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Ofsted chief wants inspection to feel like ‘peer review system’

Sir Martyn Oliver has said he wants Ofsted inspection to feel like a “peer-review system”.

At the Schools and Academies Show today, the chief inspector discussed his ongoing “Big Listen” consultation, launched following the inquest into the death of headteacher Ruth Perry.

Speaking at the London event, Oliver said Ofsted had embarked on a “reform journey” and there was a “lot more to come”.

Sir Martin Oliver

But stressed he was a civil servant, and the watchdog has to follow government policy set by ministers.

A coroner ruled in December that an Ofsted inspection at Caversham Primary School contributed to Perry’s suicide.

Today, Oliver reiterated that when he took on the job in January, he “wanted Ofsted to be of the system, by the system, for children and parents”.

He stressed that the “vast majority” of its workforce were serving practitioners such as heads, deputy heads and college principals, and that he wants to “lean into that”.

Oliver said he wanted it to feel like “in some ways, it’s the professional inspectorate, which is a peer-review system”.

Heads have pushed for peer review

Leaders have been pushing for a system of peer review to replace high-stakes inspections for some time.

Earlier this year, a paper by the NAHT heads’ union said the “potential should be explored for a low-stakes inspection model, where regular inspection is conducted by HMI working in local patches or areas”.

“This could offer impactful diagnostic insight, take account of local context and challenge, and promote collaboration, peer review and area-wide school improvement,” the paper said.

A survey by the ASCL union in 2020 on ‘improving Ofsted inspections previously revealed some school leaders were keen on a peer review-style system.

The survey’ in February 2020, which had 793 respondents, found some “would like to see the involvement of more serving leaders on inspection teams or the replacement of Ofsted with a more collaborative peer review system,” the union noted at the time.

‘Funding has dropped’

Oliver’s comments echoed remarks made to Schools Week in January, when he called for “a long-term response that actually sees Ofsted being far more a part of the system”.

“It really shouldn’t be a sense of duality or elimination, it should be synthesis. And that’s what I’m trying to create: it’s not us and them, or get rid of one or keep the other. It should be Ofsted is ‘of’ the system, ‘by’ the system and ‘for’ children, parents and students,” he added at the time.

Speaking today, Oliver also highlighted that since 2005 Ofsted’s “remit has grown and grown but since 2009-10 our funding has dropped in real terms by 29 per cent”.

Ofsted said in its response to a committee report on inspection that delivering more in-depth inspections called-for by MPs would cost £8.5 million a year, and warned declining inspector pay means they are losing staff to academy trusts.

Oliver said today that money “clearly has an impact”, but said he did not think Ofsted should “be at the front of the line” for more funding.

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