Ofsted labelled a 'reign of terror' and 'toxic brand'

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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Ofsted is a “reign of terror” and has become a “toxic brand”, experts have told a hearing of the Times Education Commission.

Dame Alison Peacock, CEO of the Chartered College of Teaching, said that inspectors effectively work to a script and expect teachers to “be like robots”.

Other witnesses said that Ofsted is not “done as supportive or to help you improve” but is skewed towards “finding fault” ahead of promoting good practice.

The Times Education Commission is a year-long project aimed at informing government policy and inspiring change across schools, colleges and universities.

A hearing on Tuesday focused on school teaching and heard evidence from seven witnesses.

Among them, Dame Alison told the hearing that teaching in 2021 is “driven by a need for compliance”.

She explained: “Teachers are constantly looking over their shoulder, whether it’s about Ofsted judgements, whether it’s about attainment, whether it’s about workload teachers are being driven.

“From my point of view, we need teachers to be inspired, we need them to be joyful, we need them to love working with children, we need them to feel that the reason they come to work everyday is because they can make a difference and that they can contribute to society.”

She pointed to the huge efforts of schools and school staff to keep children safe during the pandemic and to look after their communities: “And how were they thanked? Well, they were thanked by a chief inspector who told them they should have been focusing on teaching maths and not worrying about whether the children were hungry.

She added: “You know, Ofsted, frankly, it’s a reign of terror. They come in, they start to talk in a kind of highfalutin language about research outcomes and so on and curriculum coherence. It’s designed to put people on the backfoot.

“The more that we can enable teachers to be research literate themselves, to be able to make decisions that are informed by evidence in their classroom, that they feel confident about, that they can see the impact of, they’re more likely to be able to stand their ground and actually supersede whatever an inspection regime wants.

“I think the issue with Ofsted is that they pretty much have a script – a set of things they have to follow. And I think (chief inspector, Amanda Spielman) thinks teachers just ought to be like that, we should just be like robots, and then we would all stick to the script and it would all be fine and anyone who couldn’t control themselves would just have to be chucked out. But that doesn’t work at scale.”

During the hearing, author and former teacher, Ryan Wilson, said that he would scrap Ofsted as it has become a “toxic brand”.

He explained: “Of course there has to be accountability in the education system, of course there does. But, in my view, Ofsted has become a toxic brand. It’s become synonymous with stress and a punitive approach to inspection.

“It needs to be replaced with a different system and the stakes need to be lowered. People shouldn’t be in fear that their jobs are at stake if a particular child doesn’t get a particular result.

“I’m not against accountability in the education system, it has to be there. But it’s so skewed and so, in my view, over the top and skewed towards finding fault.”

Mehreen Baig, a former teacher and now a broadcaster and author, echoed the sentiments: “Ofsted’s specific list is based on what you’re doing wrong. It’s not done as supportive or to help you improve. There’s a threat of league tables and bad ratings that loom. And then, on the day, we used to kick out the naughty kids and tell them to stay at home or send them off on a trip. So, how is that in the interests of the child?”

Also giving evidence was Russell Hobby, CEO of Teach First, who used the platform to call again for a reduced timetable for teachers in disadvantaged schools – one of the Teach First Manifesto goals.

He said that financial incentives to work in disadvantaged schools do work “better than we like to admit” but giving teachers more time should also be a key strategy to boost recruitment and retention in these schools. He explained: “What we’re talking about is overstaffing these schools so that we can reduce the timetable load, so that there’s more time for the pastoral work, for the planning and preparation.

“I think if we created more capacity in these so that the job was more doable and that you had time to do your best work, I think that would get teachers flocking to those sorts of schools. And I’d love to see a pilot of that, to test, that’s my hypothesis. I know some schools have tried it and it’s worked, but I’d love to see a proper trial of that to see if that makes a difference.”

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