The Big Question: What do inspections really tell you?

Each week, we speak to the people who count, people like you, and post their opinions on the big issues in the education world.  Read it and comment to make it a lively and insightful debate.

This week’s question:  What do inspections tell you?

Today’s school inspections are of little value, says Civitas, an independent think-thank in a new report.

The report  summary states that there is an over reliance on exam and test results when judging school quality. Additionally, inspectors lack time, training and manpower to get the job done properly. These problems are associated with introduction of the new, shorter Section 5 inspections launched in 2005.

Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, says that it does not rely solely on exam results but takes into account children’s progress, background, school’s self-evaluation and direct observation. It then makes over 30 judgements covering a range of areas, only one of which relates to test results.

However, Warwick Mansell, TES reporter found that there was a striking correlation between an inspector’s overall judgement on school quality and the judgement of ‘achievement and standards’, which is based on pupils’ test scores. 

Furthermore, an earlier study found that inspection was not seen as a major contributor to the improvement of schools in its own right.  It simply confirmed what headteachers already knew about their schools, although the majority felt ‘quite satisfied’ with the inspection process.

Ofsted states that it inspects  schools in order to keep parents informed about standards and to help improve services. It says that independent surveys show overwhelming support for inspections from both parents and headteachers.

What do inspections tell you?

Here are some thoughts from the school community:

“Inspections shouldn’t tell you anything unexpected.  Most things are written in black and white: exam and test results, pupils’ progress, and the school’s self-evaluation.  On top of this, subject teachers, and support staff know how their pupils are doing, and the leadership team is certain of what it has put into the school.

“However, direct observation is where the real work and life of a school takes place.  But how real is the view the inspectors get when they dip in and out of meticulously drafted lessons?  And how much do these observations count towards the overall rather paper-laden picture?

“I’m all for the shorter version of Ofsted, particularly when I recall the sometimes nausea-inducing hype in my previous school in the month before the inspection. But how valuable is it to put an immense stress on everybody and the leadership team especially, only to state the obvious? I have no solution - but there should be other ways.”
Ute Bretschneider, secondary school teacher, in Watford

“I think most teachers pay little attention to inspection findings.  Inspectors have pretty well made up their minds before they step into the building, particularly if you work in a socially-deprived area.  Annoyingly, there is overuse of catchphrases such as boys under achieving in writing, and this is not always the case at all.  

“What about the work teachers do to develop the whole child? There can be so many  extra-curricular activities going on in schools involving arts and sport and this is rarely given the attention it deserves.”
Philip Johnson, primary school teacher, in Staffordshire

“I believe in school accountability, and inspection is an excellent way to facilitate this. 

“Teaching is a middle class profession, and the middle classes don’t like to hold themselves accountable to anyone, let alone the school inspectorate!  

“Having said that, the inspection process does need to revamped to make it more productive so that it doesn’t just state the obvious, but is actually contributing to school improvement.”
Lana Davies, parent to Sian aged seven years, from Reading, in Berkshire