My sympathies are more with Ofsted than the PAC after the publication today of their Report by the Public Accounts Committee. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/1029/102902.htm
It is disappointing that so few PAC members were able to attend for both the two witness sessions and the subsequent approval of the draft report. How can anyone that didn’t attend the witness session really be expected to vote on the report, especially one so critical?
What really matters, and both the National Audit Office that reports to the Public Accounts Committee and the Committee itself should now focus upon, is how are critical reports from Ofsted are acted upon. There are widely different outcomes, even across the government controlled academy and free school sector, with Regional School Commissioners acting promptly on Ofsted reports in some cases and doing nothing in public in other cases. Even the Secretary of State’s speech in May, promising prompt action, doesn’t seem to have changed the landscape very much, if at all.
Ofsted surely isn’t perfect, but it has had budget cuts far greater than most schools have suffered and seen the local inspection and advisory services that used to provide important intelligence almost completely wiped out across large swathes of the country.
Layla Moran MP, the Lib Dem on the PAC and an opponent of Ofsted since her election to parliament in 2017 has said today that:
… 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 wellbeing 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. We must work with struggling schools to help them improve, rather than simply writing them off.”
Writing schools off after an inspection isn’t the fault of Ofsted, although they could be more forceful in some follow up monitoring visits, by laying the blame on other agencies for not intervening appropriately. The system needs to help schools improve, not just the inspection service. That is why a continued monitoring of schools and action, where necessary at a local level, is important. Since that isn’t possible under the present funding regime, this looks a bit like the PAC trying to shoot the messenger.
Are parents and students not listened to in the course of Ofsted inspections? I frequently read comments inspectors have included from parents and indeed pupils about issue such as bullying and behaviour. No doubt more could be done to increase feedback from just a minority, but as evidence it also needs evaluating against other data and observations.
The issue of teacher workload and an objective measure of whether or not a school is using its staffing resources wisely should be part of the on-going monitoring of schools at a system level. Here Ofsted is still hampered in respect of academy trusts and the oversight of other groups of schools.
We do need a system that is more quality assurance than quality control, but above all we need to ensure enough properly trained and qualified teachers for each and every school, otherwise any inspection regime will always continue to uncover under-performing schools.