Last year I was asked by the Trustees of R.I.S.E (Research and Information on State Education) to write a 5000 word review of the first twenty years of Ofsted. The piece is accessible here
. The project was enjoyable but challenging, particularly in covering such a complex, influential and, of course, controversial organisation in a relatively limited number of words. R.I.S.E stressed that their reviews, published annually, should be balanced and I suspect that many LSN regulars will regard my finished piece as too soft on Ofsted!
So it’s perhaps worth reporting the comment to me by one retired very senior HMI, (highly critical, incidentally, of both the way Ofsted developed and of a certain ex-chief inspector) that before Ofsted most teachers closed the classroom door on their first morning of teaching and ‘the door remained shut for forty years’.
As an ex-head, Ofsted inspector and (still) governor it might be thought my research would, at least in the main, confirm what I already knew or strongly suspected but that was far from the case. I hadn’t realised, to take one example, how seriously Conservative ministers around 1990 considered setting up a national system of inspection based on local authority inspection services monitored by HMI – even though some of those same ministers saw HMI as part of the ‘education problem’.
I had also forgotten how closely linked the establishment of Ofsted was to the Citizens’ Charter (remember that?) and how parental choice was seen as a driver of the new service even more than school improvement.
And I wonder how Ken Clarke, Stewart Sutherland and others who toiled to set up this vast bureaucracy in a remarkably short time in 1992 and 1993 would have reacted to being told that in its first twenty years Ofsted would have ten changes of framework. We have become so used to constant changes in its approach to school inspection it’s easy to lose sight of how terribly undesirable this is and how difficult for schools to manage.
Finally, many in education who looked through all twenty odd annual reports of the eight chief inspectors since 1992, (including Chris Woodhead and Michael Wilshaw) might be surprised by the strength of their positivity about the state of schools .
Surely, they hadn't all gone native.