Is Ofsted a helping hand or a hurdle? The Education Committee speaks out

2nd February 2024

Ofsted, Ofsted, Ofsted… It feels like we can’t escape this word no matter how hard we try, but could this, dare we say it, perhaps be a good thing right now?

It’s no secret that, for quite some time, the entire school community across the country has urged the education watchdog to please revamp the inspection process.

Saying ‘good riddance’ to single-word judgements, reducing the relentless workload pressure that comes with an inspection; and rethinking ‘Inadequate’ judgements based on safeguarding, are just three of many recommendations that the Education Committee has issued to the inspectorate and the Government in a new report.

Of course, as you should know by now, Schools North East made sure to contribute – on behalf of all 1,150 schools in the region –  to this potentially life-changing discussion. We don’t call ourselves The Voice for no reason.

Our evidence submission

The Education Select Committee’s inquiry was launched last summer (June 2023) to look at Ofsted’s inspection of schools, with the aim of providing recommendations for the incoming His Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI), Sir Martyn Oliver.

Yes, the Inspectorate was inspected!

Schools North East submitted evidence to the Committee’s inquiry, which can be read here. Our feedback was based on survey responses representing nearly 200 schools across all settings of the North East; there’s no way we were letting them forget about us!

Starting with the positive, most responses saw the new framework (which moved away from a focus solely on performance data) as an improvement on the previous framework.

However, notable concerns were raised about the pressure on staff as well as the framework’s suitability for smaller and primary schools. Are you surprised? We can’t say we are.

On the matter of Ofsted inspections and reports, North East schools said that these rarely helped with school improvement, and that one word judgements were not fit for purpose. These were common themes discussed during the speech of Lee Owston (Ofsted National Director) at our recent Academies Conference 2024.

As the community always says (although sometimes it feels like we want to scream it): Reports only provide a snapshot of schools, and fail to actually reflect the full breadth of work that schools do.

Say it louder for the people at the back!

Findings from the report

It’s alarmingly clear that relations between Ofsted and the school sector, teachers, and leaders have become extremely strained.

That’s why we need urgent action to tweak the current setup and establish a new process that doesn’t just tick boxes, but instead contributes to making happier, safer, and more successful schools. Isn’t that the point of Ofsted?

In the evidence the committee received, there was an overwhelming agreement that inspections are not currently long enough to cover the full framework, and to give an accurate picture of a school’s performance.

So, the report argues that in order to increase the value, length and depth of inspections, we need to see a small reduction in how often they’re carried out.

Inspections would take place around every five to six years for ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ schools, and three to four years for schools judged ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’.

To improve the quality of inspections, the Committee also suggests an increase in the notice period to five working days.

And, of course, let’s not forget that a key priority for the report is for DfE and Ofsted to develop an alternative to the current single-word overall judgement. We desperately need a new solution that better captures the complex nature of a school’s performance.

Could 2024 be the year of no more (or at least heavily reduced) Ofsted stress?

Let us know what you think, here.