Ofsted

Don’t use ‘gaming’ Ofsted inspection ‘trackers’, Gibb tells schools

Liberal Democrats call for inquiry after DfE dodges questions about its knowledge of 'unethical' early warning systems

Liberal Democrats call for inquiry after DfE dodges questions about its knowledge of 'unethical' early warning systems

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Ministers have warned schools not to monitor their website traffic to predict Ofsted inspections, with calls for a government inquiry into the “gaming” practice exposed by Schools Week.

Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Munira Wilson has demanded ministers launch an investigation after they dodged her questions about how long the Department for Education has known about the use of such “trackers” and whether any action had been taken.

Schools minister Nick Gibb tonight said the DfE and Ofsted were “currently looking at how best to respond to recent reports”, and warned monitoring could “cause unnecessary pressure and add to workload for staff”.

He urged schools “not to use such services. Schools do not need to take any extra steps to prepare for Ofsted inspections and this could cause unnecessary pressure and add to workload for staff.”

Ofsted was last week accused of being “complicit in gaming its own inspection system” after admitting it was aware of schemes that give schools advance notice of visits.

Gibb today confirmed the watchdog was “aware of the issues of schools monitoring their website traffic for possible Ofsted activity, but without firm evidence”.

Schools Week investigation uncovered evidence that schools have been able to predict inspections for at least a decade by monitoring web traffic.

It exposed a loophole in a system that is built on the principle that schools should only be told about inspections at most the day before they happen.

A ‘damning indictment’ of ‘high-stakes’ Ofsted

Wilson said the DfE “needs to investigate how these trackers are being used”, saying their emergence was a “damning indictment of how high-stakes our inspection system has become”.

Munira Wilson MP
Munira Wilson MP

“Inspections are vital to give parents confidence in our schools but are putting a huge stress on teachers.

“These trackers show the desperate lengths that schools are going to in order to get ahead, whilst Conservative ministers sit on their hands,” she said, adding that money should be spent on children’s education, not to “game Ofsted”.

“We need root-and-branch reform of school inspections so Ofsted can be the critical friend that schools value and parents can trust.”

We revealed last week how a website company developed an algorithm to track Ofsted activity online, a move described as “highly unethical”.

But the use of such practices is widespread and an open secret in schools. Posts on an online forum for IT professionals about setting up an “Ofsted early warning” system date back as far as 2015.

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