Leading article: Nothing to fear from Ofsted

 

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On a personal level, it may be possible to sympathise with a headteacher who is feeling the pressure from Ofsted's new no-notice inspection regime. But school assessments must surely be conducted with a view to providing the most accurate portrait of Britain's education system, rather than sparing the stresses of teachers.

There are many in the profession who appear to disagree, however. Four out of 10 headteachers are planning to take early retirement because of the changes to Ofsted inspections, according to the relevant professional association. It can only be hoped that the malcontents are merely registering their irritation and Britain's schools do not face a mass exodus. Either way, however, the Government must not give in. The simple fact is that no-notice inspections promise to be more effective. Under the old system, duff teachers might be told not to come in on a pre-arranged Ofsted day, pupils might be primed to be on their best behaviour, and all kinds of special preparation might have gone into impressing inspectors. And schools doing their jobs properly should have nothing to fear from spot checks.

That said, it is important that the new regime does not focus entirely on exam results and teaching achievements, with no regard for circumstances. There is much to be said for retaining existing measures which consider how a school in a disadvantaged area has improved the abilities of pupils who may have started at a lower level than their middle-class counterparts.

Where teachers' complaints have most force is in the variable quality of Ofsted inspections. The calibre of the regulator's assessors is still too uneven, allowing unduly subjective judgements based on eccentric personal experiences. The amounts of preparatory paperwork required are also excessive. Inspectors should be spending their time watching and listening, not reading pro-forma self-assessments.

If Ofsted wants a "no excuses" culture, the same should apply to its inspections. It is up to the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, to ensure that it does. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes, as he might put it.

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