Ofsted lesson observations are ‘not valid or reliable’ tests of teacher performance, says right-wing think tank

Parents will always expect inspectors to spend time in the classroom

School inspectors might just as well “flip a coin” as judge teachers on their lesson performance, according to a highly critical report on Ofsted published today.

The report, from the right-wing think-tank Policy Exchange, recommends scrapping lesson observations altogether because they are “neither valid nor reliable” and raises serious questions about the quality of some inspections.

It says research suggests there is only a “50-50” chance that an inspector’s view of lesson observations will tally with the progress made by the pupils in the classroom.

Jonathan Simons, head of education at Policy Exchange and author of the report, said: “The evidence suggests that when it comes to relying on judgement of a trained Ofsted inspector on how effective a lesson is, you would be better off flipping a coin.”

The criticism is one of a number made in the report. It also questions the heavy reliance on private inspectors working for just three outsourcing companies. The firms employ around 3,000 staff, of whom 1,500 are actively engaged in inspections, while Ofsted itself only employs 300 - 400 directly.

Earlier indications that the report would be highly critical of Ofsted fuelled speculation of a rift between chief schools inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw and Education Secretary Michael Gove, with the former saying he was “spitting blood” and accusing Department for Education staff of briefing against him.

However, today’s report is not critical of Sir Michael himself and Michael Cladingbowl, Ofsted’s national director of schools, said it welcomed the recommendations – “many of which chime with our own”. But he added: “In my view parents will always expect inspectors to spend time in classrooms when they visit a school because teaching is the heart of what schools do.”

The report concludes that radical reforms are necessary to bring school inspections up to scratch, including a requirement for all inspectors to pass an exam testing their ability to analyse data before they can become accredited.

It also calls for short one-day inspections of all schools once every two years.

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