Data is not all

15th February 2008 at 00:00
Last week's paper provided two examples of Ofsted's refusal to recognise "significant improvement" unless demonstrated statistically ("Inspiring head quits after MP's onslaught" and, tellingly, an anonymous letter, TES, February 8). Both graphically illustrate the personal pain and anguish of the headteachers concerned.

Ofsted fails to recognise the nature of "improvement" - that it needs to be judged, not simply "measured", and that this judgement needs to involve the weighing up of a wide range of mostly qualitative, not quantitative factors. The current "featherweight" inspection regime leaves no room for considered judgements, reflecting the peculiarities of individual schools and their trajectories of improvement. In the press of a short inspection, numerical indicators too often replace, rather than inform, judgement.

With its insensitive reliance on statistical data, to the detriment of first-hand observation and judgement of quality, the current regime is bankrupt intellectually, but more important, morally. It needs root and branch reform. The professional associations and their members should refuse to co-operate with future "light touch" inspections and the preoccupation with contextual value-added data until a fundamental review is undertaken by a source independent of Ofsted itself.

Colin Richards, Professor of education and former HMI, Spark Bridge, Cumbria.

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