Ofsted failings over backgrounds of inspectors

22nd March 2013 at 00:00
Watchdog under fire for failing to publish key information

InspectorsOfsted has been accused of failing to fulfil its promise to be "open and transparent" about the backgrounds of its inspectors, prompting concern from heads that schools are being given the wrong ratings by inexperienced staff.

In an embarrassing series of revelations last year, Ofsted was forced to admit that it did not hold simple information about its inspectors' teaching experience. One of the private firms it uses admitted that some of its inspectors did not hold even basic teaching qualifications.

The watchdog said it would rectify the situation by publishing "pen portraits" on its website, but these have come under fire from heads for lacking key information. They do not include the names of schools where inspectors worked, the judgements they received and when they last taught in the classroom.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the information failed to reassure schools that they were being judged by qualified inspectors. "The key issue is for all inspectors to have credibility, but the quality of these teams is very variable," he said. "This could lead to schools receiving the wrong inspection grades."

Mr Lightman's comments follow criticism of inspectors from education secretary Michael Gove, who told the ASCL's annual conference last week that "some of those who carry out inspections for Ofsted need to raise their game". Conference delegates also heard a plea from chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw for more serving heads to sign up to work for the inspectorate.

Stephen Ball, headteacher of the New Charter Academy in Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, who first demanded more transparency about the backgrounds of inspectors, said the information released did not go far enough.

"Ofsted has long been reluctant to acknowledge in public an inconvenient truth: it has too few inspectors with the credibility that comes from having successfully led our largest and most challenging secondary schools," Mr Ball said.

The pen portraits sounded like "celebrity snapshots in a theatre programme", which "conceal as much as they reveal", Mr Ball added. "This may be something of a step in the right direction, but it is a faltering and unconvincing one."

Last April, TES revealed how Mr Ball's request for information about Her Majesty's Inspectors - those directly employed by Ofsted - had forced the watchdog to admit that it did not know how many had led an outstanding school, or whether they had worked in primaries or secondaries.

Three months later, Tribal, one of the main firms that carries out inspections for Ofsted, admitted it was employing at least five lead inspectors who did not have qualified teacher status.

Sir Michael told ASCL delegates last week that 51 per cent of inspection teams now included a serving school leader, but said he wanted that to increase.

"It is a chance for you, not only to do something about performance in schools but a chance to sort out the problems in vocational education, learning and skills," he told heads. "I ask you to think about this opportunity very seriously. Ofsted needs you. Your country needs you."

Sir Michael also insisted that inspectors did not want to see "frenetic activity designed to impress but without purpose, meaning and relevance". It was, he added, "deeply irritating for inspectors, who really don't appreciate the proverbial wool being pulled over their eyes".

But Mr Lightman called on the chief inspector to do more to recognise the work being done in challenging schools, rather than creating a "culture of fear, high blood pressure and lost sleep as people await the dreaded phone call".

The performance of the inspectorate is set to come under even closer scrutiny at the annual conferences of the teaching unions, which begin with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) next week. Teachers are expected to continue demands for greater transparency.

A motion to be debated at the NASUWT conference criticises the "increasingly politicised, punitive and irrational approach employed by Ofsted. and their inspectors". ATL members will also debate a motion of no confidence in the chief inspector and the secretary of state.

An Ofsted spokeswoman said there had been a "significant reduction" in requests for information about its inspectors since the pen portraits had been published.

"We believe the majority of people are satisfied with the level of information contained in these pen portraits," she added.

Head hunt

  • 51% of school inspection teams include a serving school leader.
  • 9% of inspections between October and December 2012 resulted in an `outstanding' grade.
  • 55% resulted in a `good' grade.
  • 31% resulted in `requires improvement'.
  • 6% resulted in `inadequate'.
    • Original headline: `Portraits' of inspectors paper over the cracks at Ofsted, heads warn

      Photo credit: Alamy

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