Ex-schools minister to chair NEU-funded inquiry into Ofsted

Lord Knight to lead 'Beyond Ofsted' inquiry set up to develop proposals for an 'alternative approach' to inspection

Lord Knight to lead 'Beyond Ofsted' inquiry set up to develop proposals for an 'alternative approach' to inspection

Former schools minister Lord Knight will chair an inquiry into the future of Ofsted set up by the National Education Union.

The inquiry, which is to be called “Beyond Ofsted”, will “develop a set of principles for underpinning a better inspection system and proposals for an alternative approach”. 

It will “consider input from a wide range of well-informed voices, in order to set out the framework for an inspection system fit for the increasingly complex needs of schools today”. 

It comes amid widespread anger about the school inspection system in England, prompted by the death of headteacher Ruth Perry.

A press release called the inquiry “independent”, but it is being “sponsored” by the NEU, which has repeatedly called for Ofsted to be abolished, warning of the “immense pressure” it puts on school staff.

A spokesperson said the panel was “selected by the chair, the NEU – which is sponsoring the inquiry – and followed advice and suggestions from panel members themselves”.

Panellists have criticised Ofsted

Several of the panellists sitting on the inquiry are also vocal critics of Ofsted.

They include Caroline Derbyshire, CEO of the Saffron Academy Trust and chair of the Headteachers’ Roundtable group, and Andrew Morrish, a former CEO who helped establish the Headrest service.

Morrish left his previous trust role after Schools Week revealed he told staff he “flicked away” safeguarding complaints in a tirade where he threatened to “deal with” the anonymous whistleblower who had behaved in a “treacherous”, “underhand” and “pathetic” way.

School leader Dr Kulvarn Atwal, another panellist, recently accused the watchdog of “destroying a school community that is absolutely thriving” after it rated one of his schools as ‘requires improvement’ for a second time.

The inquiry said it would “provide the government and relevant stakeholders with a robust and carefully considered set of principles on which to build an alternative inspection system”.

“With increasing numbers of school leaders and teachers publicising their concerns about Ofsted and how its approach causes more harm than good, the Beyond Ofsted inquiry is both timely and urgent. 

It said Ofsted “has lost trust as an agency because it is more punitive than supportive, and is driving unsustainable levels of stress for teachers and school leaders, which does not serve children’s interests”.

“There is a growing consensus that the full life of a school cannot be summed up accurately or fairly in a ‘one word’ judgment.”

Ofsted ‘stirs up stress’ says ex-minister

Lord Knight, who served as schools minister in Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s governments, said: “Everyone agrees that schools need to be accountable, and to ensure they are, there needs to be a robust system in place.

“However, what we currently have with Ofsted is an approach that stirs up stress amongst school leaders that trickles down to staff and pupils. Too often, it punishes rather than supports.

“The Beyond Ofsted inquiry will rigorously investigate the system and identify what is needed to make it fairer and more effective. A system that does not solely criticise but seeks to provide assistance, especially to those schools that need it most.” 

Former government adviser Mark Lehain, who is now head of education at the Centre for Policy Studies, said “what and how Ofsted inspects is a very important topic for discussion”.

Watchdog a ‘force for bad and good’

“Being sponsored by a union that has long questioned Ofsted’s legitimacy, it will be really interesting to see what the inquiry comes up with and how different its proposals are to the ones long-advocated by the NEU and the panel members.”

He said Ofsted “has been both a force for both bad and good over the years”.

“I’d argue that it’s been a positive influence in recent times, and hope that this is recognised by the review as they consider things. I also hope they’ll consider how the inspectorate works within the wider accountability framework, to ensure proposals work in harmony with, and not against, children’s interests.”

The inquiry said it will now “thoroughly examine evidence from schools across the country, will compare the current inspection system with those from other countries, taking lessons from the latter to build a set of proposals in the final report”.

The report will be published in November 2023. 

Who’s on the panel?

Lord Jim Knight of Weymouth (Chair)  Labour Peer Director Chair Member of the House of Lords; Suklaa Ltd E-ACT MAT Board of Trustees 
Dr Kulvarn Atwal  Executive Head/Learning Leader Highlands Primary School/Uphall Primary School 
Melissa Benn  Writer and Campaigner Founder of Local Schools Network Visiting professor York St John 
Professor Alice Bradbury  Professor of Sociology of Education UCL Institute of Education Co-director of the Helen Hamlyn Centre of Pedagogy 
Patrick Cozier  Headteacher Highgate Wood School, Haringey 
Caroline Derbyshire  CEO   Chair Saffron Academy Trust Headteachers’ Roundtable 
Jess Edwards  Chair of Policy, Research and Campaigns Executive Committee NEU Primary teacher, Lambeth 
Jason Elsom  CEO Parentkind 
Dr Zubaida Haque  Independent Consultant Former CEO of the Equality Trust; Interim Director of the Runnymede Trust 
Jo Hutchinson  Director for SEND and additional needs Education Policy Institute 
Andrew Morrish  Director   Co-founder Makana Leadership Limited Headrest 
Dr Bernadita Munoz Chereau  Lecturer Centre for Leadership, UCL, Institute of Education 
Dame Alison Peacock  CEO Chartered College of Teaching 
Professor Jane Perryman  Professor of Sociology of Education UCL Institute of Education 
Penny Rabiger  Independent Consultant Doctoral Researcher at Leeds Beckett University; Co-founder of the BAMEed Network 
Emma Rose  Executive member NEU   Secondary teacher, Warwick 

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