Ofsted can be summed up in one word: inadequate
Twenty-six years ago, following a contentious departure from Ofsted, I wrote an article for the Guardian (The high price of inspection, 3 June 1997). Little did I realise how high that price would be in terms of teachers’ mental health, ruined careers, demoralised schools, retention crises and, in extreme cases, individuals’ suicides (Punishing Ofsted regime is driving us out of education, say school leaders, 24 March). Doubtless many schools did improve as a result of Ofsted inspections, but some did not. Some schools benefited from, and gloried in, Ofsted accolades, but many did not. In the many negative instances, both children’s and teachers’ interests were poorly served.
I finished my article with: “There has to be a better way.” I still stand by that contention, and not just through removing misleading, simplistic overall grades. A better way can be found by drawing on the previous experiences of HM Inspectorate of Schools, abolished in 1992, and on inspection systems in other jurisdictions, including Wales. That will require political goodwill, as evidenced in Labour’s education plans, and determined but humane leadership once the current cloth-eared, ideological chief inspector steps down, or is forced to do so.
Prof Colin Richards
Spark Bridge, Cumbria
• In her comments on the disastrous inspection of Caversham primary school (Should Ofsted behave like swooping hawks? How can schools thrive in a climate of fear?, 23 March), Gaby Hinsliff makes a lot of good points but misses the most important one. The creation of a “climate of fear” is not a matter of management style but is inherent in the way in which Ofsted operates.
Ofsted was never set up to be an accountability mechanism for taxpayers, or a resource for school improvement, but to be an enforcer of government policy within the marketised system of schooling introduced by the 1988 Education Reform Act. The theory was that, alongside “league tables” of exam results and Sats scores, Ofsted reports would influence the exercise of “parental choice”, which in turn would force “failing” schools to “raise their game” in order to attract enough pupils to continue to function. The public humiliation of the leaders and staff of “failing schools” – overwhelmingly those that cater for the children of the poor – was and remains central to the project.
The current chief inspector has just announced that the continuance of Ofsted inspections is “in children’s best interests”, but it is difficult to see how children’s interests are served by demoralising their teachers, of whom there is an increasingly short supply.
The Campaign for State Education
• I am deeply saddened by the death of Ruth Perry, the head of Caversham primary school. It was a tragedy waiting to happen to any dedicated member of the teaching profession. I am a veteran of 13 Ofsted inspections as a class teacher, a parent governor, a deputy head and a chair of governors, and I can honestly say that none of them did anything to enhance the education of the children involved.
An inspection is only a snapshot of a school’s work, but often a flawed judgment of a school’s overall performance is made on the basis of that. It is time for this cruel, ineffective system to end. I am long retired, but I feel for the teachers, like Ruth Perry, who have done their best – day in, day out – for the children in their care.
Scarborough, North Yorkshire
• A question for the head of Ofsted, lead inspectors and education ministers: would you be happy if your child’s school report was summarised by one of these headings: “Outstanding”, “Good”, “Requires improvement”, “Inadequate”?
Holmfirth, West Yorkshire
• In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123, or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at befrienders.org.