Leading article: Less than outstanding

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The Independent Online

There has long been an inflationary feeling about the way that so many schools have been judged "outstanding" by school inspectors. Even beyond the pedantic point that outstanding is a relative term – it makes little sense to suggest that so many can stand out from the rest – it was symptomatic of an Ofsted regime that focused as much on schools' self-evaluation forms and performance management reviews as on what was going on in the classroom.

Thankfully, that is about to change. Not only will the Ofsted reforms announced yesterday make it harder for schools to be rated outstanding. The new regime, which will begin in January, also sensibly promises that inspectors will get back to basics, spending more time in the classroom observing lessons, and less on bureaucratic governance issues.

The focus on standards in numeracy and literacy will be particularly keen, and under the new regime inspectors will listen to how well children read aloud in class. There will also be greater focus on teaching, attainment, pupils' behaviour and leadership in the school. And New Labour's woolly preoccupation with "community cohesion" is to go, replaced by a greater focus on anti-bullying strategies for sexual minorities and for helping clever children and ethnic minorities.

So far, so good. The plan for unannounced monitoring swoops by inspectors on schools rated as "satisfactory" or less is also sound. But the proposal that parents be able to make anonymous complaints about their children's school on the Ofsted website is ill-considered and should be abandoned.

The scheme is flawed at every level. There are technical inconsistencies, such as as how Ofsted can ensure that comments are from genuine parents. Then there are dangers that the system be used to settle scores or conduct witchhunts against individual teachers. And finally there is a point of principle. While parents, of course, have a right to complain about their children's schooling, teachers are also justified in the view that problem pupils are often less troublesome than problem parents. Unsurprisingly, headteachers view the scheme with considerable misgivings. Their concerns should be heard. The plan is a flaw in an otherwise cogent set of reforms.