The future of Ofsted


I was interested in the recent ASCL paper on the future of Ofsted and the comments made by Bridget Phillipson on the Laura Kuenssberg programme on Sunday when she stated that if Labour came to power, they would undertake a ‘root and branch’ reform of the inspectorate. This is probably required because since its inception in 1992 the range of its inspection tentacles have extended to cover so much more than just schools. With an annual budget in excess of £160m and something of an unfortunate toxic reputation I think it is time to reflect on what Ofsted does and how important it is to the strength and rate of improvement in the services for those it inspects.

It’s worth being clear from the outset, I am a supporter of inspection. I once held a very senior position in the inspectorate, and I have been inspected by them many times since leaving in August 2012. Ofsted built its reputation with the inspection of schools and Colleges, but I feel it is time to consider whether we inspect many of them too often and therefore leave other provision where many vulnerable children and adults are supported receiving too little inspection.

The regularity of inspection is largely governed by law and associated regulations, so any change would require a thorough review, a ‘root and branch’ approach. But rather than consider changing the existing inspection arrangements as ASCL’s paper promotes I would urge the review to utilise a couple of considerations for all aspects of Ofsted’s work. Firstly, does the current quality of provision warrant continuing with the same regularity of inspection?

For example, school and College inspections currently produce overall effectiveness judgements that are around 85% Good or better with only a small proportion judged as requiring ‘special measures’. This compares with nearly half of all local authority inspections for Children’s Services not judged to be at least Good. This suggests that greater focus should be given to the latter rather than the former, but Ofsted is continuing to inspect Schools and Colleges with a similar regularity to when less than 60% was judged to be effective a decade or so ago.

I am not suggesting Ofsted should not inspect schools at all, but it needs to consider how it can focus more of its resources on provision where we know children, young people and adults are potentially at greater risk. This tends to be where provision is provided in a residential setting, where teaching and care is offered by a single or small number of adults, where governance responsibilities and management oversight are undertaken from afar and where we know provision is offered outside of normal arrangements, such as illegal schools.

We need to consider whether some provision, such as schools and Colleges could have much less regularity of their inspections and whether some further oversight could compensate for this loss of activity. This could involve peer reviews and/or safeguarding visits or the greater involvement of the Local Authority Designated Officer or the inspection of the local authority’s school improvement services and Multi Academy Trust inspections, as examples.

A further consideration is whether there are reasonably secure controls locally to enable weaknesses to be reported and acted upon? What I have in mind here is whether there are sufficient individuals with a duty to report who can inform others if a failing or serious weakness exists. Currently, reporting complaints sees a little merry go round of referrals and reporting between the service provider, the LADO and Ofsted. As the children, young people and adults live in a particular area it should be that local authority’s duty to ensure they are safe. The LA should share any emerging concerns with Ofsted and this can then be considered for inspection. Currently, too many referrals are being made to the inspectorate. Ofsted shouldn’t be the vehicle for such issues. They should concentrate fully on managing complaints about their inspections.

I have not offered an extensive summary of the ‘root and branch review’ but if a more targeted approach to inspection is to be undertaken then it is probably time to strengthen thematic inspections so that the inspectorate can report on particular aspects, projects or initiatives. I would prefer senior leaders to be involved in peer reviews rather than undertaking Ofsted inspections and I would definitely disband Ofsted’s curriculum unit that has been introduced in recent years. The inspectorate should report on its inspection findings and leave empirical evidence gathering to those skilled and equipped to undertake such a role.

I could go on but……

1 Comment

  1. Kendra Allen

    A considered opinion piece as always. Hopefully the right people will see this when Labour come to power.


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