Ofsted has some very harsh critics, and not without good reason. Indeed, in answer to the question: How can we improve Ofsted’s role in school improvement? There will be many people who would simply say, ‘Abolish it.’ To be fair, there’s a pretty strong and compelling argument to support abolition.
However, being realistic, abolishing the watchdog is something that just isn’t going to happen. You have to make do with the cards you have been dealt, and to be fair to Amanda Spielman’s reforms and recently announced new framework proposals, those cards are looking decidedly better than they have for a while.
Of course, not everybody agrees, and she has her fair number of cynics and sceptics. But, in general, most welcomed – if lukewarmly rather than warmly – Spielman’s vision for the future. She has certainly been praised for what appears to be a genuinely consultative approach for school improvements.
But many people would still argue that more could be done to strengthen Ofsted’s role in school improvement. Here are some suggestions.
Should the Ofsted grading be dropped?
If Ofsted is talking the talk of taking an educational approach to inspection, it needs to walk the walk too. That can’t be done if it insists on still using the language of judgement. Branding a school ‘inadequate’ is to place a massively heavy and cumbersome chain around a school’s neck. It’s a weight that very few manage to lift from their shoulders. The stigma it causes can prompt a damaging exodus of pupils and staff. It sets in motion a chain of events that make it all the harder to secure the improvements that are needed.
A fair complaints procedure is needed
The number of complaints made about Ofsted are very low, especially given the huge number of inspections that occur each year. However, the current complaints procedure is so heavily weighted in favour of Ofsted, it’s no surprise that this is the case.
At present, it is not possible for the independent adjudicator to overturn an inspection judgement, or for it to award any amount of financial compensation. In fact, any recommendations made are not even binding on Ofsted. It makes the independent adjudicator utterly impotent and completely toothless, and it really begs the question: why would any school even bother to lodge a complaint?
The independent adjudicator needs to have the power to overturn a judgement and any recommendations made need to be binding on Ofsted.
Learning needs to be better defined
The shift in focus away from examination data as the emphasis of inspection and judgement is encouraging, but if the new focus is to be on the strength of the curriculum and learning then Ofsted really needs to update its definition of learning. Currently it centres on the alteration in long-term memory, stating that if nothing is altered in long-term memory then this essentially means that nothing has been learned.
This is far too narrow a definition. Learning is about much more than a pupil simply acquiring more factual knowledge. If a young person’s understanding, values, attitudes or capabilities are altered then learning has taken place. Ofsted needs to recognise this.
The steps taken by Ofsted’s Chief Inspector to update the new framework are definitely steps taken in the right direction. However, more needs to be done if we are to create an inspection system that is fair and developmental and supportive of all stakeholders.