OFSTED: A Quiet Revolution

8 October 2017

Every teacher in England can tell you a story or two about OFSTED. That moment, during an inspection when the door creaks open…if you have been through it, you know what I mean – strikes an indelible impression on the mind of every teacher, no matter how experienced.

Whispers about OFSTED, how the inspector crushed the school down the road with a spurious grasp of school context, have beset our profession for years. It wasn’t too long ago when, led Chris Woodhead, OFSTED became a booming voice in education. We had Sir Michael Wilshaw put the boot into schools many a time not long ago.

As Sir Michael Wilshaw left OFSTED, the tone from the top quickly changed. Amanda Spielman, former Chair of OFQUAL, ushered in a quiet, but compelling new vision for OFSTED.

Her talk at the Wellington Festival of Education marked a shift away from the confident bluster of the past to a more reflective, evaluative approach to their accountability function:

“We’re going to be looking at the validity and reliability of our inspections, making sure we look at what really matters in education and that our judgements are consistent and reliable.”

Now, claims of inconsistent inspections will abound (with some valid concerns, alongside some claims to protect reputations), but the mere awareness of the need to improve the inspection process and the fairness and reliability is a crucial step change. Alongside this, the challenge to the abuses of qualifications like the ECDL, alongside the promotion of curriculum and high quality in-school assessments, are to be celebrated.

At Spielman’s recent speech in Birmingham, she recognised that in challenging areas (like coastal schools and areas of high deprivation) high quality performance can and should happen, but when it does such leadership compares more favorably than a school with a comfortable catchment area:

“We would fully expect that a school in a disadvantaged area with the same level of pupil progress as one in a more affluent area, to have better leadership and management teams.”

Such insights may be slighted as ‘obvious’ by many, but they have not yet become accepted norms and so they should be welcomed. A quiet revolution, shifting the emphasis of the inspectorate, is under way.

More recent developments offer further signs of promise. The highly respected researcher from Southampton University, Prof. Daniel Muijs, has been appointed the new Head of Research at OFSTED. Having a true expert in education spearhead a pursuit of more valid, reliable judgements, and self-evaluation, is a subtle change but one with far-reaching implications for OFSTED and for eduction. (Daniel is speaking at the Oldham Research School launch – see HERE).
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The new OFSTED strategy – on how they are to be a ‘force for improvement’ – is interesting. It promises more national surveys, reports and research, with more of a focus on what excellent providers are doing. We can hope for fewer myths and whispers, alongside clear communications. We can expect less grand bombast, but more useful guidance.

The OFSTED National Director of Education, Sean Harford, has proven a helpful, constructive voice in a topsy turvy education system, beset by ceaseless change for a few years now. We are looking forward to hearing from Sean at our imminent ‘Evidence in Education: Northern Networks Making it Work‘ conference at York University on the 20th of October. If you want to hear more, you can find out about the programme for the event HERE (topics include the ‘funding pipeline’, ‘improving measurement in schools’ and ‘leading with evidence’) and get tickets HERE.

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(Email c.kilner@huntington-ed.org.uk if you want to ask questions about the conference or to arrange tickets by invoice.) 


OFSTED whispers were too often quiet and deadly when they spread to silly marking policies and worse, but we should speak loud and clear when positive changes are afoot. If OFSTED are to prove a ‘force for improvement’ then we need to hold them to account, but we also must ensure that we listen and understand their methods better too.


Posted on 8 October 2017
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