Ofsted should be scrapped and replaced with an inspectorate “that empowers, rather than punishes, bullies and publicly humiliates” according to a hard-hitting open letter criticising its inspections of Steiner schools.
The letter, whose signatories include the former schools commissioner for London Tim Brighouse and former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, accuses Ofsted of being inconsistent, unreliable and having a profoundly negative effect on teaching.
It describes Ofsted’s negative inspection judgements on Steiner schools as being just the “latest example of a long, well-documented history of Ofsted’s traumatising the schooling system.”
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However, Ofsted responded saying it has a duty to report on schools as it finds. It said that in the worst cases inspectors "witnessed inappropriate physical handling of children" and a failure to refer pupils who were at risk of harm.
Earlier this year, chief inspector Amanda Spielman called on Damian Hinds to close down all "inadequate" Steiner schools that fail to show rapid improvement, after Ofsted found widespread failings during a special inspection of a group of schools.
The inspectorate warned that a batch inspection of Stenier schools found a number of areas of common weakness that mean many children are inadequately safeguarded and are receiving a poor quality of education.
Ms Spielman wrote to the education secretary suggesting he review the principles behind Steiner schools.
Ofsted’s stance has now been criticised in an open letter to Ms Spielman, which claims that Steiner schools have a fundamentally different ethos and pedagogy “which Ofsted’s managerialist bean-counter approach is distinctly ill-equipped to comprehend, let alone assess in an informed way”.
It adds: “There are several Steiner schools where the level of parental satisfaction with their school is measured at approaching an extraordinary 100 per cent, and yet which Ofsted has deemed to be 'Inadequate'.
"In this age of parental rights and empowerment, in what conceivable circumstances can an organisation claim to know better than the parents what is fitting for those parents and children, when those parents deliberately choose to send their children to these schools based on a fully informed support for the Steiner ethos and pedagogy, and their children are extremely happy in those schools.”
An Ofsted spokesperson said: "Ofsted has a duty to report as we find and we inspect all schools on their individual merits. We have recently judged some Steiner schools to be good, but at a number of schools we found that the leadership was not fit for purpose and staff were not addressing risks to pupils’ welfare.
"In the worst cases, inspectors witnessed inappropriate physical handling of children and a failure to make appropriate referrals to the local authority when pupils were clearly at risk of harm. In short, the findings of our inspections of these schools are well founded and fair, and we stand by our judgements.”
Although the letter is mainly focused on Ofsted’s inspections of Steiner schools it raises broader concerns about the way Ofsted operates.
It adds: "For approaching three decades, the professional identity and autonomy of teachers have been under concerted assault from Ofsted and the noxious 'audit and accountability culture' – with the impact on the morale and mental health of teachers and children alike widely regarded to have been catastrophic.”
The signatories also criticise Ofsted for retaining the inspection grades of schools in its new inspection framework which starts in September.
The letter adds: “Ofsted demonstrably represents a failing model. Not least, international data shows that neither the inspection regimes nor its various framework changes have had any discernible effect on progress, achievements or standards in England’s schools."
It also accuses the inspectorate of creating a national mood of stress and fear. “A whole host of European countries come above the UK in the PISA ratings – and many of these countries have little or even no inspection framework at all," the letter says.
The signatories have called for a root-and-branch transformation of the whole approach to inspection, evaluation and judgement.