Abolish 'crude' OFSTED

22nd September 1995 at 01:00
The Office for Standards in Education should be abolished because it operates a crude and ineffective inspection system that assumes teachers are "propelled by organisation charts and policy statements", according to two prominent educationists .

In a pamphlet published yesterday, Tim Brighouse, the chief education officer for Birmingham, and Ted Wragg, professor of education at Exeter University, fire off an arsenal of missiles at OFSTED and propose a five-point plan for "a new model of school inspection" which would be returned to the public sector and comprise 450 HMI, with all LEA inspectors seconded to the service for 20 per cent of their time. Primary and secondary heads should also be seconded to the inspection teams.

They argue that OFSTED inspections are a "one-off ordeal" divorced from advice and follow-up and therefore of little long-term use, and that inspectors concentrate on the structure and administration of the school rather than what goes on in class. The last point is crucial, they say, because criticisms of management and structure are too vague for individual teachers to take on board, so nothing changes.

"The assumption behind this approach is that teachers are propelled by organisation charts and policy statements. They are not. While these can be a useful framework for action, they are not a substitute for it."

OFSTED inspections also tend to assume that all schools are exactly the same, they argue, measuring schools against crude national norms that ignore those who work in difficult circumstances.

"It is as if an inspection of a hospital were to attach greatest importance to the discovery that death rates in the ward for the terminally ill are higher than those in the ward for patients with ingrowing toenails."

The pamphlet also berates inspectors for producing mechanical, formulaic reports, littered with nebulous comments like "satisfactory" and "sound". "Implicit within (the current framework) is the assumption that improvement is brought about by shaming teachers."

In addition, the emphasis on inspection as a profit-making business leads to "an undesirable confusion over the role of inspectors, so that, following complaints from schools, OFSTED had to issue an official warning to inspectors of the danger of misusing their position in order to seek work in a consultancy capacity."

Professors Brighouse and Wragg have both established reputations as outspoken critics of Conservative education policy.

Their five-point plan for a reformed inspection service would involve a switch of focus from administration to teaching (a point made, incidentally, by John Major in his Birmingham speech). They say inspectors should treat schools as unique establishments while bearing in mind certain "core factors" , and there should be more emphasis on self-evaluation and local expertise. The number of inspectors should be increased, while local authority inspectors should be seconded to HMI for 20 per cent of their time.

But Chris Woodhead, chief inspector of schools, said that many of the proposed reforms - in particular the focus on teaching quality and self-evaluation - had already been made as part of OFSTED's review, which will be launched next month.

A New Model of School Inspection by Ted Wragg and Tim Brighouse. Published by Exeter University School of Education. Pounds 2.50.

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