Heads’ leaders have given a guarded welcome to Ofsted’s decision to ban inspectors from carrying out mock inspections at schools while acting as consultants.
From September, the watchdog will prevent its inspectors from moonlighting in schools that wish to conduct a so-called “mocksted” inspection in a bid to prepare for a real visit from the inspectorate.
According to the Independent newspaper, the Department for Education will also look to clamp down on schools spending public funds on consultants who can charge up to £800 a day to carry out the fake inspections.
The decision to prevent Ofsted inspectors from carrying out freelance work in schools was given a muted welcome by headteachers and union leaders, but they cautioned against a wider ban on schools bringing in external experts for advice.
A number of companies offer schools the full Ofsted experience, including Weatheroak Inspections and Cambridge Education, which says it offers “Ofsted methodology” so schools “know what to expect” from the watchdog.
Rob Campbell, principal of Impington Village College in Cambridgeshire, told TES that schools should work only in the interests of their children, not Ofsted. But he added that external advice could be invaluable.
“I agree with Ofsted, schools should not do something because Ofsted expects you to. They should only do it because it matters to the children,” he said. “But getting an external view can be very healthy. If you pay someone £450 and they give a critical view of how your school works that can inform an improvement plan, then that can be cracking value for money.”
Mr Campbell added that the only reason schools were resorting to such measures was because of the high stakes involved and the pressures headteachers were under to perform well in Ofsted inspections.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of headteachers’ union the NAHT, agreed, adding that mock inspections increased the pressure on schools, which was “not healthy”.
“I have even heard of one school that tried to recreate the stress experienced during an Ofsted inspection. The idea of going through a full inspection is just a waste of energy, although I can see why some heads feel they need to do it because of the high stakes that are involved in school accountability,” Mr Hobby said.
“But I while I wouldn’t want schools to get to the situation where they feel they need to resort to mock inspections, I also would not want them to get to a point where you are not inviting people in either. That’s not helpful.”
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “If it’s about an external assessment of some aspects of the school’s work, it can be quite helpful. If it’s just duplicating the inspection process and adding to workload, it’s not.”
Ofsted said it had repeatedly told schools that it did "not expect, or want, schools to prepare for inspections".
A spokeswoman for the watchdog told the Independent: "Under the terms of their new engagement, Ofsted inspectors will not be allowed to carry out mock Ofsted inspections. Furthermore, we have been clear with our contracted Ofsted inspector workforce that they are not allowed to carry out mock Ofsted inspections.”