Monday, November 23, 2009

Layer 227 . . . Flawed Ofsted Fails Inspections

Today's post is going to consist solely of a reprint of an article in today's Guardian, by Polly Curtis, the paper's excellent education editor.

Ofsted fails barrage of inspections

Schools watchdog mauled as critics bite back at 'wasteful' bureaucracy

Ofsted is facing a crisis in public confidence as it comes under a series of attacks on its authority this week, with the watchdog accused of being "flawed, wasteful and failing".

The children's services inspectorate will be criticised today by service heads in every local authority in the country, headteachers' leaders and in a damning forthcoming report by MPs on the government's school accountability system.

Its new inspection regime is accused of forcing social work departments to focus on passing inspections instead of looking after children, giving good schools mediocre ratings on routine technical matters – such as fences not being high enough – and more claims that sub-contracted inspectors are not fit for the job.

Pressure further intensifies on the watchdog as a former chief inspector of Ofsted, Sir Mike Tomlinson, today suggests it is struggling after a major expansion two years ago to include responsibility for inspecting children's services as well as schools and childcare.

The attacks come as Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector at Ofsted, prepares to publish the watchdog's own annual report tomorrow after arguably the most difficult year in its history, during which it has been battered by accusations of failings in the Baby Peter case and struggled with its controversial new inspection regimes.

Tomlinson, a respected government adviser who led Ofsted between 2000 and 2002, today raises new questions about Ofsted's ability to fulfil its role. "The question needs to be asked and answered as to whether Ofsted has the appropriate skills and experience to carry out its agenda," he told the Guardian. "Inspection systems that rely too heavily on data and tick-box systems is not what we need. I worry we are heading that way."

The 2007 expansion of Ofsted made it the biggest regulator in England and since then it has introduced new inspection methods for schools and local authorities.

A document drawn up by the Association of Directors of Children's Services, which represents the head of children's departments in English local authorities, claims that new annual performance profiles being developed by Ofsted are "not fit for purpose". Separately schools have expressed concerns about the new school inspection regime under which they cannot be rated good if their exam results are low – regardless of their social context. They can also be marked down on routine matters of safety.

Lawnswood school in Leeds, a rapidly improving school with a good reputation, was penalised after a survey suggested that 1.3% of parents reported their child did not "feel safe" there. A second school was judged to be inadequate because inspectors said the fence around the playground was low enough for children to be abducted and another failed because inspectors were offered coffee before they were asked for identification.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said schools felt they were being "caught out" in inspections. "It's brought in a climate of great anxiety because you don't know whether the inspector will trick you on safeguarding."

A report from a powerful committee of MPs, to be published shortly, also criticises Ofsted for having insufficiently trained inspectors and for relying too much on exam data in their inspection of schools.

Barry Sheerman, chair of the children, schools and families select committee, said schools in challenging areas felt "aggrieved" that even when they were doing well against the odds, they could be failed for low GCSE results.

A spokesman for Ofsted said: "We are disappointed to hear the ADCS criticisms but have to say that their views just don't accord with what we are being told by directors and frontline social workers who have actually experienced our children's services inspections. The feedback we are getting is much more positive."


Oxzen commented on CiF -

Excellent article, Polly. This sums it all up very well  - incompetent contractors, inadequately trained inspectors, training that forces inspectors to focus on data and 'technical' issues rather than actual schools and their teachers & pupils, a ridiculous grading system, and a climate of fear and loathing.

Add to that an inspections culture that turns the school's attention away from legitimate operational matters and forces them to spend huge amounts of time preparing themselves and their staff for inspections, including a heavy year-round focus on preparations for tests, rather than on real education and learning how to learn, and you have what we have - an unfair, impoverished and illegitimate system that often has very little to offer either the most able pupils or the less able, beyond preparation for tests.

