Ofsted’s reforms: Missing the point

Ofsted has set out plans to rebalance school inspection, but is still failing to address the most crucial problem, says Dr Andrew Clapham in SecEd

Ofsted has announced a “rebalanced” approach to school inspection in England. Inspectors intend to move away from a focus on exam results. Echoing what teachers, school leaders and unions have been asking for, Ofsted has acknowledged that its current approach to inspection has significant and detrimental implications for schools.

The proposal suggests that schools in “tough” areas could be rated outstanding if they can demonstrate they have “great” teachers and curriculum. Rather than using the hard numbers of exam results and test data, inspectors will explore how those results have been achieved. They will want to know if high performing examination data is the result of broad and rich learning or gaming and cramming.

As Sean Harford, Ofsted’s national director for education, told the BBC’s Judith Burns, the new proposals would reveal if examination success was a result of a narrowed curriculum and “some naff qualifications”.

So, what does this all mean? On the surface it appears that Ofsted has made a significant move toward changing its inspection processes. After all, focusing on curriculum and teaching as well as examination results appears to be exactly what those in schools have been asking for.

Unfortunately, this appears to be a case of “moving the deckchairs” rather than a root and branch reorientation of inspection. The new proposals are still missing the point.

This is illustrated in the opening sentence of Judith Burn’s piece for the BBC. She writes that “a school in a tough area which has great teachers and a great curriculum could be rated outstanding from September, even if pupils’ results are mediocre, says Ofsted”.

It is the word mediocre that is pivotal here and illustrates that Ofsted is still struggling with the realities facing schools.

A student gaining an E in a test or examination might signal a monumental achievement. I have taught in challenging schools and have first-hand experience of many such cases.

For these young people and their teachers an E grade is anything but mediocre. Still using a pejorative phrase such as mediocre suggests that these proposals simply do not go far enough.

Until Ofsted acknowledges in its inspection framework that what categorises great schools and great teaching is context-specific, the teaching profession will treat announcements such as this with caution and scepticism.

What to do then? To eradicate an inspectorate-driven curriculum we might consider one simple change – eradicate the inspectorate itself and give teachers the responsibility and autonomy to do their jobs.

Read the full article Ofsted’s reforms: Missing the point

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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Categories: 1st POST, Infant, Leadership, Ofsted, Primary, Secondary and Teaching.


  1. Anonymous

    I think the core issue that Ofsted’s consultation avoids is the lack of consistency and reliability in Inspections.

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