Questions raised over Ofsted quality after cut-and-paste sacking

Ofsted’s quality assurance leaves schools unable to know whether the inspection team that “walks through the school gates will be good or not”, says the head of the Association of Teachers & Lecturers (ATL).

Dr Mary Bousted’s comments follow Schools Week’s lead story last week detailing how an inspector with contractor Tribal had been dismissed after a dossier of evidence about cutting-and-pasting was passed to the inspectorate.

In some cases, reports written by David Marshall contained whole paragraphs that had been used previously, with only limited amendments.

Ofsted admitted that concerns about similarities in Mr Marshall’s reports had been identified in 2012, though he continued to be used as an additional inspector until last week’s new evidence.

Asked about its quality assurance, an Ofsted spokesperson said: “Ofsted carries out over 7,000 school inspections a year. In the vast majority of cases the quality of our reports are accurate and robust.”

The spokesperson said that all inspections were subject to internal quality assurance; some by senior staff (Her Majesty’s Inspectors) or senior managers from the inspectorate’s contractors.

A sample of reports and inspection evidence could be reviewed or, in some cases, senior inspectors could visit a school to check the inspection.

Ofsted said that it had explored a software program to detect any plagiarism or copying, but had “not identified an option that will suit the particular nature of Ofsted’s report”.

Tribal declined to provide details of its quality assurance processes for inspection reports.

A spokesperson said: “We don’t comment on individual cases. When we are alerted to potential issues we work through our quality assurance procedures with Ofsted to ensure that they are fully resolved.”

Responding to last week’s story, Dr Bousted, ATL’s general secretary, said: “It has been known for some time that Ofsted has a problem with quality assurance – schools simply don’t know whether the inspection team that walks through the school gates will be good or not.”

She said that faith must be restored in an era in which headteachers were treated as football managers and “forced out after a bad result: pressure which transfers to teachers and impacts catastrophically on children’s education”.

Dr Bousted also said that inspectors were under pressure because of “constant fiddling” with inspection guidance and the threat of legal action from schools that felt they had been treated unfairly.

Policy Exchange’s head of education, Jonathan Simons, said that Ofsted should ask itself “serious questions” in the light of Mr Marshall’s case.

“This is a pretty troubling situation – not just the copying and pasting itself but the apparent lack of quality control measures to allow this to continue for a couple of years.

“Bringing back inspections in-house may allow for greater oversight, but Ofsted also needs to ask itself serious questions as to what their own in-house assurance and moderation processes are to prevent the same things happening in the future under a different contractual arrangement.”

In a recent report, Policy Exchange called for Ofsted to reconsider quality assurance, including systematic tests of inspection reliability and validity, and data interpretation tests for inspectors.