Last Week’s OFSTED Story in the Times

January 30, 2014

I did promise I’d return to the news stories about OFSTED. When writing the recent blogposts about OFSTED’s chaos over recent reports and inspectors ignoring every word Sir Michael Wilshaw says, it’s very easy to assume that their general hopelessness, love of trendy teaching and current state of apparent crisis is widely known. Actually, until last weekend, they were often presented in the media as a cadre of ruthlessly efficient, right-wing enforcers imposing every whim of Michael Gove and intent on privatising children. That’s why recent stories publicising the reality are so important.

Last week saw a report in the Times (behind a paywall, sorry) claiming:

Pressure is mounting for Ofsted to be overhauled or scrapped as supporters of Michael Gove accuse school inspectors of being trapped by 1960s “progressive” approaches to learning.

Civitas, a right-of-centre think-tank, is to call for a new inspectorate for academies and free schools in a pamphlet to be published soon. It will argue that the Education Secretary’s wish for schools to develop their own approaches to teaching is being held back by child-first orthodoxies among inspectors, who are stifling innovation.

Policy Exchange, another right-leaning think-tank set up by Mr Gove himself, also plans to call for wholesale changes at Ofsted in a forthcoming report. It will say that the current inspection regime places disproportionate pressure on teachers, while its judgments are too inconsistent.

The two inquiries reflect growing frustration within the Department for Education (DfE) over complaints from heads and teachers about Ofsted reports that appear to contradict the thrust of government policy. Some protest that inspectors have criticised teachers for talking for too long in lessons.

Others say inspection teams have demanded more group work, independent learning and interaction among children, which critics associate with the “child-led” philosophy of education that Mr Gove is trying to stamp out.

The article goes on to describe the two think tanks as right-wing allies of the secretary of state, and distinguishes between the chief inspector (who, of course, does deny wanting a particular style of teaching) and the many inspectors who do enforce a particular style of teaching.

The debate which followed on from this (which I will have to comment on before too long, if I can), emphasised the personalities involved and at times seemed to assume that the issues around OFSTED were not actually the ones mentioned in the article. But, as any reader of this blog knows, there is a real issue here. OFSTED inspectors do act as if they have a particular ideological agenda. They do seem to ignore the direction of their own leadership, let alone the agenda of any politician. It is not a surprise that these think tanks are interested. There are people from both of them who follow me on Twitter. Civitas have been critical of OFSTED in the past (here and here) and has a history of involvement in recent education debates from a position directly opposed to that they attribute to OFSTED. Policy Exchange has quite a high profile on education too, with frequent events and publications on educational issues. It is hardly shocking that they would know what the score is, or that they would be critical of OFSTED.

However, I would hope that this has raised the issue of how OFSTED behave and will keep it in the public eye. I also hope that teachers can play a part in this debate. To that end, it is probably worth mentioning a couple of things.

1) Policy Exchange’s consultation on OFSTED is open until Monday, asking “teachers, heads, inspectors or others” about their experiences of OFSTED. It would be great if some of the people who tell me things about their experiences could also tell them.

2) If anyone is willing to speak to a journalist about experiences of OFSTED criticising them personally (or their school) for too much teacher talk and not enough independent learning, then please let me know so I can put you in touch with one who is interested.

This is likely to be an ongoing debate in both politics and the media, and it would be great if it can be informed as much as possible by the experience of teachers, rather than the usual succession of clueless talking heads who dominate so much of the public debate about education.


One comment

  1. […] seemed to have fully accepted the narrative (mentioned here) that think tanks who criticise OFSTED are right-wingers acting on Gove’s behalf. While it […]

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