Government intervention in schools rated ‘requires improvement’ twice in a row has “clearly raised the stakes” and put more “pressure” on leaders, the chief inspector of Ofsted has said.
Amanda Spielman also warned MPs that scrapping single-phrase judgments would leave another element of an Ofsted report to “become the new extreme pressure” that triggered intervention.
The outgoing watchdog boss appeared in front of the House of Commons education committee this afternoon as MPs wrapped up their inquiry into Ofsted’s work with schools.
‘We feel that pressure coming through’
Spielman acknowledged “a lot of people clearly do dislike or resent the fact that a poor inspection judgment can lead to a change of control for a school”.
She said this was “not new”, but government intervention in so-called “double RI” schools “is new, and it has clearly raised the stakes for schools and for MATs and we do feel and see that pressure coming through into inspections”.
Ofsted had already warned last year that ‘coasting’ school powers would be “unnecessary and potentially damaging” for improving schools and risk encouraging “quick fixes”.
Schools are ‘pushing for exemption’
Spielman acknowledged today that schools were dealing with huge problems in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, and “I think there’s a sense among schools that it’s unfair to be held to account publicly when they’re working so hard with such difficult issues”.
But she said there was “really nothing that Ofsted does that is in the slightest bit unusual in that context”.
“I’m not a policymaker, it’s for government to decide if it wants to change that whole framework of public accountability, but I think we’re feeling a bit of a push from the school sector for exemption from that framework.”
‘My framework wasn’t about my interests’
Spielman’s appearance at the inquiry followed testimony last month from her predecessor, Sir Michael Wilshaw, who criticised Ofsted’s approach to outcomes during her tenure.
But his successor fired back this morning, telling MPs she “arrived as chief inspector at a time when the sector was in revolt, when it was very clear that the incentives of inspection were operating in some very undesirable ways on schools”.
“There was no question that a change was very badly wanted.”
Ofsted’s current inspection framework, launched in 2019, was “I think for the first time…a framework that was truly built off the evidence”.
She also said she “did something I don’t think my predecessors have necessarily done, which is I did not make the inspection framework about my particular interests and preferences”.
“I thought that was something Ofsted needed to move away from.”
Reports already give ’rounded picture’
Much of the pressure to change Ofsted has focused on calls to remove the single-phrase inspection judgments handed to schools. Labour plans to replace them with a “report card” showing schools’ strengths and weaknesses.
Spielman insisted today that current reports “absolutely do give a rounded picture of a school”.
“There’s no question that the world pays too much attention to the overall effectiveness judgment relative to the pieces underneath.
“But I do have to constantly remind people that there’s already a scorecard built into the inspection framework and the set of judgments that we use.”
‘Something else would be new extreme pressure’
She added the overall judgment “has such freight and weight in the system” because it is the “thing on which those interventions are hung”, and that stakeholders’ concerns often ended up being “not about the words, it’s about the consequences”.
She even revealed she had suggested an “alternative formulation of inadequate to the headteacher unions”, but they “recognised that the consequence thing was the real point at issue”.
Spielman added such a change would mean “the regulatory system would hang on something else. And that would become the new extreme pressure.”
Spielman fears ‘bastardisation’ of training materials
Spielman also claimed it was “a bit of a myth” that leaders working as Ofsted inspectors unfairly benefited from access to training materials.
She said Ofsted published “videos, blogs, webinars covering everything that we train inspectors in”, all in “a form that is suitable for self-service use”.
But some people want “specific materials that are used in our interactive training sessions”. These are delivered by senior HMI who have been “trained and prepared to facilitate those discussions”.
“If we simply dumped those slides out as people would like, we would get firstly the consulting industry picking them up and ramping up the mocksted industry even further.
“And secondly we would get some terrible bastardisations of people using stuff that they weren’t trained for.”
Outstanding schools ‘detached from rest of world’
During re-inspections of previously outstanding schools, Spielman said Ofsted had “found quite a lot that schools have just a bit detached from what the rest of the world has been learning and seeing and recognising”.
“The whole debate and growth in knowledge about curriculum, about pedagogy, about assessment has passed them by.”
Inspectors hired for their ‘bedside manner’
The chief inspector was also asked about calls for Ofsted to have a “duty of care” over those in the sector.
She said inspectors were hired “for their bedside manner as well as for their knowledge and experience” and that Ofsted got “extremely positive feedback”.
She also shot down a suggestion that the post-inspection surveys were being conducted while inspections took place.
“The link goes out with the final inspection report. This is a myth that is being circulated to try and discredit that survey and it is unreasonable.”
Teachers fed a ‘great deal of negativity’
Spielman also took aim at the National Education Union (and its predecessor the National Union of Teachers, which existed before 2017).
She said she worked in an environment “where the biggest teaching union has been committed to abolishing accountability and inspection for over a decade and relentlessly pushes its members to be hostile to inspection”.
“I don’t think it would make a blind bit of difference what we did. If we did things in different ways, I think that it’s likely that that absolute opposition would remain. So a great deal of negativity is pushed out at teachers from when they first start, and that is a really difficult thing to counteract.”