No evidence that ‘brutal’ Ofsted regime works

Written by: Dr Mary Bousted | Published:
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If Ofsted cannot show that it achieves its core purpose, what hope does the profession suffering under its tyrannical yoke have? Ofsted is still driving pointless workload and operating with no evidence that its judgements are reliable, says Dr Mary Bousted

I wonder if Ofsted inspectors think of themselves as troops going into battle as they turn up at schools ready to inflict their inspections on an exhausted and stressed teaching profession?

Do they really believe that in the middle of a pandemic, with the added worry of a new Covid variant, they are seeing schools operating normally?

And while I am asking questions: what gives education secretary Nadhim Zahawi the idea that Ofsted is in any way able to “celebrate” the work of teachers and leaders?

“Brutal” is the word now being used to describe the experience of trying, in vain, to explain to Ofsted inspectors that, with 10 teachers off with Covid, including the coordinator of the subject into which the inspectors are doing a deep dive, it is impossible to judge the intent, implementation and impact of the school’s curriculum?

Nor do parents pay much attention to Ofsted reports. A YouGov survey found that almost two-thirds of parents don’t consider Ofsted reports when deciding where to send their children to school (University of Exeter, 2021)

Lee Elliot Major, a professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, which conducted the parents’ poll, commented that the findings showed that parents need to be empowered with more high-quality information so they can make the right decisions about their children’s education.

Ofsted is a broken inspectorate. Its inspection judgements are riddled with quality control problems. Ofsted has never in its nearly 30-year history produced any evidence that its inspection judgements are fair, nor has Ofsted produced any evidence that two inspection teams, inspecting the same school, would come to comparable judgements on the quality of education it provides.

Ofsted cannot prove that it achieves the ambition of its strapline: “Raising standards and improving lives.” Indeed, the National Audit Office remarkably concluded that: “Ofsted does not know whether its school inspections were having the intended impact: to raise the standards of education and improve the quality of children’s and young people’s lives.” (NAO, 2018)

If Ofsted cannot show that it achieves its core purpose, what hope can the profession suffering under its tyrannical yoke have?

Ofsted has burned through five different inspection frameworks in the past 10 years, which renders as meaningless any claim it might make that its inspection judgements stand the test of time, or that the judgements it makes in succeeding frameworks are in any way comparable.

But the costs of Ofsted are not just measured in wasted government spending. Even more seriously, Ofsted drives the toxic accountability framework under which leaders and teachers suffer and which drives them from the profession increasingly early in their careers.

The Department for Education’s surveys of teachers and leaders who depart before retirement puts accountability at the top of the league table of reasons to leave.

We have reached, in England, the stage where nearly a quarter of beginning teachers leave the classroom within two years of qualification. Nearly a third within five years, and nearly 40 per cent within 10 years (DfE, 2021).

As they leave, teachers and leaders tell of their exhaustion and their ambition to retrieve a more normal life, with time for family and leisure.

Ofsted’s claims that its new inspection framework has reduced teacher and leader stress and excessive workload are shown for the falsehoods they are by the findings of new NEU research: 77 per cent of around 10,000 teachers who responded reported that they are required to submit “book scrutiny” to their leadership teams, and 66 per cent must provide evidence on “curriculum sequencing”.

New forms of monitoring, purporting to evidence curriculum quality (they do no such thing) have replaced in-school data, which Ofsted used to obsessively examine, and which did so much to narrow the curriculum, particularly in schools with disadvantaged pupils.

Ofsted can u-turn all it wants. Teachers and leaders remember its history and are still hoping for an inspectorate which they can respect and trust.

  • Dr Mary Bousted is the joint general secretary of the National Education Union.

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