Cross-party MPs accuse Ofsted of underperforming

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A new damning report from the Public Accounts Committee on Ofsted’s performance calls for the Government to review the inspectorate’s approach.

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Ofsted has been accused of failing to inspect schools on time and not assuring parents of the quality of schools

Published today, the report highlights ‘shortcomings in Ofsted’s performance’, including failing to complete fewer inspections than planned, not meeting its targets for how often schools should be inspected, and leaving schools longer between inspections.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) claims that Ofsted incorrectly reported to Parliament it had met the statutory target for re-inspecting schools every five years.

With one-day inspections of ‘good’ schools and the exemption of ‘outstanding’ schools from routine inspection, the Committee accuses Ofsted of not providing the level of independent assurance about the quality of education schools and parents need. It says some outstanding schools have not been inspected for six years or more.

However, Ofsted's chief inspector Amanda Spielman said she was confident that inspections provide parents, schools and the Government with the assurance they need about school standards (see full response below).

Within the report, the cross-party group of MPs go on to express disappointment that the chief inspector ‘seems reluctant to offer her views about wider issues affecting the school system'.

They also argue that the Department for Education needs to be clearer about what the purpose of inspection is and where responsibility for improving underperforming schools lies.

Report recommendations

The report makes a number of other recommendations, including:

  • The Department for Education to make clear where responsibility for school improvement lies, as part of its review of accountability.
  • Ofsted reporting annually to Parliament detailing how many schools have not been inspected within the statutory target and the reasons why.
  • The Department for Education (DfE) to re-examine the rationale for exempting schools graded outstanding from routine re-inspection, and to report back to the Committee in December.
  • Ofsted and the DfE to review whether the short inspection model provides sufficient, meaningful assurance about schools’ effectiveness, as well as evaluate the costs and benefits of alternative approaches, including carrying out more full inspections.
  • Ofsted writing a letter to the Committee in April 2019 with an update on the gap between the numbers of inspectors employed and budgeted for, and the turnover rate.
  • Consideration by Ofsted to open up its training to headteachers and deputies working in schools graded as requires improvement and inadequate so these schools can benefit in the same way as schools that are performing well.

The Committee wants the DfE and Ofsted to report back in December with its findings.

Chair of the Public Accounts Committee Meg Hillier MP said, ‘Cuts to Ofsted’s budget have undermined families’ ability to make informed decisions about schools.

‘It is not encouraging that Ofsted also misinformed Parliament about the inspections it had carried out – a mistake that further calls into question its effectiveness. We expect to see evidence that action Ofsted says it has taken to address this failing is working.

‘If the level of inspection continues to be eroded there is a risk that Ofsted will come to be perceived by parents, Parliament and taxpayers as not relevant or worse, simply a fig leaf for Government failures on school standards. 

‘Should this happen, its credibility will evaporate.’

Committee member and Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Layla Moran MP added, ‘The problems with Ofsted are not just operational. Ofsted’s judgements lack reliability and validity. Their inspections heap pressure on to teachers that far outweighs any benefits they provide.

‘Rather than focusing narrowly on results, our education system should value long-term success and the well-being of our children and teachers. That’s why the Liberal Democrats would abolish Ofsted and replace it with a new system for school inspections which would take into account pupil and parent feedback and teacher workload.'

Ofsted’s response

Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman said, ‘I welcome the Public Accounts Committee’s recognition of the vital role that Ofsted plays in our education system.

‘As with all of the public sector, we have had to do more with less. However, I remain confident that our inspections provide parents, schools and the Government with the assurance they need about school standards and that we do so in a way that compares very favourably in terms of quality and value for money with school inspection regimes internationally.

‘However, as I said at the hearing, we have reached the limit in terms of being able to provide that level of assurance within our current funding envelope. That is why, with our ongoing framework review, we are looking at how to ensure that schools and parents get everything they need from our reports, and why many of the committee’s recommendations are already long in train.

‘I understand that the committee is disappointed that I would not be drawn into giving my views on some wider issues in the sector. My role is to provide Parliament and the secretary of state with an evidence-based appraisal of educational standards. It would be irresponsible of me to make comment on those areas where we do not have clear evidence of the impact on standards or young people’s well-being. 

‘Where we do have that evidence, be it about the dangers of illegal unregistered schools, the risks of radicalisation, the narrowing of the curriculum or the importance of early literacy, I have not hesitated to speak out and will continue to do so.’

Sector comments

Responding to the PAC report, The National Education Union (NEU) said it was time for Ofsted to be ‘abolished and replaced’.

Its joint general secretary, Kevin Courtney, said, ‘The PAC report highlights some significant concerns about Ofsted – that it doesn’t listen sufficiently to parents’ views about their school, that it has failed to provide accurate information to Parliament and that the chief inspector (HMCI) has failed to speak truth to power.’

He added, ‘The National Education Union believes the current school inspection system is not fit for purpose. There is an inconsistent approach to the use of data and the approach taken by inspectors, and serious concerns about the quality of inspectors. The absence of respectful professional dialogue between inspectors and teachers is harmful. An effective school evaluation system should enable schools to 'know themselves' honestly in order to support their development and effectiveness. The current system de-skills teachers and disempowers school leaders.

‘It is time for a complete overhaul. Ofsted must be abolished and replaced with a system of school self-review and peer evaluation, with quality assurance by local inspectors (HMIs) and an HMCI that is unafraid to speak truth to power’.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), however, commended Ofsted for helping to transform education standards in England.

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the NAHT and chair of the Commission on School Accountability, said, ‘With around £44m spent annually on school inspection, it is right that the Public Accounts Committee should continue to focus on value for money and the reliability of Ofsted judgements.

 ‘School leaders expect to be held to account. Children only get one chance at an education and it is absolutely right that arrangements are in place to monitor quality and to take action where problems exist – quite frankly, the stakes are simply too high not to. But accountability systems should always be tested against their ability to improve standards. In the 25 years since Ofsted were formed they have helped transform educational standards in this country. Now, the vast majority of schools are good or better. This changed landscape demands a different approach if Ofsted are to continue to be a force for improvement in education.

‘The NAHT-led commission on accountability publishes its own report next Friday.’

  •  The Public Accounts Committee report is available here
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