Amanda Spielman has dismissed suggestions that pressure from Ofsted is contributing to an exodus of headteachers, instead blaming consultants “trying to make people afraid and unhappy”.
The chief inspector sat down with Schools Week to discuss the watchdog’s new five-year strategy and challenges facing schools.
It’s hard for us to tally the narrative that comes back from certain quarters that are violently opposed to inspection in principle, with what we actually get from people we work with directly
New figures show more heads are leaving the profession.
Asked whether Ofsted contributes to that, Spielman said: “It’s hard for us to tally the narrative that comes back from certain quarters that are violently opposed to inspection in principle, with what we actually get from people we work with directly.”
She said post-inspection feedback was that schools “overwhelmingly” found them to be fair and constructive, meaning there was an “irreconcilable gap in the narrative”.
An Ofsted survey found 90 per cent of schools visited between September and November last year said their inspection would help to improve provision. But schools given better grades are much more likely to respond.
“I hear a lot of negative stories spun around,” Spielman said. “There are people with vested interests in trying to make people afraid and unhappy. I wish there weren’t, but we’ve seen for years a bit of an industry in selling consultancy services around Ofsted.
“There are people who are there to make money out of any fear of Ofsted.”
Longer Ofsted inspections ‘more satisfying experiences’
Despite the criticisms, Ofsted’s strategy outlined how more schools will be getting longer inspections from this month.
Currently, just one sixth of inspections for ‘good’ schools are two-day section 5 inspections – most are shorter, one-day section 8 visits.
Now, a third of ‘good’ school inspections will be full, graded ones. This would allow for “more time for professional dialogue and evidence-gathering”.
Spielman said this was unlikely to impact the “overall profile of judgments in any particular direction”. It would be a “more satisfying experience on both sides” as inspectors and schools could dive into more depth, she said.
Julie McCulloch, the director of policy at the Association of Schools and College Leaders, said while schools could demonstrate their strengths in more detail, “more intensive” inspections “have the potential to cause leaders and teachers more anxiety”.
All quiet on Tory promises to beef up inspectorate
Boris Johnson pledged during the election campaign in November 2019 to extend inspections from two to three days. He also promised trialling “no notice” visits.
Spielman was quizzed on the progress of these pledges during the Festival of Education in June 2021, admitting she “couldn’t remember” the last time they were discussed with the government.
The pledges did not feature in Ofsted’s five-year strategy and the chief inspector said extension plans had “disappeared into … coping with Covid”.
She also confirmed no funding was set aside for this expansion during the autumn spending review, suggesting it is unlikely to come into fruition anytime in the near future.
Spielman: Fine to label schools, but not children
During her keynote speech at the Schools and Academies Show on Wednesday, Spielman warned schools against labelling children “unnecessarily” as “negative labels can lead to negative perceptions and lower expectations”.
Many in the sector mocked the irony of the comment, given Ofsted’s role in grading schools.
When challenged on this, Spielman said: “A school is not an individual, a child is an individual at the beginning of their lives.”
She was trying to push the focus on helping a child catch-up after Covid “before they move to put a label on them”.