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Calls to Reform Ofsted Inspections Grow as Two New Reports Launched

education

Two reports have been unveiled deeply criticising Ofsted school inspections. Firstly, a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) thinktank said an “over-reliance on punitive control” was driving teachers out of the profession and distracting schools from making real improvements. Secondly, a separate report, compiled by the Beyond Ofsted inquiry and chaired by the former schools minister Jim Knight, labels Ofsted as “toxic” and calls for it to be removed from direct contact with schools, with inspection reports instead produced by external “improvement partners” such as serving headteachers.

Ofsted inspections

Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, inspects and reports on anywhere that provides education for young people in England – including schools, nurseries and childminders. Criticism of Ofsted’s inspection format has grown this year following the death of Ruth Perry, a primary school headteacher in Reading, which Perry’s family has said was suicide related to an inspection that downgraded the school from outstanding to inadequate.

The IPPR report

The IPPR argues that Ofsted is contributing to a “football manager culture” of firing headteachers to improve results and needs to be overhauled to help schools improve. The thinktank also calls for Ofsted’s single-phrase judgments to be scrapped and replaced by reports tailored more towards parents and pupils. “Overly simplistic inspection judgments – outstanding, good, requires improvement or inadequate – often trigger abrupt changes to management, fuelling a ‘football manager culture’,” it said.

Moreover, the report contends that school inspections have been dominated by policies known as “new public management”, which try to replicate market forces through the use of league tables, targets and incentives. The inquiry, which was supported by the National Education Union (NEU), wants safeguarding audits to be taken over from Ofsted by a new national safeguarding body.

Efua Poku-Amanfo, a research fellow at IPPR, said: “The status quo isn’t working. Tactics like league tables and targets have run out of road, we need a new approach to helping schools improve. We propose a new system which empowers schools and teachers to innovate, utilising their experience and expertise.”

Under this system, Ofsted would recommend on the intervention required for schools needing improvement, including the provision of external support or immediate action such as the replacement of a school’s governing body. Ofsted’s inspection reports would also be split into two parts: a narrative version for parents and a technical improvement report aimed at school leaders and regulators.

The Beyond Ofsted Inquiry

Meanwhile, the Beyond Ofsted inquiry argues that Ofsted inspectors should not be in classrooms and that the whole system needs a big change. Chaired by former schools minister Lord Jim Knight and funded by the National Education Union, the inquiry calls for a “transformational” alteration to school inspections. The report recommended that schools should instead be responsible for their own improvement plans. The report also describes Ofsted as “toxic” and “not fit for purpose”.

Carried out by academics from University College London, the inquiry considered a range of options for reform based on a survey, focus groups, international comparisons and research material. It said parents would receive “more readable and useful information on areas of a school’s performance and practice, in the form of a narrative rather than a single-word judgement,” while Ofsted’s role would be confined to inspecting the effectiveness of academy trusts or local authorities in improving the schools they managed.

“The evidence is clear. Ofsted has lost the trust of the teaching profession, and increasingly of parents. There is now an opportunity for transformational change,” Knight said. “There is good evidence that a long-term relationship with an external partner of improvement builds trust and drives improvement. It allows that person to get to know the school’s unique context and advise accordingly.”

Responses

A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said the current system was important for maintaining high school standards, with 89% now rated good or outstanding. Ofsted has a “crucial role” in reassuring parents that pupils are receiving a high-quality education and being kept safe, they added.

A spokesperson for Ofsted said “nine out of 10” schools say inspections help them improve. “We always want inspections to be a constructive experience for school staff,” they said. “Our inspectors are all former or current school leaders and well understand the nature and pressures of the work. Children only get one chance at education, and inspection helps make sure that education standards are high for all children,” a spokesperson said.

Curia’s Levelling Up Commission

The Levelling Up Commission intends to consider ways to implement the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper and subsequent Bill from the perspective of local and regional government. Too often the Levelling Up agenda is something being done ‘to and for’ local and regional government, the Commission intends to make sure it is done ‘with and by’ them.

Through roundtable meetings with MPs and senior leaders of local and regional government from across the UK, quantitative data analysis and regional sprints, the Commission intends to set out a series of recommendations to consider how regional inequalities can be reduced from the perspective of public services in four key areas:

  • Health and Social Care
  • Housing and Homelessness
  • Education, Skills and Training
  • Crime, Justice and Rehabilitation

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