I’m fairly sympathetic to the leadership of OFSTED these days or, at any rate, to their efforts to reform the organisation. It was recently confirmed in the press that their efforts to bring everything in-house had resulted in 40% of Additional Inspectors (i.e. inspectors who worked for contracting companies) being dispensed with. Having been on the receiving end of a lesson observation judgement by an AI a couple of years back who ignored pretty much everything the Chief Inspector had been saying, I’m glad to see this. However, all reform of OFSTED is open to the criticism that it is too late for those who have suffered the effects of an incorrect judgement. This does tend to assume that where OFSTED has got it wrong they have been too harsh, not too lenient, on schools which is far from obviously the case. I do tend to wonder if some of those complaining about past inaccuracies in inspection would be terribly happy if OFSTED reviewed some of their “good” or “outstanding” judgements. Nevertheless, it is of interest to see to what extent OFSTED do acknowledge their past failings. One senior figure was interviewed (6 minutes in) here on Radio 4’s PM programme. In case you are reading this after that programme ceases to be available, or you cannot easily listen now, here (courtesy of @littlepippin76 to whom I’m very grateful) is a transcript:
Eddie Mair: For thousands of schools across England, pleasing OFSTED is very important. A school will trumpet a report that describes it as outstanding. At the other end of the scale, schools that are deemed inadequate go through a lot of soul-searching, disappointment and sometimes staff changes. The system has always been controversial, and teachers have complained about the quality of inspections, but for better or worse, the inspections have been the bedrock on which the education of England is based. The ratings are very significant. Under new laws, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan wants every school that is rated ‘inadequate’ is turned into an academy.
Well tonight there are new questions about whether the ratings should be believed at all. OFSTED has announced that it’s letting go 1,200 school and college inspectors after assessing them as not good enough. 1,200 is about 40% of the contracted workforce.
Sir Robin Bosher is OFSTED’s director of quality and training. What’s happened here?
Sir Robin Bosher: Well, we’re coming to the end of our current contracts with our contractors, and we’re determined to raise the standard of inspections, and so we’ve looked at the workforce that’s been with us, with the contractors for some time, and we want to raise that quality.
EM: In what ways have they been failing?
RB: I think, the main issue for head teachers, and I think you hit on it in your introduction, was the lack of consistency, the lack of consistent quality, and we’re very keen that a head teacher can rely, fully rely, on the inspector that’s walking up the path, and they absolutely know that they can deliver the highest quality inspection.
EM: For how long have these inconsistent inspectors been working for you?
RB: Well, what you’ll understand is that some of the inspectors who are less consistent have been working for the contractors…
EM: But for how long?
RB: The contracts have been in place for a number of years, but what I would say is that…
EM: Forgive me, but this is important to everyone who is interested in education in England; they’ll want to know, for how many years might these inconsistent, these slightly poor inspectors, how long have they been assessing education?
RB: Well I don’t think they were ‘poor’. What we want to do at this point is to raise the overall quality. What you’ll understand is that we are introducing a new framework, and that requires us to raise the quality of inspection.
EM: Right, but for how long were the ‘poor’ inspectors, for how long were the inconsistent inspectors doing the job?
RB: Well, you know, that’s not the point.
EM: I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking.
RB: That’s not the point.
EM: It’s my question.
RB: The point now is that we’re raising the bar to move forward, and that’s why we need to make sure that the full cohort of inspectors are the best that they can be.
EM: Would you give a pass mark to a pupil who so consistently failed to answer a question?
RB: (Laughs) You know that it’s not that I’m not answering your question…
EM: Yes it is.
RB: No, it’s not. In every workforce, you’re going to have some very good people, some people who need more support, and what we’re saying, because of our new framework, we’re looking to raise the bar of the quality of the inspections that are given.
EM: Sir Robin, you’ve just got rid of 40% of your inspectors in a system that was controversial for its standards, I think parents and teachers and pupils will want to know, for how long has this been going on, because they, the reason I’m asking the question is can they rely on their reports going back years? What’s your answer?
RB: Yes they can, because the quality assurance system will have dealt with any report or any inspection or an outcome of any report that needed further work, but we’re moving forward with a new framework which is going to require a higher quality of inspector.
EM: So there’s nothing to worry about. You stand by every word of every previous OFSTED report.
RB: Well you know, yes I think we would do that, yes.
EM: So where does that leave the 1,200 people who are losing their jobs?
RB: Well, what we’ve done, if I can explain exactly what we’ve done, we’ve looked at the workforce, there were around 2,800 inspectors, who are currently in the workforce, and we’ve put them through an assessment, because remember they’re going to be delivering a new quality, a new framework, and we wanted to raise the quality of that framework and to raise the quality of that framework raise the quality of the inspector.
EM: And given, as you’ve indicated, that some of these people have been doing the job for years, are you satisfied that, and I understand what you say about your new framework, are you satisfied that none of them could have been let go sooner than now?
RB: Well you know that wasn’t our choice, because they were working within a contract for a contractor, and so that wouldn’t have been our decision.