Dear politicians, don’t mess up the chance to make OFSTED fair

July 7, 2016

I wrote previously about why I rejected the criticisms of Amanda Spielman’s nomination to be HMCI.

The news that she would be appointed was the single best news I can ever remember hearing in my ten years as an education blogger and fifteen years as a teacher. And the latest news is that her appointment is being blocked.

So let me move from addressing criticisms to addressing why it is really important she is appointed.

The basic problem we have had with OFSTED over the last few decades is that it has not been fair. There are schools with excellent results and committed teachers that have been told they “require improvement”. There are “outstanding” schools that have actually been disastrous failures. And this is without the long history of perverse criticisms of effective teaching, and ridiculous praise for gimmicks that has appeared in reports. In my own career I’ve seen schools wrecked by OFSTED, either by rewarding bad practices or punishing good ones. I’ve been told a lesson of mine was inadequate because the students were working quietly and I’ve seen a school dip massively in results, forcing out the most effective teachers, as they pursued the “OFSTED teaching style” instead of academic achievement.

Now I have been positive about the attempts to address these problems. Improvements have been made and in the end I was positive about Sir Michael Wilshaw’s time as HMCI. There are good people in OFSTED trying to get the bureaucracy to work, and I am convinced it’s much better than it used to be. I no longer argue that OFSTED should be abolished, and am really grateful for what they’ve done to address concerns.

But there is always more that could be done. It should be possible to ensure that all reports are fair. That the unintended consequences of inspection are minimised. That problems are addressed as soon as they become apparent.

And that’s where Amanda came in. She proved at Ofqual that she has the ability to correct dysfunctional systems. If her time at Ofqual proved anything, it’s that she knows how to make systems fairer. She has an intellectual grasp of statistics and management, combined with a genuine concern for fairness and the views of teachers. She is the only person on earth that could change OFSTED into an organisation with a reputation for fairness and a respect for the frontline. And this does not mean she doesn’t care about standards or improving schools, but a fair inspection system that evaluates schools accurately is the best way to improve schools. We need to move away from the idea that the OFSTED process is something to be gamed, and to a system where the best way to get a positive judgement is make sure your school is effective.

Right now our school system needs Amanda Spielman to be the next HMCI.


  1. Until we have some objective means of tracking pupils’ progress, we will always be relying upon subjective judgments made by people with a stake in the outcome. And if we did have objective measures, we wouldn’t need expensive and oppressive organisations like Ofsted. Ofsted is one of the major factors in the workload crisis and the flight of talented teachers from the profession.

    It will only be a matter of time until we have another disastrous Chief Inspector like Christine Gilbert. Whatever Amanda Spielman’s merits, she will be around for a few years at most. And I seriously doubt that she will have any more success in reshaping Ofsted than did Chris Woodhead or Michael Wilshaw. As the former wrote, “Ofsted has become a part of [the blob], and arguably the most lethal part”.

    • My hope is that she will be able to shape the organisation so that it will be harder for those running it in the future to use their power arbitrarily.

  2. Reblogged this on David Didau: The Learning Spy.

  3. […] Andrew Old has already summarised why he feels Amanda would have been a terrific appointment here and I agree with him entirely. The purpose of this post is to reflect on quite serious flaws in the […]

  4. […] Teaching in British schools « Dear politicians, don’t mess up the chance to make OFSTED fair […]

  5. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

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