Ofsted should be more supportive of schools and help them to improve rather than being “feared and mistrusted”, according to Labour’s shadow education secretary, Kate Green.
Ms Green has warned that a return of full Ofsted inspections in January could drive more teachers and school leaders out of the profession.
In an exclusive interview with Tes, she said the current system of online visits – in which inspectors are not coming to pass judgement on a school but are checking on how pupils are being supported during the pandemic – could be “a model” for the future.
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She said: “I would say that what Ofsted are doing now should be a real opportunity for them to think about their own practice.
Making Ofsted 'more supportive'
“Could they be more of a supportive improvement agency? If that’s what they’re doing this term to a degree – highlighting issues, helping schools to spotlight them, helping to suggest solutions and helping schools to learn from others to improve – isn’t that really a better model for the long-run for Ofsted? And that’s something I would invite Ofsted to think about.
“So far I don’t think they really see these visits as anything more than a stop-gap, and I think that’s a shame. I think it’s a lost opportunity.”
Ofsted has already said it is carefully considering what form its inspections will take when it does return to schools, while the DfE said earlier this month that the plan was for full inspections to resume from January, although this was being kept under review.
Ms Green added: “I don’t think we’ll be ready to go back to full old-style inspections in January, which is the current plan. I think that is a nonsense. I think these collaborative, supportive visits need to continue well into next term and quite possibly beyond – we’ll have to see how the pandemic and regional and local restrictions play out.
“Whilst schools are still coping with as much as they are now, I really think that a return to formal inspections is going to be counterproductive and contribute to driving more teachers and school leaders to think, 'Maybe it’s time I left this profession.'”
Ms Green, who has also suggested that GCSE and A-level grades could be set regionally this summer according to the different levels of Covid disruption in schools, also says that a vaccine would not instantly put an end to the effect of the pandemic on learning and wellbeing.
She said: “It does worry me very greatly that the long-term impact in schools on children’s learning and on children’s and teachers' wellbeing is not going to be over as soon as we’ve got a vaccine.
"And that’s why I think Ofsted should be thinking about how, when it does return into inspection mode, whether that inspection mode should look a bit different [with regards to] the high-stakes model, win or lose, that really drives schools to game the system and tick the boxes rather than to really make sure that they’re doing what they know to be in the best interests of their students’ learning.”
She added: “I still don’t think Ofsted has been able to address the fear and mistrust [of the watchdog] that exists in the teaching profession, and, to me, an inspector that is both feared and mistrusted and is driving schools to behave in a way that may not be in the best interests of their children’s learning isn’t doing its job.
“Heads are still extremely anxious about the next Ofsted visit.”
The DfE has been contacted for comment.
Ofsted has declined to comment.