With Amanda Spielman retiring last month and the appointment of Martyn Oliver as the new Ofsted Chief Inspector, we thought it would be a good time to reflect on the current inspection regime and asked Ian Wilson, Chair of the Board of Trustees at The Howard Partnership Trust in Surrey, for his opinions on the current system, how it could be improved and if there were any alternatives that could be considered. All opinions/views expressed are personal and not the Trust’s.
In your opinion, is Ofsted still the best way of holding schools accountable?
There will always be a need for a way to hold schools accountable. However, the current Ofsted model is not the best way. It tries to combine checks on compliance (e.g. safeguarding) with advice on improvement. It does the former fairly well and the latter badly. Recommendations for improvement are often simplistic and formulaic. In the pre-Ofsted era, the school where I was Head of Maths had an inspection by HMI, for a week, with experts in each major subject. It was one of the best professional development experiences I had, because the HMI engaged in dialogue throughout the visit. Ofsted inspectors now have no time to offer this sort of advice, and they are widely distrusted by teachers and parents.
Do you see any alternative ways of ensuring schools provide the best outcomes for pupils?
I think compliance should be a separate function. For example, Local Authorities (suitably resourced) could be charged with checking on safeguarding in all schools. Ofsted could concentrate on school improvement by, as has been suggested recently, validating a school’s self- and peer-evaluation. Reports should not have an overall single judgement. If a school is identified as needing leadership support, Ofsted should coordinate this support (working with the MAT or the LA) and should have a continuing ‘duty of care’ to the school through (non-published) visits.
Can you please give your views on the recent changes to the Ofsted framework- should any other changes have been made?
The removal of judging outcomes, and looking at the quality of learning, are welcome. The decision to write the reports to be read by parents has necessarily led to generic phraseology. Schools should have a detailed version with much more specific advice on how to improve.
What would you like to see from a strategic viewpoint from the new Ofsted Chief Inspector, Martyn Oliver?
A period of reflection and consultation. A recognition that school leaders are faced with unprecedented pressures – real-terms cuts in funding, shortage of teachers and so on- and a commitment to work with leaders to construct a better model.
Can we take examples from inspection regimes in other countries which are delivering better results?
I am always wary of trying to extrapolate from other countries, because cultures and traditions can be factors leading to better outcomes. That said, I admire the school systems in Norway and Denmark, which have no centralised inspection systems. One of the causes of their good school outcomes might be the much higher status given to teachers in those countries!