Ofsted requires improvement

Ofsted requires improvement

Ofsted has announced changes to the inspection process for schools in England. Pressure has been mounting on England’s schools inspectorate since the suicide of a headteacher in January this year following an ‘inadequate’ judgement arising from safeguarding concerns. Her school had previously been rated as outstanding. The leader of the school leaders’ union NAHT described the changes as a “relatively modest set of measures” and bemoaned the “lack of urgency and ambition”. Meanwhile, the House of Commons Education Select Committee has announced an inquiry into school inspections. Scrutiny of Ofsted, then, is set to continue. Many people are, it should be noted, still broadly supportive of Ofsted, though some – perhaps most – of them will surely admit that it requires improvement. Others have concluded that it is no longer fit for purpose and, to use another word, inadequate.

Ofsted has announced the following changes to the inspection process:

  • Schools will continue to be automatically graded as inadequate if inspectors have safeguarding concerns but Ofsted will revisit these schools within three months, giving them a chance to be regraded if they have addressed concerns
  • Schools will be given more detail of what exactly is expected in measures to keep children safe
  • When discussing areas of weakness, inspection reports will reference the school rather than individual staff members
  • Schools will be given more information around the timing of their inspections (though the system of less than a day’s notice before inspectors turn up remains)
  • The complaints system will be modified so that complaints can be escalated to an independent adjudicator at an earlier stage when schools are unhappy with an inspection

Particular attention has been focused on the issue of the one-word ratings system. Ofsted has said that something that is such a fundamental part of the schools accountability system is down to government rather than Ofsted to change. But Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, also said this:

We could write a sentence that captured all the things that typically are reflected in an inadequate judgement and use that. But the feedback when we talk to people is they know that if the consequences are the same, if the significance of it is the same, it would come to mean exactly the same very quickly.

Amanda Spielman, chief inspector of Ofsted, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, said that while the government “insists on consigning schools to simplistic single-word judgements, the system will remain fundamentally flawed and put unnecessary pressure on school leaders”.

Michael Bassey, an emeritus professor of education, wrote this in a letter published in the Guardian:

Ofsted should go. The government should disband it and redistribute funds on inspector/adviser teams in local authorities. Schools aren’t factories and don’t need tick-box inspections; they need dialogue with experienced fellow professionals. That can come from local authority advisers who understand local problems and from colleagues in neighbouring schools on the basis of self-evaluation.

Schools improve from the inside through staff collegial discussions, parents’ input, community support, local governors and fellow educators, not from the outside by fear of in-and-out visits by Ofsted.

Amanda Spielman’s argument that “if the consequences are the same, if the significance of it is the same, it would come to mean exactly the same very quickly” is a reasonable one. When she refers to ‘consequences’ and ‘significance’, she is alluding to the high-stakes nature of the current system. A bad inspection can finish careers and end up with a school effectively closing.

We have argued against such high-stakes accountability. It results in skewed priorities as schools inevitably focus their attention on quantifiable outcomes (exam results above all), and it damages children’s lives because they do not get the enriching educational experience they need and deserve.

In our blog Alternatives to Ofsted we discussed various ideas around how quality assurance of schools’ work might be done differently

Some sort of collaborative system, then, that helps schools to improve and grow. A healthy combination of robust self-evaluation and let’s call them ‘challenge partners’ who work closely with individual schools, taking time to find out about the context in which the school operates and really uncovering the work the school does. And, as others have said, little but often, removing the fear factor so that quality assurance becomes something to be valued rather than dreaded.

from our blog Alternatives to Ofsted (link below)

We also called for a rethink of what we are trying to measure and how to effectively evaluate the things that really matter.

“Underlying all of this,” we wrote, “is the question of what the purpose of education is and, more specifically, what sort of education system we want for our children and young people in the years and decades to come.”

The image of Amanda Spielman at the head of this article is from the gov.uk website.

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