Thank goodness the highly respected Mike Tomlinson is prepared to speak up against our abysmal system - "Inspection systems that rely too heavily on data and tick-box systems is not what we need" - but some of his comments are a little 'light touch'. "I worry we are heading that way", says Mr T, whereas in fact he probably knows we're already well up shit creek.

It'll be a huge and long-term effort to change our system of accountability towards the professional Finland/Denmark model, and the current leadership of Ofsted doesn't seem to have either the inclination or the capacity to do that job. It's all a very far cry from the days when HMI was led by and consisted largely of respected professionals with a vast amount of experience and understanding of schools, pedagogy, the curriculum, management, leadership, teachers and children.

I've lost count of the number of people I know who did Ofsted training but gave up on the work because of the way in which they were expected to carry out inspections, leaving the system to be operated mainly by those of a lesser calibre who are blatantly only doing it for the salary.


Other comments:


Well I imagine this lambasting will produce a "no sh*t, Sherlock!" response in most of us.
It's from the same Nu-Labour stable-of-spin and bureaucratic lunacy that tried to tackle NHS waiting lists, and now means that you can't book an appointment with your GP more than 2 days in advance because otherwise it makes their waiting-times statistics look bad.
The government response will probably be to set up an new Inspectorate of Inspectorates Watchdog Watching Department, a quango of ex-public school Knights of the Realm who all earn £174k a year for turning up for a 2 hour committee meeting once a month (which features a one hour luncheon costing more than my annual salary).


Ofsted is one of those ideas that sounds great in theory (inspect, assess, praise good, point out areas for improvement, drive up standards) but in practice drives all the wrong behaviours.

Many of my family are teachers (though not myself) and the stories of inspection times are comical. Inspectors failing teachers/schools without often visiting classrooms and spending time on seeing what is happening. Being in the wrong area is enough for them to fail and if the inspector doesn't like the school mangement then you are failed. One relative then moved from a failed school to a nice school in a middle class area and suddenly she was assessed as outstanding - and still had never actually seen an inspector - boxes were ticked though. Another had her school failed even for RE (which is difficult apparently) because a candle wasn't lit ffs!! We asked other kids do they light a candle in your assembly? No was the answer but it didn't matter, they wanted to fail the school because the headmistress had pissed them off - teaching was good in a deprived area but no matter.


Labour's obsession with simple quantifiable targets has badly skewed the provision of basic services such as health and education, as the providers inevitably ask themselves how best to meet the targets, rather than how to meet the requirements of those under their care. Tick boxes don't won't for anyone other than administrators.


The Audit Commission could equally be in the dock. Organisations spend thousands preparing for inspection, and even more on mock inspections. The whole inspection and auditing regime is one big con, designed to provide a nice cushy job for people who can't compete in the real world. And isn't Christine Gilbert married to one of the MPs caught fiddling his expenses?Hardly a ringing endorsement of her judgement.


I enjoyed two Ofsted inspections as a Secondary Head.

The first was led by a failed middle-manager from a neighbouring school who'd become an inspector after realising no Head would appoint him to a Deputy Headship.

The second was lead by a pompous rural Catholic who had never been in a muti-ethnic school before. The poor guy was out of his depth.

If OFSTED can only attract the failed and the second-rate middle-managers as lead inspectors, no one should be surprised if they can't cope.

On the other hand, incompetence does not account fully for the smug pomposity that my colleagues endured.

@ Laplante

Ofsted was flawed from the very beginning. A failed teacher, Chris "Bonehead" Woodhead was its first head and he gleefully set about alienating the teaching profession at the behest of his tory masters. His inspectorate did not consist of experts in the field of education, but often people from business: the teaching profession sighed in vain for the days of Her Majesty's Inspectors of School. These were wise old birds who had had successful careers in teaching and could offer sound judgements tempered with good advice.

