come to an end, Ofsted should not engage in further procurement of inspection service providers. 

“The inspection workforce should instead involve serving or recently retired school leaders who work directly for Ofsted and who receive the calibre of training needed to create a cadre of skilled and knowledgeable inspection teams, led by HMIs.”

ASCL says Mr Lightman’s article will “inform” more detailed proposals which are to be released at its annual conference next week. 

To read Mr Lightman’s article in full, visit

For Mr Cladingbowl’s initial article, visit



Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up SecEd Bulletin