Fresh doubts have emerged over the quality of Ofsted inspections, with the watchdog facing questions about the validity of the process it used to axe about 1,200 inspectors.
The inspectorate portrayed its decision to ditch 40 per cent of its contracted “additional” inspectors this summer as an important part of a major drive to improve the quality and consistency of its assessments.
But TES has learned that nearly 300 former inspectors who missed out are claiming they lost their positions through a flawed selection procedure that “stinks to high heaven”.
They argue there was no reason to reject them for the quality of their work. The former inspectors are aggrieved that Ofsted has refused to provide them with the results of the selection tests they took, citing the Data Protection Act.
Now their claims are prompting concerns from school leaders about the quality of the inspectors who did make it through.
Geoff Barton, headteacher of King Edward VI School in Suffolk, said: “Right from the outset, we’re going to have big question marks over who these people are who are going to be making some very big decision about our schools.
“It’s not going to do a lot for school leaders like me – who have a low view of Ofsted – to convince us that much has changed.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union, said there would be “serious concerns” unless Ofsted provided clarity on how its selection process worked.
The aggrieved former inspectors are being backed by MP Caroline Nokes, a member of the Commons Education Select Committee, who has quizzed Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw on the issue.
She told TES that she had “no confidence in the [selection] process whatsoever”, adding: “There are inspectors who have been inspecting for many years who did an online assessment and were then judged by how quickly they can click a mouse.”
Ofsted is also being asked to explain why it used inspectors who had failed the selection process to train and mentor the new cadre of Ofsted inspectors before they started visiting schools in September.
In June, Ofsted whittled down its additional inspectors from 2,800 to about 1,600. It asked them to apply for new positions, then gave those who met the requirements, such as qualified teacher status, a two-hour online assessment to complete.
At the time, Sir Robin Bosher, Ofsted’s director of quality and training, told TES that the decision was made to have the “highest-quality inspectors” possible, and for heads to be “assured they have a good inspector walking up the path”.
According to Sir Robin, a key reason for rejecting so many additional inspectors was their lack of skill in writing reports, an area that has been a source of concern for schools.
But this has been strongly disputed by inspectors whose applications were turned down. Many have pointed to the lack of transparency as a major problem, calling for Ofsted to reveal its marking criteria and to return the completed online assessments.
“I have been an inspector for more than 15 years and I have never had any negative feedback. But following a two-hour online assessment, I was told my timekeeping wasn’t good enough and my editing not up to scratch,” one told TES. “The whole thing stinks to high heaven. If they are so confident about their selection process then they should let us see their marking criteria.”
Another former inspector, who is a headteacher of a secondary school rated good with outstanding features by Ofsted, said they had failed the online assessment’s spelling, punctuation and grammar section.
“They asked me to correct some text, but I thought it was written like a dog’s dinner so I rewrote it and they failed me,” the headteacher said. “I’ve asked to see my results, but they have refused, saying they can’t because of data protection.”
Mr Hobby said: “There are some good inspectors, who provided good insight and judgement, and there are others who are not up to scratch. Not knowing which one you would get was always part of the fear heads had. One hoped that this process would have cleared this up. If it hasn’t then it will lead to serious concerns among school leaders.”
Ofsted said all its applicants had received feedback as part of the recruitment process. “Those who took part in the online assessment were given feedback about their performance against each assessment criterion,” a spokesperson added. “By bringing the inspection workforce in-house and requiring fewer contracted inspectors, it is only right that we tighten the selection criteria for Ofsted inspectors.”
‘Earn parents’ trust by being open’
Ben Gibbs is a former school governor who sits on Ofsted’s parent panel. He submitted a Freedom of Information request to find out the identity of the inspector who placed his school in special measures, but it was denied.
Mr Gibbs says “doubts still remain” about the quality of Ofsted’s inspectors and won’t be dispelled until the body is clear about how they are selected.
“As a parent, I’m deeply concerned that Ofsted’s recent recruitment process appears flawed and that they are being so guarded about the selection criteria they applied to the people who inspect our schools,” he says.
“Doubts about the quality of subcontracted additional inspectors prior to the summer remain fresh in the minds of many, so if Ofsted wants to earn the trust of parents as well as the profession, it really needs to learn to be more open and transparent, or perhaps even get things like this right.”