Ofsted inspections: 'You would be better off flipping a coin'


Too many Ofsted inspectors lack the skills to properly and fairly analyse a school’s performance, a new report as warned.

According to the scathing review by think tank, Policy Exchange, Ofsted is staffed by inspectors whose judgement of lessons is so unreliable, ‘you would be better off flipping a coin', since research suggests that there's only a 50-50 chance that the results of the lesson observation tally with the actual progress made by pupils in a class.

The study said Ofsted should consider ‘abolishing or radically reducing’ the large number of inspectors it contracts from private firms, claiming that many lack the ability to analyse data or do not have the specialist knowledge in primary or special needs teaching to make a fair judgement. This leads to schools taking a lowest common denominator approach and making decisions on what Ofsted will understand, not necessarily what is in the best interests of the school.

There is also evidence, the report adds, that inspectors prefer certain methods of teaching, which has resulted in a number of schools being reluctant to change how they work for fear of getting a bad rating.

Author of the report, Jonathon Simons, said: ‘More needs to be done to drive up the quality of inspectors. Heads and teachers must feel confident that the person running their eye over their school is a specialist, preferably with recent teaching experience.

‘Inspectors don't need to be rocket scientists but they must also have the ability to interpret the increasing amounts of data on the performance of schools, and understand the different ways in which schools are now operating. Schools should not be forced to second-guess what the inspector coming through the door will be like.’

The report calls for all inspectors to have relevant and recent experience in the type of school they are assessing, and to pass exams on interpreting data.

The paper also recommends the introduction of a new two stage inspection process. This would enable Ofsted to focus more of its resources on struggling schools and free up better schools from the bureaucracy of a full inspection where this is not needed as much.

  • The first stage would be a ‘Short Inspection’ for all schools (including Free Schools and Academies) which would happen once every two years. The school would be inspected on two criteria – an overall graded judgment of outstanding to inadequate and a new combined ‘school capability’ grade which would assess the school’s ability to continue to perform.

  • The second stage would be a ‘Tailored Inspection’ for all schools that fail to achieve a good or outstanding grade in both criteria, as well as schools where a Short Inspection cannot make a judgement.

The resources saved by the two-stage model would allow Tailored Inspections to have on average, double the time that a normal inspection has at present. This will allow inspectors the time to really understand the school and its data, and explore issues that the school may feel a brief inspection does not cover.

Policy Exchange's report 'Watching the Watchmen: The future of school inspections in England' can be accessed here.


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