Ofsted has too great a remit these days and has been far too political from the start. It was set up so that governments could exercise greater political control over education and the ways in which teachers worked. It really has been a poor effort as is reflected by present low standards in education and the poverty of the modern curriculum. This is no reflection on schools, pupils or their teachers. Everybody in education deserves better. Educators simply have to work in a poorly thought out system and are always aware of the need to watch their backs as non-expert Ofsted people descend upon them. Schools find inspections scary simply because they are often quite arbitrary and with a low level of competence.

@ juliusmalema

As a foreigner who has come to work in uk schools i have to say that the things schools in this country have to do to please ofsted amount to a joke. you can only laugh or cry. the schools that do well say, "do this x, y and z please, we know it makes no sense but it has to be done to please ofsted. then we can get on with what we really need to do." i have worked at schools with good ofsted results that were truly terrible, because everything is done to please ofsed and not benefit the children. and vice versa. it's like orwell's grim prophecies have come in through the back door.

@ redbigbill

Readers should be reminded that Ofsted and it's first boss, the obnoxious right wing Woodhead (who given his way would have privatised every education establishment in the country) are both inventions of Tory Governments.
It was useless then and Labour have just turned it into a massive, money wasting quango with jobs for the boys and bureaucracy run riot.

@ IKnowSomethingcThis

I too have first-hand experience of Ofsted inspection in a childcare setting, and of an extended complaints process. Some (not all) of Ofsted's inspectors are incompetent and they react extremely vindictively to criticism, which, I suspect, is why so many people give Ofsted itself only positive feedback: it's called self-preservation !

@ stucathome

Like many other NuLab ideas Ofsted is a joke.

I was fortunate enough to go to a fee-paying school where teachers were employed exactly to do that, i.e. teach

A box-ticking culture will deter the most gifted from joining the education system, turning schools into education factories, rather than a place which encourages ideas as much as book learning.

@ feline1973

-     @ Juleusmalema -  you can only laugh or cry. the schools that do well say, "do this x, y and z please, we know it makes no sense but it has to be done to please oftsted. then we can get on with whatt we really need to do."

Well this is the thing - you can not ONLY laugh or cry, you can tell people to get stuffed, refuse to be numbered, stamped, filed, indexed, brief, debriefed, or have you trousers removed.

The problem is that a large proportion of "teachers" are bureacratic busy bodies themselves, who enjoy bullying children and bossing them about and making them "conform",
and behave like spineless fools when asked to conform themsleves.

What they SHOULD so when an Ofsted nitwit tries to get them to do something ridiculous is tell them to get stuffed, and make sure there's a camera crew there to film it so that it can be shown on Panorama and thus not only achieve something for the education system, but also entertain and enrage the chattering classes.


@ surferboy

As a teacher I have been through 2 OFSTED inspections, including one of the new ones. I teach in a relatively successful secondary that is the 2nd choice in a reasonable catchment area, once the brightest students have been creamed off by 3 Grammers and 2 Roman Catholic schools. As a staff we work very hard to provide for all of our students (we're above average in numbers for free school meals; SEN etc) and have a successful G&T; Extra curricular and Social Development provision. Under the old criteria we were a good school with outstanding features - stuff we knew that we should do. However, under the new standards we are now 'satisfactory'. Morale has plummeted due to us being unable to achieve the standards that they expect with the type of students we attract. We work very hard so that they achieve (for them) good results but this is not good enough apparantly. How someone who has not taught for the past 16 years can observe lessons within my department and after 20 mins say how 'good' they were annoys me.

@ yonsoc

Managers in my social work department plan in advance how to hoodwink inspection. They cook the books, lie and try everything to throw the inspectors off the scent. I know that my local authority told my partner to CHANGE her report on the state of children's homes to something more positive. She refused.

@ Ajay100

"There is not enough money in the world to make me want to be a headteacher." said a senior Ofsted inspector in an interview during a primary school inspection under the new framework.

"Bad luck," said a second senior inspector, "If we had come in July , before the new framework was introduced in September, the issues facing your school would not have been highlighted."

