Think tank Policy Exchange has criticised Ofsted inspections and asked for a radical overhaul of the way inspections are carried out. They claim lesson observations should be ditched entirely and shorter one-day checks be made on schools every two years.
The think tank called for a greater focus on struggling schools and higher standards from inspectors, many of whom it said lacked the skills to analyse data or possessed the required specialist knowledge “to make a fair judgment”.
The report was compiled after consulting more than 300 heads, teachers, governors, parents and lecturers. Education Secretary Michael Gove set up Policy Exchange in 2002 and acted as its chairman for four years. A Department for Education spokesman said, “the Secretary of State believes Sir Michael Wilshaw is an outstanding chief inspector and that independent inspection has a vital role to play in school improvement. We look forward to continuing to working with Ofsted to improve the quality of education in England.”
However, the Policy Exchange report, ‘Watching the Watchmen’, suggests that Ofsted needs to improve, with routine classroom observations “neither valid nor reliable” and serious concerns over the quality of inspectors. The report states that, “the evidence suggests that when it comes to relying on judgment of a trained Ofsted inspector on how effective a lesson, you would be better off flipping a coin.”
The report goes on to call for a new two-stage inspection system, where all state schools including academies and free schools would face a “short inspection” lasting one day every two years. Schools that fall below outstanding or good would then face a second “tailored inspection” with twice as many inspectors assessing it as would do under the current system.
Report author Jonathan Simons said, “at the moment a team of external observers watching a handful of lessons can make a judgment on the quality of teaching which trumps the view of the school itself. More needs to be done to drive up the quality of inspectors. Heads and teachers must feel confident that the person running their eye over their school is a specialist, preferably with recent teaching experience.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers said, “most heads regard inspection as a good idea but they feel that the quality of Ofsted inspectors is so variable. Each inspector can have their own way of approaching inspections, so it’s very difficult for heads to know what they’re looking for. I think it has a stifling effect on the system.”