We are calling for Ofsted to be reformed.
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We are a group of educationalists writing to you to call for Ofsted reform. Over the past few years, we have become increasingly concerned by Ofsted’s expanding remit and the amount of discretion used by inspectors in primary and secondary schools.
Teaching staff and school management have little trust in how Ofsted assesses what ‘good’ looks like, and the profession is now at breaking point. Teachers are leaving their jobs in numbers unlike ever before.
We are collectively asking you to undertake a strategic review into policies, practices, and processes. With basic but effective reforms, we believe that Ofsted can regain trust and credibility, and at the same time enable Ofsted to more effectively promote high educational standards.
Our main concerns are four-fold:
- Ofsted uses subjective inspection criteria, downgrading well performing schools
By law, Ofsted must assess the ‘achievement of pupils’. However, Ofsted has, by successive steps, moved away from this core focus. New criteria in the Education Inspection Framework (“EIF”) can lead to poor judgements even where pupil outcomes are good based on inspectors’ judgements of teaching methods or a school’s ethos. This leaves schools in a vulnerable position and without clarity.
Wide inspector discretion allows inspectors to downgrade schools because they depart from Ofsted’s ‘priorities’, despite objective data indicating that the schools are performing well and pupils are achieving good grades. This both inhibits innovation and freedoms in schools.
- School inspections cause unnecessary levels of stress to teachers and pupils.
Teaching staff report among the highest levels of stress, depression and anxiety across the entire British workforce and that Ofsted inspections rank high on the list of contributing factors. Confidence levels among staff remain low largely due to the significant workload an inspection requires; randomly selected ‘deep-dives’; vigorous interviewing of teachers; pupil interviews to evidence ‘personal development’ and ‘attitudes’; and the high-stakes consequences to any school following a poor judgement. Where inspections require evidence of process rather than evidence from outcomes, precious teacher time and energy is distracted into work that does not benefit children. This is perceived as burdensome and is damaging to morale.
- Ofsted has not responded satisfactorily to accusations of bias against schools with a religious ethos.
Ofsted has faced allegations of fostering negative pre-conceptions about schools prior to visits and we are concerned that Ms Spielman has not satisfactorily responded to this. There have been long-standing allegations from faith schools against inspectors, claiming there is a “climate of hostility” against their schools. This has also been highlighted by the NAO Ofsted report (2018) as a common perception across a range of schools.
- Ofsted is strikingly unaccountable
- Complaints process
We are concerned about the lack of substantive improvements made by Ofsted to the school inspections complaints process despite it being repeatedly criticised for being insular and unaccountable. Notwithstanding the public consultation on complaints in 2020 where a majority of respondents called for a more transparent and participatory process including a layer of independence, Ofsted refused to make any substantial changes.
2. Inspection reports
Inspection reports are approximately only 3.5 pages. With such short summaries, inspectors can issue judgements without transparency over the basis for that judgement. When schools are judged to be ‘inadequate’ after a short 2-day visit, the small ‘vignettes’ are especially unhelpful and raise more questions. This makes it difficult for schools to complain.
3. On Parliamentary scrutiny
Despite having a wide remit and large sphere of influence over educational culture, it is surprising that Ofsted faces limited parliamentary scrutiny through infrequent accountability hearings.
Considering the above, we ask Ofsted to undertake an urgent review of its processes and procedures to reform:
- Inspection priorities should be based on objective, predictable marking criteria.
- The complaints process should be transparent and independent.
- Schools should have greater opportunities to agree their inspection reports prior to publishing.
- Inspection reports should contain more detailed information and evidence behind decision making.
- A wholescale review and consultation about teacher stress and the impact of inspections should be undertaken, with the results made public.
- Greater accountability mechanisms for decision making of the Chief Inspector by Parliament should be made.
- Inspectors should receive training about specialist schools before conducting inspections.
Positive Ofsted Reform