Both of these comments, intended to make me feel better, were not helpful. One can understand the weighting attached to aspects of inspection following the criticism directed at Ofsted over safeguarding. This next comment is not an attempt to pass any blame, but should it not be Social Services that are scrutinised rather than increase the pressure on schools and the inspection framework?

The Ofsted framework has always been flawed by the mechanical way in which limiting judgements automatically downgrade outcomes in other aspects of the inspection process. The new framework is offered as a partnership approach between inspectors and schools. In theory this is a positive change to inspection however, in practice it remains dependent upon the lead inspector, their guide to senior inspectors, and the interpretation of the new Ofsted schedule. Ofsted themselves are subject to proof readers and have to write within a range of vocabulary that supports their outcomes.

There needs to be an immediate revision of the present Inspection schedule and there needs to be a way to minimise any inconsistencies amongst the teams.

"I was damned if an attractive blond bimbo in a difficult London Primary school was going to be judged as outstanding. That would mean she would have been better than me when I was a head. So I gave her a good." said a lead inspector. I am pleased to say this was reported and the lead inspector, is no longer working for Ofsted.

Inspection needs to move away from a weighting on pupil results. School data is complex. Just because pupil outcomes are below national outcomes it does not mean that the school is inadequate.

"The data suggests that this school can be no better than average. It would make it very difficult for me to write my report if any of you judge lessons to be good or outstanding." said a lead inspector to the rest of the team. This lead inspector no longer works for Ofsted.

Inspecting teams need to work together with schools and its leaders within a supportive framework. Finland has no inspection framework and they are seen to be leading the way in educational provision. Education in this country needs to look at the best of excellent practice and provision in the rest of Europe and look at ways to improve. Ofsted . . . . try harder to be better at understanding schools and the pressures they face.

@ ljrushton

Isn't it amazing how Mr Tomlinson and Mr Woodhead both failed to point out the errors of Ofsted while they where still collecting their fat pay checks. I wonder if the Ofsted spokesperson quoted in the article will come clean and speak out after he has finished receiving his pieces of silver. It would be nice for all three to be in an enclosed room with all the teachers whose hard work and careers they have damaged and caused untold unnecessary stress to and all the parents of children whose education they have wrecked while carrying out their sordid dirty work.

@ Ghostworld

Ofsted may well have been a Tory idea.... But it has mutated under Labour ( sorry, New Labour ) into something far more inept

@ rubberneck

OFSTED- Squeezing the joy, fun and humanity out of education and replacing it with DATA !
New Labour in a nutshell. Stalinist control freaks.

@ solocontrotutti

The tick box culture is a real problem. It corrupts education with the BTEC non examined qualifications being a primary example. Almost no external verification and the teacher sets the assignment, marks it and then selects which one goes for what external verification there is and with a management breathing on your necks for results - integrity becomes the first victim of the process.

The Oftsed session guide lines are imbecilic with so many criterion that it becomes a nit picking pedant's charter. Anyone going through the observation process almost by default endures a litany of minor faults (the clock was wrong , the whiteboard wasn't clean enough etc etc)

The result is a slow corrupting of the education process and innovation and flexibility is the second victim of the process.

Management become obsessed with stats and funding is thrown at achieving those stats. So if you are a borderline pass you will get all the funding whilst if you are almst certain non pass you will get a vocational qual' whilst the good pass will get ignored. Personalisation is the third victim of the tick box culture.

Organisations are also reluctant to enforce discipline because (particularly in the FE sector) retention is a funded component. Good behaviour and a positive environment is the fourth victim of the tick box culture.

The whole sector becomes more conservative with teachers wanting to steer clear of problem groups because there is very little room for making allowances for the level of learner being observed and tick boxed. Why get a three with a large challenging group when you could get a 1 with a smaller more middle class group. Diversity and differentiation is the fifth victim of the Ofsted culture.

The simple fact is - you can't tick box complexity!

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