I have been sent an audio file from a meeting last night at Warwick University, where Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, was asked about OFSTED by a very perceptive first year undergraduate student. The full file can be found at the bottom of the post (apologies for poor sound quality) but here is a transcription of the key part:
Questioner: I know you mentioned a lot about teacher quality, but I was interested in how that kind of relates into the whole process of OFSTED and OFSTED inspections. For example, in my case I went to one of the worst schools in the country and one of the worst places to go to school in the country. The Isle of Wight is synonymous with just worry…
TH: Where did you go to school in the Isle of Wight?
Q: Sandown Bay Academy. It’s the one recently that our headteacher had been working in another school for two weeks and had not let anyone know, but our school’s in special measures and, towards the end of last year especially, we seemed to have OFSTED in every other week and I found especially with our teachers – and this was you know towards my A-level, A2, exams – our teachers would be more focused on making sure that – with the whole idea of OFSTED coming in – they would be more focused on making sure they looked good rather than actually focused on teaching and I found it to be quite obstructive for us, especially when we were learning, that teachers would get so worked up about OFSTED and so occupied by making sure they, you know, didn’t do really small, you know, ticking boxes sort of thing. How would you address OFSTED in special measures schools and would you make it more frequent? Would you allow schools not to have … [inaudible]?
TH: And did OFSTED fail the school?
Q: It’s in special measures. It’s like…
TH: So your teachers are getting ready for an OFSTED inspection by making sure they look good?
Q: The teachers would be, not so much that they looked good, but like they’d be making sure they had to tick boxes and stuff.
TH: And the response of OFSTED was to put them into special measures?
Q: No, OFSTED would, for example, we’d have have our teachers logging lesson plans for example. They’d be making sure they ticked boxes…
TH: It seems to me OFSTED called it right. If you’ve got teachers not focused on teaching and worrying about boxticking OFSTED actually goes…
Q: Our school went up. After the inspection our school went up because they ticked the boxes.
TH: That’s not good, I won’t pursue that line of analysis. OFSTED is very, very valuable and no one likes being inspected by OFSTED but if you are a school and you are inspected by OFSTED and you’re outstanding you put a big, bloody flag outside your school saying outstanding by OFSTED and suddenly Ofsted is good. So we need OFSTED. I think Michael Wilshaw was a great headmaster and I think he doesn’t accept the excuses and he certainly shouldn’t accept any excuses in the Isle of Wight which, you know, has a lot more advantages than other parts of the country about the terrible schools and as a challenging school system. So, what OFSTED needs to do, and it is doing more of, is not only just going in to tell a school it is doing badly but begin to work out how it gets out of doing badly and how it works for its students and to have that more sort of collaborative process. It needs to be more regional. It needs to have more understanding of regional sensibilities. There’s an argument for the time at which it goes into schools. Should it do two days? Should it do three days? All of that I think can be discussed, but we need OFSTED and, you know, we cannot be on the side of poor standards. We just cannot be on the side of low standards because the truth of the matter is, and I don’t know your background, but if you are from a nice middle class household, a household with books in or from a learning environment, and you’ve got a bad teacher, you know, it’s going to be bad for you but it’s going to be an awful lot worse for a kid from a disadvantaged household. This is their chance. So we cannot be on the side of poor teaching and we cannot be on the side of bad teachers because it impacts far more upon the pupils we and our party work to support and the people who I represent. You lose more as a kid from a disadvantaged background with a bad teacher than you do from a well supported background and if OFSTED is rooting out those levels of poor attainment and poor teaching then we have to be on their side.
So it looks like Labour’s education spokesman is convinced OFSTED support high standards despite being directly told, by somebody who has experienced them, that they actually promote mindless box-ticking . Even Gove has been more critical of OFSTED’s behaviour than this. Labour urgently needs to stop accepting parts of the education establishment at face value and ask if OFSTED really is fit for purpose.