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Give us five years free from Ofsted, say heads

A heads’ union has called for schools to be given five years free from Ofsted inspections.

Delegates at the NAHT’s annual conference in Birmingham yesterday passed several motions criticising inconsistencies between inspection teams, including one which called for no inspections to be carried out during the life of the next parliament.

While admitting that the proposal for a break from ispections from 2015 to 2020 was a “pipe dream”, Alan Mottershead, head of Trinity School in Carlisle, said it would allow more funding to be invested in improving standards of education.

“Not cut, but redirected; made positive,” he told the conference, adding that schools would be able to devote more time to adjusting to changes to qualifications, curriculum and assessment made under the Coalition government.

“Schools gain because we lose the fear factor... We say we can do it without Ofsted. We want the chance to prove it.”

Miranda Gibbs, head of St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School in Droitwich, Worcestershire, described the stress of her most recent inspection.

“It was an invasion, it wasn’t an inspection,” she said. “I have been quivering at the thought of the phone ringing.”

Tim Glendinning, head of Beaconsfield Primary School in Penrith, supported the motion. “We need to have a period in which schools can embed changes, take risks and find solutions that will work for their communities.

But Gary Wilkie, head of Sheringham Primary School in Newham, London, spoke against the idea. “I don’t mind being held to account if the inspection system we have is the right one,” he said, adding: “Is actually saying, as an association, 'just go away Ofsted'... going to help us? That’s giving up. Let’s try and get an inspection [system] that works.”

The motion was supported by almost two-thirds of delegates.

Today, general secretary Russell Hobby (pictured) will argue that while the union supports the principle of inspection, the quality of many teams leaves much to be desired.

 “We actually believe in inspection,” he will say. “We believe that data is powerful but you must look behind the data to see what price is paid for the results.

“We worry about the quality of inspection teams; we worry that the stakes are so high that we no longer learn from inspection but fear, defend against it and forget it as rapidly as possible.

“Where inspectors lack recent and relevant experience in schools, the experience can be no better than paying someone to come and sit in your office and read aloud the results of a spreadsheet. Not good value for money.”

Another motion, overwhelmingly carried by delegates yesterday, called on the NAHT’s national executive to intensify the pressure on education secretary Michael Gove and chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw to “admit that poor Ofsted teams and poor inspectors do exist and that this demoralising and totally unacceptable performance must be tackled”.

In his speech today, Mr Hobby will also criticise the performance of some free schools, with one – believed to be Discovery New School in Crawley, which closed last month following damning criticism of teaching standards - coming in for particularly damning condemnation.

“Some people were given schools to run who should not have been allowed near them,” he will tell the conference. “I have spoken to schools who have taken in children after the collapse of one free school. They reported for one group that after one term of education they were precisely one term behind where they should have been. They had been taught nothing.”

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