Objections: Ruthless, Narrow-visioned, Fear-inducing, Undermining, Unsupportive

Ofsted’s Strategic Plan for 2006/7 gives this objective for school inspections: Help learners to achieve their full potential by reporting clearly, independently and unambiguously on quality and standards in education.

Notwithstanding this worthy aim, over the years Ofsted has been a subject of intense concern from within the teaching profession, as the evidence shows.

Eight Objections to Ofsted Inspections

1. The first of these objections lies in the official statement above. Ofsted expects schools to achieve standards in education set by national government and castigates those that don’t. But government sets arbitrary standards for all schools, irrespective of local conditions, based on vague presumptions about the future economic needs of the country. For example: in primary schools at least 65% of pupils at key stage two should achieve level 4 or higher in English and mathematics, and in secondary schools more than 30% of pupils should gain 5 GCSEs levels A*-C including English and mathematics. Ofsted acts as the ruthless enforcer of government policies that have a narrow vision of education and fail to take account of local circumstances.

2. The second objection arises from the first. Ofsted inspectors are in day-to-day contact with schools and must be acutely aware of the major concerns about government educational policy made by professionals on the amount of testing, the constraints imposed by the national curriculum, and the extent of ministerial interference in the work of schools. But instead of expressing these concerns to ministers and challenging them to realise how counter-productive many of their policies are, Ofsted has chosen to consistently enforce government requirements and ride rough-shod over schools’ protestations.

3. Ofsted sees any shortcomings in a school’s work as the fault of the teachers and a failure of management. It discounts the idea that socioeconomic factors in the school’s environment might contribute to performance problems.

4. Ofsted inspections are feared by teachers who, perceiving the inspectors as the enemy, may perform abnormally (ie better or worse than usual) in the classroom when observed.

5. Ofsted inspections are feared by headteachers who know that their job can be at stake if the school gets an adverse report.

6. Ofsted inspection reports challenge schools that are perceived as underachieving, but offer little assistance in helping the school or individual teachers to improve. Since 2003 it has adopted a ‘naming and shaming policy’ which publicly identifies schools put into special measures.

7. Ofsted letters to pupils after an inspection can undermine the professional relationship between teachers and pupils and between teachers and parents. (Introduced in 2005)

8. Ofsted’s email system for parents to complain about schools encourages a culture of complaint. (Introduced in 2007)

These objections to Ofsted indicate that it acts as a ruthless enforcer of government policies with a narrow vision of education which fails to take account of local circumstances, that it is fear-inducing in a way alien to most practitioners of teaching, that it undermines the professional status of teachers, and that it fails to provide support to those needing help.

Evidence from the educational press of professional concern gives strong support to these concerns.

Why Spend an Estimated £70 million on Ofsted Annually?

Coupled with the paucity of evidence that it is actually helping to raise standards, the question arises as to whether the estimated £70 million spent annually on Ofsted inspections is worthwhile.

Click here to read of the lack of evidence that Ofsted raises standards