Does Ofsted require improvement?

Most teachers think the education watchdog does not drive up standards

Ofsted inspector
One former inspector has called for Ofsted to be abolished
(Image credit: Russell Hart/Alamy Stock Photo)

Fewer than one in ten teachers think Ofsted has raised standards at their school, according to polling for The Times.

A survey of 5,000 teachers found “overwhelming levels of unhappiness” with the government watchdog, as the vast majority of teachers told pollsters they would rate the regulator as “inadequate” or “requires improvement”.

Just 0.5% of teachers polled by the Times Education Commission said Ofsted’s performance was outstanding, 13% said it was good, while 41% said that it required improvement, 38% thought that it was inadequate, and 8% did not know.

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Respondents were also asked whether Ofsted had improved education at their school: 32% disagreed that the regulator had, and 27% strongly disagreed. Just 8% agreed while the rest could not answer.

The commission said that its final report showed there has been a “breakdown of trust” between Ofsted and schools, reported The Times, and will recommend reforms so that the watchdog works more collaboratively with headteachers.

The paper reported that Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, “said recently that schools overwhelmingly found Ofsted inspections to be fair and constructive, and dismissed suggestions that the pressure of scrutiny was driving headteachers from the profession”.

Schools under intense pressure after Covid

At a time when many schools are still dealing with the fallout of Covid-19, which saw a heightened number of pupil and staff absences, the government has given Ofsted an additional £24m to “accelerate inspections” of schools, reported The Guardian last year.

But headteachers have said that the “intense pressure” of Ofsted inspections means that school staff are resigning from the profession.

“Our inspector was intimidating, raising his voice and making accusations. There was not one apology each time I proved his accusation unfounded. He just swiftly switched to another accusation, then another,” one headteacher told the paper. The inspector’s questioning also unnerved some students. “They felt they were being interrogated and pressured to give negative feedback.”

One primary school adviser, Ruth Swailes, told the paper that inspectors refused to understand the difficulties placed on schools by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Swailes said: “I’ve been told inspectors are using phrases like ‘Covid is no longer an excuse’. In one instance where a member of the school community had died of Covid, the headteacher was told: ‘I don’t want to hear the word Covid’.”

At the time, a spokesperson for Ofsted said: “Children have had their education seriously disrupted, so it’s right that we look at what is happening to get them back on track.”

She added: “Just as before Covid, the vast majority of schools tell us that inspections are constructive and likely to help them improve. And our latest inspections show that many schools are improving.”

Ofsted inspections ‘unreliable’ says expert

In an article for the National Education Union, Frank Coffield, education professor at UCL Institute of Education, wrote that the methods employed by Ofsted are “unreliable, invalid, ineffective and unjust, especially to schools serving the poorest communities”. He added that most teachers viewed the watchdog “not as a useful lever for change, but as a hammer that creates a climate of fear and intimidation”.

Coffield said that the pressures created by Ofsted “cascade down through the system increasing teachers’ stress and workloads to the point of exhaustion and burn-out” and pointed to polling which suggested that “7 out of 10 teachers have seriously considered leaving the profession”.

Popular with parents

But supporters of the current system of inspection point to the “large degree of public support” for its simple grading system, which parents can easily understand, said

According to a 2018 study by ParentKind, over half of parents said they looked at Ofsted’s report when choosing a school. Another similar study by YouGov suggested that 74% of parents agreed that the information Ofsted provided was reliable, while 67% of parents agreed that Ofsted is a valuable source of information, and nearly nine in ten parents knew the rating their child’s school received at the last Ofsted inspection.

Nevertheless, headteachers have said the commission’s survey findings should worry the regulator. Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told The Times: “The fact that so many teachers have no confidence in Ofsted and rate its performance as being so poor really should be a source of concern both for the inspectorate and the government.

“It means that the profession has little faith in the body responsible for overseeing standards,” he added.

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