The House of Commons Select Committee on Education has considered arguments for the abolition of Ofsted, and decided that it should stay.
However, the agency needs to clear up the confusion between its roles as an inspection body and as an improvement agency, by making it clear that its role is to say what needs to improve, but not how it should improve.
The National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) suggested to the committee that the focus should be about ‘a supportive process that is about school improvement and driving that forward.’ Some 84% respondents to a NAHT poll reported that the current inspection system did not accelerate improvement.
Researchers from the Department of Economics at the University of Keele presented evidence that Ofsted inspections had an adverse impact on the examination performance of schools in the year of an ofsted inspection.
‘The efforts required by teaching staff in responding to the demands of the school inspection system,’ suggested Keele’s Les Rosenthal, ‘are great enough to divert resources from teaching so as to affect pupil achievement in the year of the visit.’
Professor Nick Foskett, also from Keele, suggested that Ofsted could generate more improvement if it were to engage schools in a more thoughtful and creative way, rather than adopting an approach which ‘does not encourage lateral thinking and creativity in different modes that don’t quite match the Ofsted wary of working.
Members of the committee visited Finland, which has no formal inspection system, and noted that the lack of stress meant that relations between central and local government are amiable.
The committed concluded however, that ‘variations in school performance explained by socio economic intake means external evaluation remains important.’ For England.
John Dunford, chair of Whole Education, observed that it was not the fault of Ofsted that the main accountability measure for secondary schools of % A*-C grades at GCSE is a ‘stupid measure.’ There is a simple answer to every question,’ he remarked, ‘and it is usually wrong, because there always are complex issues, particularly in a place such as a school. So you need something that has a degree of complexity about it.’
The role and performance of Ofsted, second report of session 2010-11 (HC 570-1) can be downloaded from here.