Majority of college staff want Ofsted inspections to be abolished – survey

The majority of college staff want Ofsted inspections to be abolished, a survey has suggested.

A poll of more than 1,000 University and College Union (UCU) members in the further education (FE) sector suggests nearly four in five (77%) believe the Ofsted term “inadequate” is unacceptable.

Ofsted inspections create a “major health and safety risk” for staff who experience significant levels of stress and anxiety as a result of the process, according to a report from the union.

The watchdog has come under greater scrutiny in the past year following the death of headteacher Ruth Perry.

Ms Perry took her own life after an Ofsted report downgraded her Caversham Primary School in Reading from its highest rating, “outstanding”, to its lowest rating, “inadequate”, over safeguarding concerns.

In December, a coroner concluded the Ofsted inspection on November 15 and 16 in 2022 “contributed” to Mrs Perry’s death.

The survey of UCU members in FE in England, carried out between July and September 2023, found 57% believe Ofsted inspections should be abolished.

More than four in five (83%) said Ofsted inspections cause them anxiety and only 20% said they believe the Ofsted inspection process raises standards.

In March, Sir Martyn Oliver, chief inspector of Ofsted, launched the watchdog’s Big Listen public consultation – which closes at the end of the month – to seek views about the inspectorate.

Last week, the Department for Education (DfE) said it had no plans to remove single-phrase Ofsted judgments despite calls for them to be scrapped.

In its response to an Education Select Committee inquiry on Ofsted, the DfE said its priority was to look for ways to improve the inspection system rather than “developing an alternative to it”.

The report from the UCU – on Ofsted inspection in the FE sector – recommends that Ofsted inspections should be replaced with a collaborative peer-to-peer model that is valued and trusted by staff, students and parents.

It said: “The findings of this research show that, overall, UCU members have grave concerns about the stress, anxiety and adverse impact on health and wellbeing they experience as a result of Ofsted inspections and preparation for an Ofsted inspection.

“Our findings show that Ofsted inspections create a major health and safety risk for staff who experience significant levels of stress and anxiety both during and in the lead-up to inspections.”

The report added: “There is a crisis of confidence in the Ofsted inspection process.”

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “College staff are clear that Ofsted inspections need to be abolished. Our members say inspections are traumatic, and especially after the tragic death of Ruth Perry, we need an end to the stress and anxiety they induce.

“This report also affirms that the case for scrapping the ‘inadequate’ ruling is incontrovertible. It is simply unacceptable for the Government to rule out replacing it before Ofsted’s consultation has even finished.

“We now need an end to the tyranny of Ofsted inspections and for the health and safety of staff to be properly incorporated into a new peer-to-peer led model that is valued by those who actually work in the sector.”

Sir Martyn will address hundreds of school leaders at the NAHT annual conference in Newport in Wales this weekend.

Delegates at the school leaders’ union conference are due to debate a series of motions on inspection and accountability on Saturday.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Ofsted’s independent inspections are vital to ensuring students are safe and receive the education they deserve.

“We remain committed to Ofsted conducting inspections as an effective way of holding up good standards in education, with 92% of colleges now judged to be good or outstanding.

“We are looking forward to the conclusion of the Big Listen which will help inform us of the steps needed to continue to raise standards for children and young people across the board.”