Could Ofsted become a saviour for the school system?

Does the schools inspectorate do more harm than good, asks Colin Harris. And, if so, isn't it time for a radical rethink of its role?

Colin Harris

Woman in work clothes doubling as superhero

So "outstanding" schools are to be inspected again. About time, I say. 

The whole idea of not inspecting them was a stupid idea in the first place. Schools are changing all the time; they are dynamic and change as staff change, as policies are implemented and as their pupils change. The idea that they stay "outstanding" for years and years is a total joke

If schools are to be subjected to Ofsted inspection, then all schools should receive the same treatment.

But there is a far more fundamental issue here: does Ofsted do more harm than good, and isn't it time for a radical rethink of its function?

Our school system is the most divisive it has ever been. Years of tinkering have led to far too many types of schools, run by far too many different groups, with insufficient funding, inspected by a group who thinks all schools are all the same. Let's be honest: no accountability system can do this.

Ofsted then inspects within a very narrow set of parameters, because basically that is all it can do. This leads to a formulaic vision of schools and the teaching going on in them. 

Because they fear the power of Ofsted, schools make the mistake of trying to second-guess what the inspectors will look for. This leads to schools planning for Ofsted rather than for the needs of their pupils. Schools therefore aim for data, data and more data. 

A saviour for schools

If we have to put up with a fragmented school system, then why not see Ofsted as the string to draw things together? 

Ofsted could and should instigate a debate about what we should inspect, when this should happen and what should happen afterwards. This should take the form of actually talking to teachers, governors, parents and pupils about how best to determine what a good school looks like, and how to judge it.

By focusing on maths and English, Ofsted has marginalised the rest of the curriculum. We all know Mr Gove is responsible for this, and that he has created cloned schools that are risk averse. 

But this can change. By talking, we can recognise that schools have a responsibility to meet all the needs of their community, and that this should be inspected.

Inspecting schools less regularly, in greater depth to get beneath the surface of schools, may be the answer, with no categorisation as the end result – just comment and advice and support if needed to move the school forwards. 

If this approach were adopted, then Ofsted could become a saviour for our education system. It’s a new school year, so let’s be positive – you never know what might happen.

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were 'outstanding' across all categories

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