I suggested Civitas’s anger at Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw was motivated in part by his unwillingness to denounce what Civitas described as “now-discredited child-led methods of the 1960s.” Instead, Sir Michael instructed Ofsted inspectors to be neutral and not comment on teaching styles.
However, this was not the sole basis for Civitas’s complaints re Ofsted. There were more:
1“Ofsted’s ethos is still influenced by the desire to enforce compliance with centrally-imposed targets, rather than to encourage the professional development of school leaders and teachers.”
2Ofsted’s imposition of standards is erratic and often varies with the personal tastes of individual inspectors”.
3Ofsted’s approach is based on a narrow theory of human nature… sticks and carrots… The objective should be continuous personal improvement, rather than public ‘naming and shaming’.
I’ll take each in turn.
Civitas appears to recognise the destructive nature of centrally-imposed targets. Others have pointed out the negative effect
of league tables and the excessive emphasis
on raw test results in England. But targets are not set by Ofsted but by the government of the day. And Ofsted is required to comment on a school’s exam results in relation to the national average.
The concern about Ofsted’s remit was shared by the Education Select Committee
in 2011. It said there was confusion about whether Ofsted was a regulatory and inspection body or an improvement agency.
The erratic nature of Osted’s judgements
This concern was also shared by the Select Committee. It concluded Ofsted’s credibility was undermined because too few inspectors had recent and relevant experience. Sir Michael has made it clear inspectors must not judge teaching styles. This should go some way to eradicating comments based on a narrow view of what good teaching looks like.
But the suspicion that Ofsted is erratic is not reduced by such high-profile cases as Downhills, where the same lead inspector overturned her own opinion within weeks, or Roke Primary
, forced to become an academy after a temporary blip in performance picked up by Ofsted.
Civitas is correct that Ofsted’s focus should be on improving schools. But Ofsted, the Department for Education (DfE) and the media combine to pillory “failing” schools. When Ofsted changed the meaning of Satisfactory from “satisfying the criteria” to “Requires Improvement” and then applied it retrospectively, hundreds of schools were downgraded into the “failing” category. This fueled suspicion that Ofsted is dancing to the DfE’s tune.
Civitas is also right when it says teachers are motivated by a sense of purpose and the desire to improve their own competence. But Ofsted and the DfE often appear in collusion to shame schools into improving their results. And the Government’s insistence on performance-related pay
(PRP) shows it doesn‘t understand what motivates teachers.
The think-tank is right that good schools make a difference. But it’s wrong in assuming that only free schools can innovate (providing they escape Ofsted’s yoke, of course). All schools are intimidated by a centrally-imposed accountability system based on league tables. It is this which hinders innovation and encourages schools to play safe.
Civitas is also wrong in assuming that “innovation” means dumping the “shibboleths of the last 30 years”. Innovation means taking risks, trying things out and evaluating them. It doesn’t mean being restricted to what outside bodies, whether rogue Ofsted inspectors, think-tanks, politicians or the media, believe is good teaching practice.