Ofsted has “fiercely defended” its reputation today following claims by MPs that confidence in the education watchdog was undermined after its failure to spot problems in Birmingham’s Trojan Horse schools.
A report released by the education select committee in March raised questions over the reliability and robustness of Ofsted’s judgements following the Trojan Horse scandal where hardline Islamists were allegedly plotting to take over some Birmingham schools.
But in a stinging response released today, Ofsted said it “fiercely guards our reputation as an independent inspectorate that reports without fear or favour”.
It said the sudden change in governance and leadership caused a “significant impact on the standards of education in the schools”.
“A culture of fear and intimidation has developed in some of the schools since their previous inspection,” Ofsted said.
“Some headteachers, including those with a proud record of raising standards, said that they have been marginalised or forced out of their jobs.
“As a result, some schools previously judged to be good or outstanding have experienced high levels of staff turbulence, low staff morale and a rapid decline in their overall effectiveness.”
But the group of cross-party MPs, who launched a review into the Trojan Horse plot last year, said they could not be sure if inspectors were initially over-reliant on data and failed to “dig deeper”, or if the schools deteriorated quickly after inspection.
It suggested that, alternatively, Ofsted may have downgraded the schools due to political or media pressure.
The committee said: “Whichever of these options is closest to the truth, confidence in Ofsted has been undermined and efforts should be made by the inspectorate to restore it in Birmingham and beyond.”
But Ofsted responded: “Ofsted is committed to ensuring that such drastic declines are identified as quickly as possible and will continue to work closely with other agencies, such as local authorities and the regional school commissioner, to address any areas of concern in any school. This is particularly important where pupils may be at risk.
“Ofsted inspection frameworks for maintained and non-association independent schools make clear that schools are required to be inspected against how well they are promoting fundamental British values such as tolerance and the rule of law, and how well pupils are being prepared for life in modern Britain.
“Ofsted’s inspectors now draw closely on the Department for Education’s guidance on Fundamental British Values within spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, published in the autumn 2014.”
It added, as part of wider reforms from September, inspectors will carry out shorter inspections of good schools every three years. “This approach will mean that signs of decline can be spotted earlier and the necessary action can be taken.”