Ofsted is contributing to a “football manager culture” of firing headteachers to improve results and needs to be overhauled to help schools improve, according to the latest criticisms aimed at England’s schools inspectorate.
A report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) thinktank said an “over-reliance on punitive control” was driving teachers out of the profession and distracting schools from making real improvements.
“Overly simplistic inspection judgments – outstanding, good, requires improvement or inadequate – often trigger abrupt changes to management, fuelling a ‘football manager culture’,” it said.
IPPR said Ofsted’s use of single-phrase judgments should be scrapped and replaced by reports tailored more towards parents and pupils.
Criticism of Ofsted’s inspection format has grown this year following the death of Ruth Perry, a primary school headteacher in Reading, which Perry’s family has said was suicide related to an inspection that downgraded the school from outstanding to inadequate.
The report argues that school inspections have been dominated by policies known as “new public management”, which try to replicate market forces through the use of league tables, targets and incentives.
The report states there is little evidence the policies can drive high levels of improvement in schools, and says Ofsted’s role needs to be dramatically changed, with judgments replaced by reports on whether schools are meeting expected standards.
Efua Poku-Amanfo, a research fellow at IPPR, said: “The status quo isn’t working. Tactics like league tables and targets have run out of road, we need a new approach to helping schools improve. We propose a new system which empowers schools and teachers to innovate, utilising their experience and expertise.”
Under the system, Ofsted would recommend on the intervention required for schools needing improvement, including the provision of external support or immediate action such as the replacement of a school’s governing body.
Ofsted’s inspection reports would also be split into two parts: a narrative version for parents and a technical improvement report aimed at school leaders and regulators.
A separate report, compiled by the Beyond Ofsted inquiry and chaired by the former schools minister Jim Knight, calls for Ofsted to be removed from direct contact with schools, with inspection reports instead produced by external “improvement partners” such as serving headteachers.
It said parents would receive “more readable and useful information on areas of a school’s performance and practice, in the form of a narrative rather than a single-word judgement,” while Ofsted’s role would be confined to inspecting the effectiveness of academy trusts or local authorities in improving the schools they managed.
“The evidence is clear. Ofsted has lost the trust of the teaching profession, and increasingly of parents. There is now an opportunity for transformational change,” Knight said. “There is good evidence that a long-term relationship with an external partner of improvement builds trust and drives improvement. It allows that person to get to know the school’s unique context and advise accordingly.”
The inquiry, which was supported by the National Education Union (NEU), wants safeguarding audits to be taken over from Ofsted by a new national safeguarding body.