Does Ofsted do more harm than good? I have examined the evidence which shows that, despite some clear benefits of inspection, Ofsted’s methods are invalid, unreliable and unjust. A report from the Education Policy Institute, for example, concluded that notable proportions of schools with the highest grades and lowest numbers of disadvantaged pupils are not down-graded even when their performance deteriorates. Conversely “the most deprived schools are systematically more likely to be down-graded”. The very schools that most need help are further harmed by punitive Ofsted reports that make their recruitment and retention of teachers even more difficult.
Besides, attaching a single adjective such as “outstanding “ or “inadequate” to a large FE college with 20,000 students, 1,000 staff and 30+ departments is a statistical absurdity. Research has repeatedly demonstrated that there is great variation within a college or school and one adjective cannot capture either complexity or diversity.
Ofsted needs to change radically and in my new book, which is launched at the Institute of Education by the IoE Press on 13 September at 5:30 pm, and called Will the Leopard Change Its Spots? A new model of inspection for Ofsted, I offer an approach based on five principles and nine components.
The five principles are: education as growth, trust rather than fear, challenge matched by support, productive dialogue and appreciative inquiry that builds on strengths.
The nine components (for instance, teaching, learning and assessment; professional learning; and democracy) are so operationalised as to dispense with league tables and grading scales, but the questions attached to each component are every bit as exacting as those currently asked by Ofsted.
Ofsted could also be helped by drastically reducing its over-extended remit, by making it genuinely independent of government and by re-introducing a system of local and national inspectors working hand in glove. Inspectors would once again be respected colleagues, acting as the cross-pollinators of challenging ideas and novel practices in a joint search with teachers for improvement.
There are welcome signs that Ofsted with a new Chief Inspector is willing to act on constructive criticism. Ofsted does not belong to the government or to the Department for Education, but to all of us who pay for it and so we have a right and a duty to call for change. This is the essence of democracy – the freedom to think differently on behalf of others.