After weeks of controversy over the performance of Ofsted, the education standards watchdog was the focus of some welcome consensus yesterday, with a future mapped out for schools inspections that should better serve the interests of teachers and parents.
At the beginning of the week, the conservative think-tank Policy Exchange published a report disparaging Ofsted inspectors’ ability to rate teachers, suggesting it should move to a system of less frequent inspections for schools rated good or outstanding. These concerns were echoed yesterday by the Association of School and College Leaders in a pamphlet published to coincide with its annual conference. And in addressing the conference, the Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, caught the mood.
In future, schools rated outstanding or good – which at present are subject to a week-long inspection once every five years – will receive only a one-day visit once every two or three years. There are conditions attached, but the logic is obvious: if schools are maintaining a high standard, why should they be weighed down by the anxiety of preparing for an inspection? The threat to headteachers’ jobs posed by an unfavourable report is such that would-be applicants for the top positions are becoming harder to find, which was reason in itself to rethink the system.
Policy Exchange went too far in suggesting that inspectors might just as well “flip a coin” as carry out observations of teachers during lessons. But Sir Michael acknowledged concerns over the quality of inspections, announcing that he would carry out a review of a system which at the moment involves the majority of inspections being outsourced to one of three private contractors. He rightly argued that such a system did not give Ofsted enough leverage over the quality of inspections.
It is good to see this meeting of minds between Ofsted and the country’s headteachers, who too often in the past have been at loggerheads. Not that everything will be plain sailing as a result of Sir Michael’s announcement. There are always going to be instances when inspectors and those inspected disagree. But at least we now have the basis of an inspection system which has headteachers’ respect.