Skip to main content


article icon

Ofsted's approach 'is not backed by research'

news | Published in TES magazine on 13 September, 2013 | By: William Stewart

Costly schemes such as Teach First introduced without proper evidence, academic warns

Hundreds of millions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money are being spent on flagship education programmes without evidence that they actually work, academics have warned.

The approach of England’s schools inspectorate, Ofsted, to school improvement is not supported by research, and the Teach First scheme has been funded despite an “outrageous” lack of evidence as to whether it is effective, it has been claimed. Serious concern has also been raised about insufficient research into the effectiveness of academies.

Professor Robert Coe, whose work on school standards has been cited by education secretary Michael Gove, told a major conference on research in education that practice in schools needed to be more closely linked to academic analysis. Ofsted, he said, was “part of the problem”. “It is not research based or evidence based,” the director of Durham University’s Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring said.

According to Professor Coe, there is no proof that the watchdog’s inspections and lesson observations lead to “valid” judgements. “What is the evidence about people making those kinds of judgements? Do we know that inspection creates benefits to the system?” he said. “Some studies suggested that, actually, schools take a long time to recover from inspections and they don’t do any good, and yet we are spending I don’t know how many millions on Ofsted … and the whole point of it is to raise standards. So let’s see some evidence.”

In a TES interview, Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw described the claims as “tosh and nonsense”. He said new figures released this week, showing a 9 percentage point rise in the proportion of schools judged to be good or outstanding (see panel, page 9), proved that the watchdog’s tougher inspection regime had “galvanised the system”.

But speaking at the ResearchED conference in London last weekend, Professor Coe questioned the basis of the watchdog’s verdicts and said it needed to demonstrate that its lesson observations were valid. Classroom observation in general was the “next Brain Gym” because there was no scientific evidence to show that it led to better learning, he said.

But Sir Michael said: “I don’t know of any headteacher who doesn’t believe that classroom observation isn’t anything other than a help. The fact that we are an inspectorate and we do make judgements has made a huge amount of difference.”

Speaking at the same conference, Dr Rebecca Allen, from the University of London’s Institute of Education, said that Teach First had been fully funded (under the previous Labour government) without a proper evaluation of its benefits.

It had been introduced in schools that were the subject of other initiatives, making it hard to establish which scheme was responsible for any improvements. She said there should have been a randomised control trial to allow better assessment of the scheme. “Given that Teach First received a load of government money, I think that they should have been required to do it,” she said.

Dr Allen has recently published a paper suggesting that Teach First improves results in participating schools. But the lack of a random trial meant that the study could not be perfect, she said. More work was also needed to see whether the “relatively expensive” teacher training programme represented value for money.

She added that there had been no research on which students within the schools were benefiting from the scheme. “Given how much money has been spent on Teach First, I think it is rather outrageous that we don’t know the answer to this question.”

Meanwhile, a former policy adviser to Mr Gove decried the dearth of UK research into the effectiveness of the academies programme. Sam Freedman said that there had been only two studies, both from the same source, into the effectiveness of the state-funded, independent schools despite the policy being at least a decade old. Instead he had to draw on around 200 studies on US charter schools, he said.

Mr Freedman told the conference that it was “quite hard” for governments to research policies before implementation. “By the time the two years (to complete a study) are up, you are not going to be there,” he said.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Our major reforms, which are improving the lives of children and young people, are underpinned by a substantial programme of research and evaluation.” The government was also working with teachers on how to make education more evidence based, and was monitoring the impact of academies, she added.

Read the Sir Michael Wilshaw interview at

Good and bad

  • 78 per cent of all schools inspected by Ofsted are currently judged to be good or outstanding.
  • The figure is up 9 percentage points from the same time last year, which Ofsted says represents the fastest rate of improvement in its 21-year history.
  • The number of schools in special measures increased by 10 to 449 between April and June this year, but the number with serious weaknesses fell by 70 to 128 schools.

Subscribe to the magazine

as yet unrated

Comment (9)

  • If Wilshaw's response to the claim that Ofsted judgements aren't externally-verifiable is to cite numbers of Ofsted judgements, this shows a worrying lack of understanding of what constitutes evidence and logic. This is completely circular.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    13 September, 2013

    Asher Jacobsberg

  • Here is the film of Professor Coe's presentation >

    there are 4 parts to the 40 minute speech. The link to his powerpoint slides is in the YouTube description.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    13 September, 2013


  • It will be fun when all the children in 'good' or 'outstanding' schools hit Gove's (newly restricted) GCSE and A-Level grades raffle.

    What price a 'good' or 'outstanding' education when there aren't enough 'good' or 'outstanding' grades to go round?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    18 September, 2013


  • Just Visit for Best info:

    Packers and Movers in Hyderabad @

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    25 February, 2015


  • Just Visit for Best info of Packers and Movers:
    Packers and Movers in Mumbai @

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    25 February, 2015


  • If you are looking Best Packers and Movers so Visit at :
    Packers and Movers in Pune @

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    25 February, 2015


  • Fast service Packers and Movers : -
    Packers and Movers Mumbai @
    Packers and Movers Hyderabad @

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    25 February, 2015


  • Professional Packers and Movers : -
    Packers and Movers Pune @
    Packers and Movers Bangalore @

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    25 February, 2015


  • Are you looking for Best Packers and Movers so Visit at :
    Packers and Movers Chennai @
    Packers and Movers Delhi @
    Packers and Movers Gurgaon @

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    25 February, 2015


Add your comment

Subscribe to TES magazine
Join TES for free now

Join TES for free now

Four great reasons to join today...

1. Be part of the largest network of teachers in the world – over 2m members
2. Download over 600,000 free teaching resources
3. Get a personalized email of the most relevant resources for you delivered to your inbox.
4. Find out first about the latest jobs in education