Debate over Ofsteds approach to quality assurance

Debate has opened up around Ofsted’s plans to pilot double inspections this term. Ofsted say this will involve two senior officials independently inspecting a school on the same day and comparing judgements. The new method has been introduced to address concerns that have been raised in relation to quality assurance and forms part of Ofsted’s investigations into new methods of reliability testing. If effective, the method could be included in a new inspection framework for ‘Good’ schools from September where schools rated as ‘Good’ could be subject to shorter but more frequent inspections.

The news comes a week after Sean Harford, Ofsted’s national director for schools, admitted not enough had been done to ensure reliability. He acknowledged that not enough had been done in the past to ensure that inspections are always reliable, and that Ofsted does not currently ensure “directly that different inspectors in the school on the same day would give the same judgement.”

Commenting on the trials, an Ofsted spokeswoman said “To test the reliability of the new short inspections, we conducted consultative trials in schools in the autumn terms. Feedback was positive and we will carry out pilots to test the shorter inspections across a range of schools in the spring term. Reliability of the short inspection methodology will be rested during the pilots by two (HMIs) independently inspecting the same school on the same day and comparing judgements.”

However, the proposals have faced criticism from a number of bodies. Deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Kevin Courtney said “The admission that Ofsted cannot guarantee the reliability and consistency of its inspection teams and judgements on schools is a disgrace. The suggestion that inspecting schools twice will resolve the flaws in the current system is nonsense. In effect this is merely punishing the school for Ofsted’s failings. Ofsted must go and the government must act now to restore confidence in its school accountability framework.”

General Secretary of the Association of Teachers, Mary Bousted, commented “It is incomprehensible that Ofsted has waited 23 years to investigate whether or not its judgements are reliable when the consequences for schools are so devastating if they are judged to be poor. We note that Ofsted, however, is not opening itself up to external evaluation of its reliability trials.”

However, others have stated that this is a welcome step – Ofsted has recognised that there is an issue of reliability in the inspection and reporting process and that this can have disastrous implications for schools and is taking steps to address this.

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