Is Ofsted fit for purpose?

13th July 2007 at 01:00
MPs label it a vast bureaucracy whose eleaders may not have grasped its complexity

OFSTED HAS turned into an unwieldy bureaucracy that is in danger of becoming overstretched, says a report by the House of Commons' education committee.

MPs cast doubt on the ability of the organisation to juggle its wide range of responsibilities.

The schools' watchdog began inspecting a number of other services in April, including secure training units, fostering agencies and the registration of children's homes.

"We are concerned at the increasing complexity of this large bureaucracy and the ability of its new non-executive board to rapidly grasp this complexity," the committee report said. "We cannot disguise our concern as to the fitness for purpose of the organisation at the present moment."

In addition, the committee cast doubt on the light-touch inspections that were introduced in September 2005 and which involve shorter visits and less lesson observation. While noting that the inspections have been welcomed by schools, the committee was unsure they were sufficient to identify falling standards or coasting schools.

"We recommend light touch inspections are properly evaluated after two years, as we are not fully convinced of their effectiveness," the report said.

The committee also urged Ofsted to ensure that self-evaluations are of a high enough quality. In her first annual report last year, Christine Gilbert, the head of Ofsted, said that a rating of satisfactory was not good enough for schools.

The committee took issue with this, saying that to suggest that satisfactory is a failure is unhelpful. The report said: "Care needs to be taken that the discussion on the quality of provision is constructive rather than accusatory."

Ofsted was also criticised for not giving enough advice to schools on ways to improve. This is a particular weakness where a cluster of local schools suffer from long-term underperformance, the committee said.

In addition, the inspection regime is encouraging schools to focus too much on core subjects as a way to improve their Ofsted ratings.

And a survey of Ofsted staff last year revealed that almost a quarter said they had been bullied at work. The committee said they had not been reassured by comments made by Ms Gilbert when giving evidence to them.

She had said that some people did not like being managed and saw that as bullying.

A spokeswoman for Ofsted said they were confident of being able to operate as a larger organisation, although they would take the committee's recommendations very seriously.

Emphasis on behaviour, page 8

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