The Labour party has said it would abolish Ofsted and its one-word judgments. Local authorities would carry out regular “health checks” instead, while inspectors would be called in for more in-depth visits. What do teachers and parents think? Should Ofsted be abolished?
maths teacher, the Beacon school, Banstead, Surrey
Yes. Ofsted creates an environment of fear, anxiety and worry for teachers. To prepare for an Ofsted visit, you may have to do a lot of tick-box exercises, regimented things that don’t add value but help a school to look good. It inevitably adds to a teacher’s workload.
Plus the current system is so punitive. There’s no supportive element to it. An external body comes in and passes judgment on a school. A bad judgment can feel like a prison sentence, involving years of seriously irrelevant work and pressure from headteachers. That has a negative effect on classroom teachers and, inevitably, students.
Schools should be held accountable but they should be supported as well as evaluated, ideally by other school leaders with local expertise, as part of a continuous improvement process. Context matters and, unlike Ofsted inspectors, local teachers will understand the school’s demographic and its history over the years.
Schools should be told: these are your strengths, these are your weaknesses and these are some brilliant schools in your geographical area, we’re going to support you to work together collaboratively.
I would not shy away from someone coming in regularly to tell me how I can improve. I’m a professional, I want to do my job better. But I want someone who’s going to put an arm around me and walk on that journey with me, someone who will support me, not just tell me all the things I’m not doing right.
consultant and former headteacher, who resigned on TV in the BBC documentary School
No, because accountability is important – and we could spend a lot of unnecessary time restructuring the accountability system in line with what Labour is saying. However, there is too much human interpretation in the inspection framework and I don’t think it should continue in its current format. What needs to change is Ofsted’s job, so inspectors are no longer trying to root out under-performance, inadequacy and failure.
Ofsted needs to be a lot more realistic about what it can accurately, effectively and specifically hold schools accountable for. I don’t think it’s feasible or possible to inspect everything a school does accurately, and then reduce it down to a one-word judgment.
So I agree with Labour: we should either remove the judgment categories or stop trying to summarise the work that schools do with one word that is then used as a stick to beat schools with.
We’d be better off if Ofsted judged schools annually on outcomes it is accurately able to quantify. The focus of the inspections, however, should be detached from the dataset and identify where practice is good and needs to improve. The inspection would then take on a completely different flavour, and use a broad body of research, evidence and training to support schools and help them improve.
parent, north London
Yes. I chose to send my child to a school that had just been told by Ofsted it “requires improvement”. Although I thought the judgment was absolutely right, I saw at close-hand the effect it had. The school lost a lot of pupils, it lost money and had to get rid of experienced staff, which meant it was harder for it to improve.
In other countries you don’t have this totally punitive system. Teachers don’t need to be whipped into doing their jobs better. I think teachers genuinely want to provide the best quality education.
It’s crucial to have inspections, but one- or two-day inspections are too short – you can’t get under the skin of the school. Nor can you accurately sum up a school with a one-word judgment. We need a way of assessing schools that results in a much more positive relationship and takes into account the wellbeing of students and staff and how inclusive the school is. At the moment, some schools discourage admission of children with additional needs because it affects their results.
Support for school improvement has to be at a local level and come from experts who know the particular challenges of the schools in their area. I agree it would be good to have the option of more formal and less formal inspections by inspectors who are independent of the local authority – but those inspectors should have a constructive mindset.
I’d like to see a network of successful former headteachers visiting schools regularly and providing ideas and connections. We need, as Angela Rayner says, a much more collaborative model of education, rather than pitting schools against each other.
headteacher, Q3 academy, Tipton, West Midlands
Yes, but only if something better can replace it. I’m not sure whether Ofsted can be successfully overhauled, and every educational institution has to be accountable for its standards. I also think the safeguarding of children should be checked every year.
What Ofsted does at the moment isn’t necessarily bad practice but it’s not contextualised. I’d like to see local audits every year by a former teacher or teaching specialist who understands the local area. They should take into account whether the school is surrounded by grammar schools or in an area of huge social deprivation, and consider whether the local authority is effective and if the level of funding is appropriate for that school.
I’d love to get rid of judgments, as Labour proposes. At the moment, the process doesn’t feel very human. A one-word judgment is too simplistic, because even schools in special measures have fantastic stuff going on.
But I’d worry about Labour’s proposal to give more control to local authorities. If you’ve got a really strong local authority, that’s fine. But in some areas, schools can be left to rot.
I’d like to see schools have more of a say in who comes to see them. There are some absolutely cracking inspectors out there and I wouldn’t want to stop them doing their job. When they turn up and support you, and provide really useful feedback, it’s magic.