Ofsted are desperately trying to rebrand themselves, including the claim that they will rely less on test data and more on intelligent engagement with the school’s curriculum. There are good reasons to be sceptical about this, given the hit-and-run nature of inspections: just 2 days in a school to make a final and public high-stakes judgement.
The Chief Inspector has launched a ‘consultation’ on Ofsted’s problematic view of the curriculum, but ruled out any rethinking about the four grades: Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement, Inadequate.
This is the most offensive part of the Ofsted system: the power of three or four strangers to make a judgement which can demoralise good teachers and even destroy a school. This is no exaggeration: there is recent evidence of comprehensive schools condemned as Inadequate on the basis of observations of just 20 part lessons.
The situation isn’t even helpful for schools which get a Good grading. When they are revisited three years later, a single inspector arrives for just one day, pops into three or four lessons and decides whether the school is ‘still Good’.
In a recent post, we showed the extremity of social bias. Schools in more affluent areas almost invariably get the top grades, whilst the majority of schools serving the poorest communities are publicly condemned as failures.
If there is a role for any kind of external inspection, it is to identify what might help a school to improve its students’ education – not to give the school a marketing banner or a death sentence.
The one change which would most reduce the damage Ofsted causes, and the fear it loads onto teachers, would be to stop the grading.
Professor Frank Coffield, a member of the Reclaiming Schools research network, has just launched a petition which we urge everybody to sign. Please circulate this to all your colleagues.