Ofsted seen as toxic and schools should self-evaluate, says inquiry

Ofsted inspectors should not be in classrooms and the whole system needs “a big change”, an inquiry has said.

The Beyond Ofsted inquiry, chaired by former schools minister Lord Jim Knight and funded by the National Education Union, called for a “transformational” alteration to school inspections.

The report recommended that schools should instead be responsible for their own improvement plans.

Ofsted said inspections are needed to ensure a high-quality education.

“Children only get one chance at education, and inspection helps make sure that education standards are high for all children,” a spokesperson said.

But Lord Knight’s inquiry said Ofsted was now seen as “toxic” and “not fit for purpose” and was in need of major reform.

That reform should include an end to single-word judgements like “outstanding” or “inadequate”, which the inquiry said were too simplistic to describe a whole school.

That was also one of the key recommendations of another report on school improvement released on Monday, by the Institute for Public Policy Research, which called for narrative-style judgements instead.

The suicide of head teacher Ruth Perry earlier this year highlighted the pressure inspections can put on schools and led to a debate about how Ofsted operates.

Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, inspects and reports on anywhere that provides education for young people in England – including schools, nurseries and childminders.

The inquiry recommended stopping Ofsted from having “direct contact” with schools.

Instead, schools should draw up their own improvement plans to be accountable to parents and the wider local community, the inquiry said.

That would leave Ofsted to look at how well schools, or groups of schools, are managed.

A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said the current system was important for maintaining high school standards, with 89% now rated good or outstanding.

Ofsted has a “crucial role” in reassuring parents that pupils are receiving a high-quality education and being kept safe, they added.

But Lord Knight told BBC Breakfast on Monday: “It’s created a culture of fear in our schools, and if anybody thinks that fear is the basis for sustained improvement, rather than support, then I think they’ve got it completely wrong.”

His inquiry said schools should carry out their own “self-evaluations” by working with an external “improvement partner” – an experienced school leader, including serving heads, from the school’s trust or local authority – to produce a performance review.

Safeguarding in schools should also be looked at in separate yearly checks, overseen by a new national body, the inquiry said.

Carried out by academics from University College London, the inquiry considered a range of options for reform based on a survey, focus groups, international comparisons and research material.

In his report, Lord Knight said Ofsted had become “under-resourced” for the “high-stakes job” expected of it.

Inspections had gone from week-long deep dives by expert teams to “snapshot judgements by fewer than a handful of inspectors”, he said.

The report said routine inspections currently carried out by Ofsted should be paused while the inquiry’s recommendations are put in place.

A spokesperson for Ofsted said “nine out of 10” schools say inspections help them improve.

“We always want inspections to be a constructive experience for school staff,” they said.

“Our inspectors are all former or current school leaders and well understand the nature and pressures of the work.”

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