White Paper: Why should Ofsted inspect at all?

Educational Excellence Everywhere is full of fascinating, contentious and highly problematic proposals on a whole range of issues.

Here, I focus on one apparently minor proposal which if carried to its logical conclusion could mean the end of visit-based school inspection.

The White Paper reports that “Ofsted will consult on removing the separate graded judgments on the quality of teaching, learning and assessment to help clarify that the focus of inspections is on outcomes”. This is being proposed in part at least because “some schools… feel they are judged on whether they follow particular styles of teaching” and because the government claims to believe “it is for schools and teachers to decide how to teach”.

Yet graded judgments are to remain for leadership and management. But why? Mightn’t inspectors be suspected of favouring particular styles of leadership and management? Adopting the White Paper’s logic aren’t schools in the best position to decide how to lead and manage? In which case shouldn’t that graded judgment no longer be made by visiting inspectors?

There remains the graded judgment on “personal development, behaviour and welfare”. Mightn’t inspectors be suspected of favouring particular ways of fostering personal development, behaviour and welfare? Perhaps they have “pet” ideas of their own? With White Paper logic in mind aren’t schools in the best position to decide on these matters?

If all that matters is outcomes, couldn’t any reasonable adult be able to judge whether pupils behave well, are developing appropriate personal qualities and are having their welfare attended to? And there’s always attendance and exclusion figures to use as part of desk-bound assessment. Why employ highly paid inspectors to visit and make such judgments?

That leaves academic outcomes seen by this government as virtually synonymous with test and examination outcomes, irrespective of how these are achieved. Why do inspectors have to visit schools to make judgments on these outcomes? They don’t feel the need to visit so-called “outstanding schools”, so why visit others to judge these kinds of outcomes? Can’t all schools be subject to desk-based assessment? In which case, this last remaining graded judgment doesn’t need to be made by visiting inspectors.

The logic of the White Paper’s proposal is to remove visit-based inspection altogether as an unnecessary expense and burden on schools who should be “free” to decide how to teach, assess, lead and manage and provide for the pastoral needs of their pupils – without having to worry about visiting inspectors’ predilections.

That would be the end of school inspection as we’ve come to know it. Whether that’s desirable or not is another issue.

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