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Ofsted must embrace ‘far-reaching reform’, say leaders

Ofsted must embrace “far-reaching reform” which “cannot come soon enough”, leaders’ unions have told its “Big Listen” consultation.

The watchdog has been warned its single-phrase judgments cause “sky-high stress and anxiety”, exacerbate the recruitment and retention crisis and pose an ongoing “risk to life” following the death of Ruth Perry.

The NAHT and ASCL have submitted formal responses to the inspectorate’s wide-ranging 12-week consultation ahead of its closure at 11:59pm tomorrow.

Ofsted launched the “Big Listen” after a coroner ruled headteacher Perry died of “suicide, contributed to by an Ofsted inspection carried out in November 2022”.

Paul Whiteman

The consultation has sought views on schools, safeguarding, SEND, teacher training, social care and further education, based on four “priorities”: how Ofsted reports on findings, carries out inspections, the impact inspection has and the watchdog’s culture.

But Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, said Ofsted “still has a long way to go to restore credibility” within the sector after “leaders and teachers have been traumatised by the inspection regime”.

“When the Big Listen reports back, Ofsted must be bold and embrace the deep, far-reaching reform the inspectorate desperately needs.”

Ofsted accused of ‘short sighted’ consultation omission

The “Big Listen” does not include a specific question on whether single-phrase judgments should be scrapped, but there is a free text box where respondents can give views on that issue.

Pepe-Di'Iasio
Pepe DiIasio

ASCL said it understood the inspectorate does not have the power to enact that reform, “but not to include it as part of the Big Listen was short-sighted”.

“HMCI would have been in better position to make a powerful argument to parliament and to government for the removal of graded judgements, had this question been explicitly asked.”

Pepe Di’Iasio, ASCL’s general secretary, said it was a “big miss that the Big Listen failed to recognise the importance of asking a direct question” about judgments.

He said reform was “long overdue and cannot come soon enough”.

Ofsted declined to comment, and as a public body is also restricted in what it can say during  the pre-election “purdah” period.

However, in March, Sir Martyn Oliver, Ofsted’s chief inspector, told Whiteman: “The absence of a specific question in the consultation does not mean we are not listening to feedback from your members – and others – on the issue of single-word judgments

“One respondent is so determined to use the available text boxes to ensure we hear the message that they have included ‘GET RID OF THE ONE WORD JUDGMENTS’ as their gender, sexuality and religion, for example.”

Unions call for single-phrase judgments to be scrapped

Both unions reiterated their calls for the single-phrase judgments to be scrapped.

The NAHT said there should be an immediate pause to graded inspections and reiterated calls for a longer window of warning for inspections – of at least 48 hours, and for all inspectors to have experience of the school phase they are inspecting.

It is demanding “far-reaching and fundamental reform, as the dangerous inspection regime remains a risk to life for teachers and leaders”. 

ASCL is calling for a “report card approach to accountability, which could constrain the
role of inspection to ensuring compliance against an agreed set of national standards”.

This echoes a commitment from Labour, ahead in the polls and favourites to win the election on July 4, that it will replace the four current headline judgments with report cards setting out the strengths and weaknesses of schools if they gain power.

If a school failed to meet a standard during inspection, “early and intelligent intervention” could help it meet it before the report is published, ASCL said.

Last month, the DfE rejected calls for the four overall effectiveness grades to be scrapped.

It warned doing so would lead to civil servants, politicians and the media “drawing their own conclusions” about schools from the narrative in reports.

Calls for separate annual safeguarding audit and new framework

Safeguarding should be checked separately through an annual audit as this “is too important to only be inspected every four years,” ASCL added.

Longer term, the NAHT said it wanted to to see a new framework and inspection methodology which “takes a constructive, supportive, and developmental approach to achieve the best outcomes for schools”.  

It also raised concerns about Ofsted’s complaints process and said “more must be done to ensure the inspectorate is accountable, and leaders and teachers can challenge poor inspection practice”.

ASCL said it was “concerned that too often too great an emphasis is placed on the voices of a small group of pupils” during inspections.

“While pupil voice is undeniably an important part of inspection activity, it must always be triangulated with other evidence, especially what inspectors see during their time at the school.”

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