‘Independent’ inquiry’s critical Ofsted poll mostly NEU members

Leaders slam self-selecting sample of union-funded group that is 'dressed up as independent'

Leaders slam self-selecting sample of union-funded group that is 'dressed up as independent'


The National Education Union has been accused of pushing its anti-Ofsted agenda through a supposedly “independent inquiry” after it published a biased survey heavily critical of the inspectorate.

The poll, published by the Beyond Ofsted inquiry on Wednesday, said 92 per cent of teachers agreed Ofsted was not a “reliable and trusted arbiter of standards”.

It attracted national press coverage, with journalists told the research was conducted by the UCL Institute of Education.

However, when asked by Schools Week, the inquiry – which was set up and is funded by the union – admitted the survey was self-selecting. This is considered a common type of research bias because respondents choose to take part, making it unrepresentative.

Emails from the union, which wants to abolish Ofsted, urged members to complete the survey. Social media posts encouraging participation also included the tag #replaceOfsted

Seventy-nine per cent of the 6,708 survey respondents identified as National Education Union (NEU) members.

Stuart Lock, the chief executive officer at Advantage Schools, said self-selecting samples made by campaigning groups ”dressed up as independent” muddied the waters and did not help the sector or Ofsted to improve, “and hence don’t help colleagues in schools or their pupils”.

Beyond Ofsted launched in April to “consider input from a wide range of well-informed voices” to “develop a set of principles for underpinning a better inspection system and proposals for an alternative approach”. Its website states it is sponsored by the union.

Full report due later this month

It is chaired by Lord Jim Knight, a former schools minister, with a board of 16 – several of whom are vocal Ofsted critics.

The survey findings were released on Wednesday as a preview to the full report, due later this month.

It found 62 per cent of teachers did not think their most recent inspection accurately reflected their school, including a majority of those in ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ schools.

While not the same question, 91 per cent of leaders responding to Ofsted’s own post-inspection survey data stated judgments made by inspectors were justified.

In the Beyond Ofsted survey, almost 75 per cent of respondents described their experience with the watchdog as negative.

But Ofsted’s own survey found just 16 per cent of state-funded schools disagreed the benefit of inspection outweighed any negative aspects.

Steve Caldwell, the deputy head of Helsby Hillside Primary School in Cheshire, said it was “all too easy to fall into the trap of agreeing with the inquiry’s findings because of our own negative views about Ofsted.

“Ofsted does need reform, but desperately clinging to headlines from poorly designed surveys is not the way to do it. It makes our arguments look weak, and makes us easier to dismiss and ignore. We need a much more robust approach than this.”

An NEU social media post in May called for school leaders to step down from serving as inspectors and remove references to Ofsted in school.

NEU encouraged members to take part

The same post said “support the inquiry and complete the survey. It’s time to look #BeyondOfsted”, alongside an anti-Ofsted slogan asking “how do we #replaceOfsted?”

Schools Week found examples of the inquiry’s researchers sending survey links to people who posted critical Ofsted comments on social media.

Professor Kathy Rastle, from Royal Holloway, University of London, said independence was hard to establish “given that the survey was hosted on a website that argues that Ofsted has ‘lost trust’” with staff and pupils.

Lord Jim Knight
Lord Jim Knight

“Inquiries of this nature are most valuable when they are independent. That means that they come at the problem in an unbiased way and take steps to ensure a representative set of views.”

Professor John Jerrim, of the UCL Institute of Education (IOE), added such examples “stop Ofsted doing more research into the key issue of inspection reliability or consistency.

“Why make data, etc, that could be used for this purpose available to researchers, when the dice are going to be loaded against them?”

However a spokesperson for the inquiry said they were “satisfied with the integrity of the research and are confident that will be evident when the full report is published”.

They added that researchers Professors Jane Perryman and Alice Bradbury made efforts to ensure the survey was distributed as widely as possible. Results from both NEU and non-NEU members were “broadly similar”, they said.

Knight told Schools Week there was no way he would be an NEU “stooge”.

A union spokesperson said it was a “serious research exercise conducted by established academics” and that the findings were independent of the union

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  1. I am a local authority inspector and advisor. I was part of the inquiry and the rest of the panel are all highly accomplished academics, researchers, school leaders and consultants. Our discussions were not completely critical of Ofsted and we were able to have very good discussions around the Ofsted model and other forms of accountability. We also discussed the need for inspection, especially in regard to unregistered schools, complaints around discrimination and concerns over safeguarding.

  2. Sandy Cameron

    “However, when asked by Schools Week, the inquiry – which was set up and is funded by the union – admitted the survey was self-selecting.”

    While ministers and Ofsted who want to retain inspection are NOT self-selecting?

    And “parents” (who allegedly want and need inspection)…has a random sample of the parent body been surveyed independently?

  3. Terry Pearson

    Claiming this piece of work is ‘dressed up as independent’ because it has been commissioned by the National Education Union (NEU) is disingenuous.

    Readers need to take particular note that the research WAS NOT carried out by the NEU. Professors Jane Perryman and Alice Bradbury do not work for the NEU, they are employed by UCL Institute of Education and are experienced in carrying out education research. It is not uncommon for organisations in education to ‘contract-out’ research activities in this way when the intention is to gain a more independent outcome than might be possible from ‘in-house’ produced material.

    A study which is undertaken by researchers who are independent from both the NEU and Ofsted therefore does not necessarily ‘muddy the waters’. On the contrary, it offers considerable potential to generate very useful information for helping Ofsted and the education sector improve.

    It is somewhat ironic too, in an article with a headline that alludes to the non-independence of the inquiry, statistics are quoted from Ofsted’s own post-inspection survey as a counter to the findings released early from the inquiry. We might be hard pressed to find a much clearer example of non-independent research than Ofsted’s post-inspection survey. It is designed, conducted, analysed and reported on by the inspectorate. It couldn’t be much further removed from an independent survey of the views of Ofsted inspections!

    Neither is it timely to claim that the UCL survey was poorly designed. At present we have no specific details of the design of the research material. Whilst seventy-nine per cent of the respondents may have identified as NEU members, that doesn’t automatically mean the results are not representative of the wider population of interest. If the views of NEU members and non-members are broadly in accordance then the findings are likely to be very important and very valuable.

    For sure the NEU has been open and clear about its view of Ofsted inspections and it has encouraged its members to take part in the survey. But then the inspectorate has also been forthcoming with its views of inspection. Not only does Ofsted make persuasive claims about the credibility of inspection findings and encourage inspection stakeholders to make use of the outputs from its ‘in-house’ research, it is also quick to dismiss outright numerous critiques of both these facets of its work even when they are evidence-informed.

    So, let’s not be too hasty in judging the worthiness of the UCL inquiry. At this stage it is all too easy to reject the initial headline findings because they don’t chime with our own view, don’t fit with Ofsted’s view or perhaps through fear of reprisal from the inspectorate. The full report has yet to be published, only then will we be able to evaluate the quality of the work. This may be the first time teachers, not leaders, as a collective have been able to make their views of inspection known in a public way. Surely we should be interested in what they had to say.