We, the teachers, must hold OFSTED’s feet to the fire


Policy Exchange today publish a report calling for OFSTED to be more like a hygiene inspector, and less like a food critic.

In brief, the report recommends:

  • a 2 stage inspection process
  • a 1-day, data-driven ‘health check’ inspection every 2 years with an overall grade, and a capability grade merging leadership, teaching, behavior & achievement
  • a tailored inspection for schools with inconclusive data, or at risk of requiring improvement, with an overall grade, and the 4 separate current sub-grades
  • a shift of manpower away from good and outstanding schools to those at risk of requiring improvement and below


Strikingly, it also advocates:

  • the total abolition of all routine lesson observations by Ofsted
  • abolishing or drastically reducing the dependence on Additional Inspectors


Facts in the report show:

  • Achievement grades correlate with overall grades in around 99% of cases
  • OFSTED spend £30m of £127 a year on outsourced contracts for Additional Inspectors
  • There are around 400 HMIs and 3000 AIs, who have no requirement to have taught in the last 5 years or expertise in data
  • 57% of schools who’ve had four or more inspections judged inadequate or requiring improvement are not yet good
  • Only 2% of (self-selecting) respondents felt accountability from OFSTED was positive
  • 72% of teachers said that they’d change their practice when OFSTED inspected



So the report further recommends that:

  1. Inspectors should have recent experience in primary, secondary or special schools
  2. Inspectors should pass a data interpretation test every five years
  3. Ofsted should introduce moderation to test reliability and validity of inspections
  4. Schools’ internal assessment should be externally moderated regularly
  5. Ofsted should pilot and publish student surveys, including on teaching, bullying and safety.
  6. Ofsted should remove mixed messages on teaching practice from the handbook and reports
  7. Ofsted should improve the way ParentView surveys work
  8. Ofsted should design a system for inspecting Academy chains


As a teacher and prospective school leader, I whole-heartedly endorse the recommendations, especially the total abolition of lesson observations, and the shift to OFTSED mainly validating schools’ self-evaluation.

Policy Exchange rightly envision an inspectorate that:

  • Encourages and supports a system in which schools are the primary judges of 
their own progress, and primary drivers of their own improvement – albeit with Ofsted playing an external check and validation
  • Encourages – or at a minimum does not discourage – innovation amongst schools
  • Doesn’t drive perverse behaviours, or other unhelpful responses, which 
include a disproportionate focus of school time in advance

But I have some questions as to whether Policy Exchange’s report goes far enough in its reform agenda. In particular, it locks in judgements on teaching, 1-4 grading of schools, and inspectorate unaccountability.


1. Why judge teaching methods?

Should OFSTED be judging the quality of teaching at all? Schools clearly need to focus on improving teaching quality, but given that pupil data drive the overall grade with a correlation in 99% of cases, is the teaching judgement necessary? Couldn’t behaviour, leadership and achievement capture it? Might data from pupil and parent surveys remove the need to have snapshot lesson observations at all?


2. Why grade schools out of 4?

Should schools be graded between 1 and 4 at all? Is the ‘outstanding’ label (and its criteria) helpful? Won’t keeping it mean schools will keep chasing and obsessing over ‘what Ofsted want’ as ‘outstanding’? Given that some 80% of schools are good or outstanding, wouldn’t a simple threshold of good/requires improvement suffice, freeing schools to innovate in their own way?


3. How can we hold OFSTED’s feet to the fire?

What makes a schools inspectorate most effective, internationally? What does world-class regulator accountability look like? To what extent are OFSTED matching up to best global practice?


Most importantly, on all these questions, what do headteachers, school leaders and teachers think? Who could independently commission a survey to find out?


In their detailed recommendations, Policy Exchange are setting the agenda. Ultimately, though, it’s not up to think tanks; it’s up to the profession to improve the intelligence of our accountability system.

OFTSED say they’re open to listening. Their Director of Schools Mike Cladingbowl has met headteacher and teacher bloggers, has already accepted the need for a new blueprint, and welcomed the recommendations. The blogosphere is gaining momentum. The time is ripe.


We, the teachers, must rethink what we want from our regulator.

About Joe Kirby

School leader, education writer, Director of Education and co-founder, Athena Learning Trust, Deputy head and co-founder, Michaela Community School, English teacher
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11 Responses to We, the teachers, must hold OFSTED’s feet to the fire

  1. Tim Taylor says:

    Reblogged this on Primary Blogging.

  2. Pingback: Watching the watchmen: Is Ofsted fit for purpose? | David Didau: The Learning Spy

  3. Joe Kirby says:

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  4. colingoffin says:

    Is the 99% a reason to remove any focus on teaching? I’m not so sure. What if this is a reflection of judgements being made in advance based solely on data and then inspections not being effective enough to look below the surface and see what’s really going on and merely seeing what they want to justify a decision made before they arrive at the school? If this was an individual teacher going through PRP I’m assuming there’d be arguments for looking at context and what interventions were taken with groups etc before forming a decision based solely on numbers. Why would we not afford the same to an institution before deciding? I can see the popular appeal of calling for inspectors to stay out of classrooms but shouldn’t ‘we the teachers’ actually want teaching to form part of how are schools and profession are judged? Yes make the system more appropriate, even handed and transparent but don’t take away the opportunity for us to be part of it through our teaching. I’m assuming that it was the classroom not the spreadsheet that most of us saw our work taking place.

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