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Can Ofsted inspections be improved? Education Committee launches new inquiry

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The Education Committee today launches a new inquiry that will examine the way Ofsted inspects schools.

The cross-party Committee will look at the current inspection framework introduced in 2019, and examine whether this has had an impact on school standards and the workload and wellbeing of teachers and school leaders.

MPs will also look into questions raised by the education sector that the ratings and feedback Ofsted gives to schools may not be conducive to helping schools improve. Ofsted has acknowledged there are “legitimate” questions regarding the use of its four-level ratings system.

Another focus of the inquiry will be complaints procedures available to schools. In March 2023, Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman said the complaints procedure was “not a satisfying process” for some schools, and that the inspectorate was “doing another round of work to try and find a different way of approaching [complaints]”.

However, responses to Ofsted’s post-inspection surveys last year found that 92% of schools said they were satisfied with the way the inspection was carried out, and 85% agreed that the benefits of inspection outweighed any negative aspects.

Education Committee Chair Robin Walker MP said: 

“Ofsted plays a crucial role in inspecting schools and ensuring that the quality of education remains high, this is important for parents, children and the schools system, but there have been a range of concerns raised about the way it works and the impact on teachers and leaders. The appointment of the new His Majesty’s Chief Inspector later this year provides a valuable opportunity to take a step back and assess how well the system is working. We will want to look at what can be improved and how the system can respond to some of the concerns that have been raised about workload and pressure on leaders and teachers.

Sector Response

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“School leaders will welcome this inquiry into school inspections. NAHT will certainly be submitting evidence on behalf of our members.

“The changes already announced by Ofsted do not go far enough to address the concerns the profession have or to mitigate the harm inspections can cause. It is becoming increasingly clear that there is an overwhelming desire for meaningful change.

“We hope the Education Select Committee will listen carefully to the experiences and concerns of the profession and help bring about much needed change.”

Tom Middlehurst, Curriculum, Assessment and Inspection Specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“We welcome this inquiry and in particular its focus on single-phrase judgements. While this has been an area of concern among school leaders for a long time, it has been brought sharply into focus following the death of headteacher Ruth Perry. It is simply not right to label something as complex as a school or college with a single phrase, with major consequences for those involved. We know there are better ways to hold schools accountable, and provide information for parents, which are both more accurate and less damaging to the mental health and wellbeing of teachers and leaders.

“Although Ofsted has announced some positive changes to the inspection process this week, they have continued to duck the vital issue of single-phrase judgements despite almost unanimous agreement from the education profession that things must urgently change. Neither Ofsted nor the Department for Education seem willing or able to face up to this problem and we are pleased that this issue will now be given parliamentary scrutiny.”

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:   

“The NEU welcomes this inquiry into Ofsted.  There is overwhelming consensus in the education profession that inspections need to change – and to change much more substantially than the piecemeal reforms announced by Ofsted this week. 

“We hope this inquiry will hear from a wide range of education professionals to build the case for a different approach.  Looking at the impact of the current regime on school leaders, teachers and pupils, including the impact of single-word judgements is paramount as is a full assessment of whether or not Ofsted is having any meaningful impact on supporting improvement.  We look forward to engaging with the inquiry and sharing the views and experiences of our members.” 

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