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Too few 'outstanding' schools excel at teaching, warns Ofsted chief

Too many schools that do not excel in teaching have been judged outstanding by Ofsted, the outgoing head of the watchdog has admitted.

In her final speech as chief inspector, Christine Gilbert said last week that more schools were receiving plaudits for their leadership than for what happened in the classroom.

In a candid and wide-ranging address, the outgoing chief inspector, who stepped down yesterday, said "a real focus" on the observation of frontline teachers was now needed.

But one teaching leader has condemned such tactics as "punitive".

Ms Gilbert's comments on teaching came as the Government tightened up the profession's entry conditions and limited the number of basic skill test resits permitted, in a consultation on initial teacher training published earlier this week.

Ministers have made high-quality teaching a key theme of their reforms, drawing on international research showing it is a pre-requisite to improving education systems.

But Ofsted figures show that of secondaries graded outstanding overall in 200910 just 30 per cent received the top rating for their teaching, compared to 95 per cent which were given outstanding for leadership and management. The figures for all outstanding schools were 61 and 95 per cent respectively.

Ms Gilbert said: "Too many outstanding schools have teaching and learning that is good but not excellent. Excellence needs to be reflected in the staffroom and the classroom."

The chief inspector said there was "real work to be done around the quality of teaching" and that it was "important to reassert the need for a real focus on observation of the front line".

But NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: "There is no evidence that teachers are not doing a good job.

"Ofsted is part of the accountability regime which, under the current Government, is bringing in a whole series of measures that are shifting the focus onto teachers and away from school leaders. We have got a punitive model that is becoming even more punitive."

Ms Gilbert said continuous professional development was key to improving teaching quality and she had a "real regret" that its importance was not spelt out in the current Ofsted inspection framework.

She also called on ministers to allow the watchdog to inspect academy chains and, speaking four-and-a-half years after taking over at Ofsted, admitted it had more to do on judging schools' value for money and delivering "readable" reports.

Legislation going through Parliament will allow schools to request extra inspections, and Ofsted, which has seen a 46 per cent cut in funding since 200405, to charge for them.

Ms Gilbert floated the idea that inspection might "become a wholly commercial and contractual agreement". Ultimately schools "could enter into an agreement about being inspected and use that report as a part of their selling device (to parents)", she suggested.

The chief inspector also called for the watchdog to be allowed to inspect new areas of the fragmenting schools system.

"If I am candid, Ofsted has never succeeded in making strong judgments about use of resources and value for money," she said.

"Yet I really do think increasing school autonomy raises the need for greater financial accountability."

"We have got to get the measure of whether federations and chains are providing the quality, the sustainability and added value that is being suggested," Ms Gilbert said.

She said there was a "problem" if some parts of the system were "inaccessible" and "exempt from inspection".

Exemptions debate

Slippage danger

Christine Gilbert repeated her concerns about the decision to end regular inspections for "outstanding" schools.

Ofsted figures showed that 43 per cent of outstanding schools slipped back at their next inspection, Ms Gilbert said.

There is also a "danger" that inspectors would lose their knowledge of excellent schools, she said.

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