Andrew Morrish: Ofsted has had its day

In this extract from The Art of Standing Out, Andrew Morrish argues that Ofsted is in need of serious reform.

Ofsted has had its day. It was right for its time twenty years ago, but not anymore. We don’t need them as we have more than enough highly skilled experts that can do it for themselves. I’ve been involved with inspections on all sides: as a teacher, as a chair of governors, as an inspector and as a headteacher. So I know what I’m talking about. We have more than enough capacity within the system to make it work.

Here’s why we need to scrap an externally accredited system of accountability: The minute you step outside of the job and become an inspector, after a period of time, you lack credibility because you lose touch. So at most, an ex-headteacher can only become a credible inspector for two or three years before becoming de-skilled. The same thing would happen to me if I became an inspector – after a while I’d have been out of the hot seat for too long. When I’m going in for an operation, I want to know that the surgeon has been inspected by a medical expert who is up-to-date with the latest cutting-edge procedures and is a current practitioner – someone who could whip my lungs out with their eyes closed. Not a person who last scrubbed up ten years ago or even worse, has never actually conducted a major operation.

So what we need is a national inspection system whereby serving heads are seconded to inspect, but only for one or two years before going back to their day job, in order to stay up-to-date. If I was in charge I’d make sure that these heads have a proven track record or are credible system leaders such as National Leaders of Education. To ensure quality assurance and training, I’d retain a very small core of HMI-style inspectors – no more than one or two per region – who’d QA and manage the process. This would include the continued selection and recruitment of seconded inspecting heads.

And by the way, I’m not necessarily advocating a move to dispatch Ofsted per se. I do think it needs to go in its current guise, but in terms of providing external data compliance checks, I think that a similar body can still have a role, providing they stay out of schools. Essentially Ofsted would ask two key questions. Firstly, does a school meet minimum agreed standards? Secondly – and this leads into my point below – is the quality of the national peer review scheme sufficiently robust?

The creation of a nationally accredited peer review scheme is the most measured and proportionate way forward. It will be easy to implement as there are a number of excellent schemes already in place such as those developed by Whole Education or NAHT. A number of multi academy trusts are already developing their own as well, ours included. A national scheme will be owned by the profession and won’t keep changing every couple of years because we will take our time, consult and confer, and above all get it right first time. In fact, it doesn’t even need to be a single national scheme. A number of regional schemes could exist, accredited by the national college, that schools can choose to use.

Ofsted will already have completed their external compliance check, so if a school meets the floor standards and statutory requirements then it is a good school. With that established, leave it for the professional experts – the peer reviewers – to then visit the school to determine exactly how good (or not) the school is.

Special measures required

That said, in the short term, Ofsted are here to stay, like it or not. So I appeal to them to take a leaf out of The Art of Standing Out, chapters one to three especially. I will gladly send them a number of signed copies, without charge if that would help. When they’ve read it carefully, they’d do well to then revisit their own values and core purpose and start all over again at trying to paint a better picture, one that is relevant to the new and evolving educational landscape. Above all, they need to create from a blank canvas, consult widely and in so doing involve members of the teaching profession.

Ofsted need to start to show compassion and as an organisation, recognise that humility, empathy and integrity go a long way. They need to take these actions now because if they don’t, before long they will end up looking like they are behaving like some deluded despot, desperate to cling to a power, long lost.

As measures go, these are pretty darn special.

The Art of Standing Out, published by John Catt Educational and available now, is the culmination of 18 years of experience as a Head for Andrew Morrish, who has a proven and unblemished record for transforming challenging schools from special measures to outstanding.

What do you think? Would a peer-review system of inspection work? Let us know via Twitter…

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  1. gov2

    “It was right for its time twenty years ago”

    No it wasn’t, certainly wasn’t what HMIs said at the time. Ofsted should at the latest have been abolished in 1997 but that was just another of the betrayals of Blair’s New Labour Government.

  2. gov2

    “It was right for its time twenty years ago”

    No it wasn’t, certainly wasn’t what HMIs said at the time. Ofsted should at the latest have been abolished in 1997 but that was just another of the betrayals of Blair’s New Labour Government.

  3. Nairb1

    Yes, but a non-political body with an agreed mandate to inspect fairly and support school improvement. From its inception Ofsted promoted itself as a tough, confrontational organisation with a body of inspectors who were always right. Example … my local school has been inspected recently. It has a good working relationship with the LA consisting of support and monitoring from a local authority adviser who is also a serving headteacher. The school and the LA judge the school to be ‘Good’. A recent Ofsted inspection (one day, one inspector) judged it as ‘Requiring Improvement.’ In the report it said that the school and LA were ‘over generous’ in their judgements. That’s it. End of discussion. Inspector correct, everybody else wrong. That’s not accountability.

  4. Ofsted claims that its inspections raise standards.  This is
    doubtful.  Standards rise because young people choose to study hard, are
    taught well by their teachers, are encouraged by their parents, and influenced
    by a positive climate towards school-work by their peer group of
    Schools do not need external inspection
    as though they were factories. Education is not an industry. Teachers are not
    technicians. Classrooms are not production lines. Schools are places where
    students and teachers, supported by parents and governors, work together in
    order to nurture and develop the interests and abilities of students by
    engaging in the multi-dimensional activities of the pursuit of learning.
    To raise their profile schools need
    ongoing dialogue of staff stimulated by experienced fellow professionals. 
    That can come from local authority inspectors who understand local problems, from
    colleagues in neighbouring schools on the basis of school self-evaluation, and
    others.  Schools improve from the inside
    – through collegial decisions of staff drawing on views of parents, local
    governors, local community and fellow professionals – not from the outside in
    the form of quick in-and-out visits by Ofsted inspectors.
    After 24 years of constantly
    changing, doubtful practice, it is time for Ofsted school inspections to be

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