Ofsted is Not Effective in Driving School Improvement

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What if Ofsted addressed the ‘elephant in the room’?

Earlier this month, Ofsted published a survey (n=5,626) to gather teachers’ opinions about school inspections. It was a chance for Ofsted to blow their own trumpet.

Fair, maybe, but reliable?

Fifty-three per cent of respondents told Teacher Tapp that their school had made changes following its most recent inspection. Over 80 per cent of teachers who responded to the Teacher Tapp survey agreed that their school’s latest inspection outcome was fair.

However, there were NO questions on ‘attrition following inspection’ or anything on the ‘impact on mental health’ for teachers during the process. Ofsted concluded, “we’re delighted that 42 per cent of classroom teachers and 80 per cent of headteachers read our research.”

It’s worth offering some balance between academic research versus a survey Ofsted commissioned.

No beneficial effects on exams

In one paper, Do school inspections improve school quality? Ofsted inspections and school examination results in the UK (Rosenthal, 2004) evaluate Ofsted’s impact on the observed exam performance of state secondary schools.

The paper highlights why there is no evidence that an Ofsted visit has beneficial effects on the exam performance outcome of the school following the inspection! It found that “there exists a small but well-determined adverse, negative effect associated with the Ofsted inspection event for the year of the inspection.”

The conclusion?

Ofsted visits seem to adversely affect the student performance in the year of the visit.

So, where are we now a decade from these reports (and a couple of inspection frameworks into the future)?

Ofsted does not know its impact

Well, another piece of research, published by Ofsted (2007) this time: A review of the impact of inspection. Ofsted writes, “Although the direct impact of inspection can be difficult to prove, there is evidence that inspection and regulation make a positive difference to the provision of services in education and care.”

What is not defined here is what do we mean by “positive difference”?

Ofsted concludes, “It is also true that, in places, inspection has not made enough difference.”

The National Audit Office (NAO, 2018) looked at Ofsted again and asked: How effective is Ofsted in driving school improvement? According to the NAO, “Ofsted does not know whether its school inspections are having the intended impact.”

In other words, Ofsted is not effective in driving school improvement. Even when evaluated against Ofsted’s strategic plan, there was limited information to allow others to assess its progress.

The strategic plan included nine measures of quality, efficiency and effectiveness for which Ofsted planned to set targets. However, seven of these measures did not have associated targets; and performance against three of them was not reported publicly.

Fast-forward to 2022, we are now on another strategic plan (2022-2027).

Inspection does not automatically lead to school improvement

In another academic paper, The effect of school inspections: a systematic review (Klerks, 2012), improvement (following Ofsted) is defined:

  1. school improvement;
  2. behavioural change of teachers; or
  3. student achievement results.

To save you reading the 33-page paper, “no evidence has been found that school inspections automatically lead to the improvement of the educational quality.”

However, to offer some balance, there is evidence that “a positive role is reserved for one aspect of regulative measures, namely feedback: the verbal feedback at the end of the inspection visit and the written feedback in the inspection report.

The “feedback provided the school with the knowledge they lacked so far.”

Yet, to contradict this research, De Maeyer and Vanhoof (2020) write, “although teachers are satisfied with the inspection outcome, this does not mean they are more likely to accept the inspection feedback.”

It appears that a one-off relationship may hinder any action once inspectors have left the building.

To offer one recent academic paper to conclude, Do Teachers Want to Work with Inspectors? The Monitoring Programmes (Carvalho and Joana, 2022) studies the emerging dichotomy between control and support/monitoring, which occurs when the performance of inspection at schools is at stake.

Using semi-structured interviews, the research involved 130 participants, including teachers and inspectors.

Teacher anxiety as a result of Ofsted inspection

The research highlighted teachers’ anxiety, stress, and discomfort, despite inspection’s highlighted safety and tranquillity (by Ofsted).

Even in Ofsted’s latest TeacherTapp survey, they fail to ask the most important question that may highlight all the negative impact they have across the sector:

  1. Asking if teachers believe the overall Ofsted grade to be ‘fair’ is very different from ‘Do you believe the Ofsted overall judgement to ‘accurate and reliable‘?
  2. Or, what happens to teacher attrition or mental health following a high-stakes inspection?

This research concludes that “inspectors are more concerned with identifying the failures of educational organisations than with helping them improve”, with inspection having “more impact” by teachers “who occupy management positions than by teachers.”

This is not to say there are no positives or that some teachers and schools have a positive experience. Further research would indicate if deprived or affluent schools favour the process …

In other words, for now, Ofsted is not effective in driving school improvement.

For an inspection system to positively influence education and improve quality, school inspection must move away from standardised and inflexible behaviours (e.g. grading schools) towards consciously and effectively integrating “the differences specific to each school.”

Ofsted must eliminate once and for all the centralising culture of the administration that does not seem to benefit the quality of education for all.

Amen to that.


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