'It is time for Ofsted to receive a complete overhaul'

TES Opinion

David Lowe, director of professional support for school staff and a former headteacher and national leader in education, writes:

Ofsted is inadequate

Ofsted’s mission statement is to raise standards and improve lives. If this is truly the case, it is difficult to reconcile that statement with the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) survey results, which show that UK students are falling behind global rivals in tests taken by 15-year-olds in maths, reading and science.

The release of the Pisa results, which purport to give a true reflection of current UK attainment, makes this a perfect time to question what impact and influence Ofsted has had on educational standards.

Poor quality of inspectors

For a long time, Ofsted teaching judgements have been based on a wide range of specific characteristics. Passive learning or teacher-led activities were heavily criticised – yet those judgements have now been reversed. Sir Michael Wilshaw recently stated that teachers should not be criticised if pupils are passive and learning is teacher-led. It has also been stated that individual lessons will not be graded.

However, it remains to be seen whether inspectors have actually read or understood Sir Michael’s messages. As a senior leader with over twenty years of senior leadership experience, I was involved in five inspections and the quality of the inspectors was alarming. Often their judgements on teaching were inaccurate and outdated. One experience that stuck with me was that of a young colleague, who was told by the inspector during a recent observation that the lesson would have been outstanding had her classroom been warmer.

Ofsted has admitted that most of the additional inspectors have teaching experience, but that some of them are not qualified teachers and some have no experience whatsoever of working with children. Those who are qualified only need to have completed five years of successful teaching. It further emerges that some headteachers who have been dismissed or resigned following a poor inspection are being hired as inspectors. It is frightening to be informed that Ofsted does not have any quality-control checks over inspectors.

Leadership requires improvement

There is a lack of leadership, demonstrated by Sir Michael’s recent attempts to try and clarify how teaching should be judged. If inspectors are failing to listen, then questions must be asked about his ability to articulate his vision.

Flawed data

Ofsted judgements are over-reliant on number crunching and using test data that are fundamentally unsound. Take the case of a secondary school whose main feeder school has inflated Key Stage 2 data. The effect of the flawed data can be devastating on the school’s progress measures. Consider also the different judgements that have been introduced over the years. Each change has had a massive impact on how a school is judged. As a result of the frequent changes to how Ofsted makes judgements, schools experience great difficulty in planning curriculum long-term and instead make decisions based on the whims of the Department for Education and Ofsted. Equally, schools with very similar data can be given very different judgements.

No future for Ofsted

Ofsted already relies too heavily on data and arrives at the school gates with a pre-judgement. With its current setup, Ofsted could quite easily inspect schools from a desktop. The way to raise standards would be to provide support to schools facing challenging circumstances. Support is the key to raising attainment, not punitive judgements, which can cause enormous damage to a school and its community.

In my view, Ofsted, in its current form, should be scrapped. It has done nothing to bring about improvement or to raise standards and the time is right for a complete overhaul.

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