Independent Ofsted inquiry calls for ‘immediate pause’ of inspections

Fiona Simpson
Monday, November 20, 2023

An immediate pause of routine Ofsted inspections in schools to “allow time to reset and regain the trust of the teaching profession” is being called for by an independent inquiry into the inspectorate.

Lord Jim Knight is chair of the independent inquiry into Ofsted. Picture: Jim Knight
Lord Jim Knight is chair of the independent inquiry into Ofsted. Picture: Jim Knight

The Beyond Ofsted inquiry, chaired by former schools minister Lord Jim Knight and funded by the National Education Union, finds that “Ofsted has lost the trust of the teaching profession, and increasingly of parents”.

“There is a now an opportunity for transformational change,” Knight writes in his new report.

His inquiry states that Ofsted is now viewed as "toxic" and "not fit for purpose" and is in need of major reform.

Such reform should include an end to single-word judgments like "outstanding" or "inadequate", which the inquiry said were “too simplistic to describe a whole school”.

Schools should also be responsible for their own improvement plans with Ofsted having a greater focus on governance, Knight says, adding that inspectors should not be entering classrooms to review teaching practice.

“Inspections of governance would be published, but with no single-phrase judgment. If inspection found weakness in the quality and capacity for self-evaluation, they could recommend areas for improvement and further support,” the report states noting that for multi-academy trusts, support would be offered to the trust’s board and for local authorities it would be offered to the portfolio member of the council’s cabinet for education and the director of children’s services or their equivalent.

“If there is significant failure, they could impose an interim executive board to replace the governance body,” the report adds.

The inquiry, which was launched after the death of headteacher Ruth Perry by suicide in January after her school has handed an “inadequate” rating.

Under the reforms proposed in the report safeguarding audits would be conducted annually by a separate body, under the oversight of a national safeguarding body.

As his final recommendation, Knight calls for “an immediate pause of routine inspections to allow time to reset and regain the trust of the profession”.

“Duty of care to the profession in order to develop collaborative learning cultures, which generate excellent professional skills and competencies, should be at the heart of any reform,” he states.

Responding to the report, a spokesperson for Ofsted said: "We always want inspections to be a constructive experience for school staff.

"Our inspectors are all former or current school leaders and well understand the nature and pressures of the work."

In a separate report, also published today (20 November), the Institute for Public Policy Research is calling for an end to “overly simplistic” one-word Ofsted judgments.

These judgments often trigger abrupt changes to management, fuelling a “football manager culture”, the report states.

It notes that: “This conflates the role of Ofsted as an inspectorate, with the regulatory role of regional directors whose job is to work locally, supporting excellence across schools, children’s social care and special educational needs and disabilities.”

The report highlights further criticisms of the current grading system, including accusations that it leads to headteachers chasing “outstanding” grades at a cost of other needs in their settings.

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