Ofsted inspectors ‘not fit for new education landscape’

17 Mar 14
Many of the school inspectors used by education watchdog Ofsted lack the skills and experience to do the job effectively now the government has given greater independence to schools, a think-tank has claimed

By Richard Johnstone | 17 March 2014

Many of the school inspectors used by education watchdog Ofsted lack the skills and experience to do the job effectively now the government has given greater independence to schools, a think-tank has claimed.

Policy Exchange today called on Ofsted to give serious consideration to halting the outsourcing of inspectors so it has more control over their ability to inspect academies and free schools.

Government reforms to allow schools to operate free of local authority control require the relationship between schools and inspectors to be reset, the Watching the watchmen report claimed.

Many now lack the necessary skills, such as the ability to analyse data, or the experience or specialist knowledge in primary or special needs teaching, to make a fair judgement of autonomous schools. As a result, schools take a ‘lowest common denominator’ approach and base decisions on what Ofsted will understand, not necessarily what is in the best interests of the school, the report added. 

As well as taking more of the 1,500 school inspectors in house – only around 150 of them currently work for Ofsted according to Policy Exchange – the watchdog should also ensure all inspectors have recent teaching experience in the schools they are assessing. Inspectors should also have to pass an exam testing their ability to analyse data and make reliable judgements in order to become accredited.

Jonathan Simons, report author and head of education at Policy Exchange, said that, under the current system, a team of external observers watching a handful of lessons make judgements on the quality of teaching that trump the view of the school itself. 

‘The evidence suggests that when it comes to relying on the judgment of a trained Ofsted inspector on how effective a lesson is, you would be better off flipping a coin,’ he added.

‘More needs to be done to drive up the quality of inspectors. Heads and teachers must feel confident that the person running their eye over their school is a specialist, preferably with recent teaching experience. 

‘Inspectors don’t need to be rocket scientists but they must also have the ability to interpret the increasing amounts of data on the performance of schools, and understand the different ways in which schools are now operating. Schools should not be forced to second guess what the inspector coming through the door will be like.’

Among the report’s other recommendations is a call for a new inspection programme to be introduced so inspectors can focus their efforts on struggling schools. 

Every school should be given a short inspection every two years that would judge both the schools quality and capability. A second tailored inspection would then be undertaken of schools that failed to receive a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ grade in the initial round. 

In addition, inspections based on observations of individual lessons to be stopped, as there was not sufficient time for inspectors to make judgements about the quality of classes on this basis. 

Responding to the report, Michael Cladingbowl, Ofsted’s national director for schools, said the watchdog was looking at how inspections should develop in the coming years to reflect the fact that eight out of ten schools are now rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’. 

‘We welcome the Policy Exchange’s recommendations – many of which chime with our own - and will be studying them more closely in the coming days,’ he said.

‘Headteachers tell me that schools would benefit from more regular contact with Her Majesty’s Inspectors and we know parents would value more up-to-date information. Our proposals will draw on our experience of carrying out more than 7,000 school inspections each year. We will consult on any changes to our inspection arrangements in due course.’


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