Judging the judge: time for Ofsted to go

“The SEA is deeply concerned that as well as the pressure the inspectorate puts on schools Ofsted is now imposing a narrow ideology of education.”

By Ian Duckett and James Whiting, Socialist Education Association

The Socialist Educational Association (SEA) believes it is time to put Ofsted in the dock. SEA, Labour’s only education affiliate, reacted to the terrible suicide of Ruth Perry by passing an emergency resolution at its last NEC meeting calling for nothing less than the complete replacement of Ofsted and a pause in current inspections.

The SEA has long had a policy, before the Ruth Perry tragedy, to totally overhaul education accountability and this is part of the SEA’s Manifesto for Education which has just been released.

A call for the abolition of Ofsted

The SEA resolution states:

‘Given the suicide of Ruth Perry Head of Caversham Primary after an inhumane and systemised Ofsted judgement, the SEA reinforces the call for the abolition of Ofsted by the next Labour Government. In the meantime, it demands a pause in sections and a thorough review of the procedure. It calls on schools to remove all references to Ofsted judgements from school publicity and marketing material beyond statutory requirements.’

The SEA is deeply concerned that as well as the pressure the inspectorate puts on schools Ofsted is now imposing a narrow ideology of education. A review process plus safeguarding checks could easily be conducted by others who do not have an ideological agenda. Ofsted have caused controversy by promoting only one education perspective and insisting this must be delivered across all subjects. They have been accused of misrepresenting research in their quest for uniformity in imposing the ‘knowledge rich curriculum.’

Too late for reform

The SEA believes Ofsted cannot be reformed because it denies there are valid alternative perspectives and has constructed a regime of truth where anything outside it, is simply ignored. Education is a human activity in which philosophy, politics, sociology, and psychology have interacted in its development over time. These are social sciences where nothing is concrete and in which differing viewpoints play a vital part. Ofsted may well see which way the wind is blowing if there is a change of government and turn its back on the ‘knowledge rich’ curriculum. New tablets of stone will be brought down to inspector training sessions and they will laugh at what they used to believe.

This is exactly why Ofsted must go. There is never only one truth in education. There are several and the SEA believes there should be need an accountability process which recognises that.

Guilty verdict

One key player has already returned a guilty verdict. The National Education Union (NEU) cites Ofsted more than any other cause for a lack of teachers joining, and staying, in teaching. Ofsted, NEU says, affects educational quality and inclusion.

In the news

It is not just this week that Ofsted has been in the news for all the wrong reasons – but the mental health and wellbeing of too many teachers and school leaders has been put under immense pressure for far too long.

Almost 40 per cent of teachers leave the profession within ten years, citing excessive workload caused by accountability as the main reason for choosing to go. No education system can succeed whilst it haemorrhages teachers and school leaders.

NEU’s Ofsted petition

On 23 March NEU members delivered its Replace Ofsted petition to the Department for Education (DfE). With over 52,000 teachers, school leaders, parents and pupils having signed, it is clear the profession is speaking with one voice, loud and clear, when we say Ofsted is not fit for purpose and must be replaced.

The petition calls for the government to:

  • Replace Ofsted with a school accountability system which is supportive, effective and fair.
  • Work with teachers, leaders and other stakeholders to establish a commission to learn how school accountability is done in other high performing education nations.
  • Develop an accountability system which commands the trust and confidence of education staff as well as parents and voters.

After 30 years of increasing teacher workload, adding to the stress of school, leaders and intensifying the recruitment/retention crisis in schools.

A further call for the replacement of Ofsted

At the forthcoming NEU annual conference a motion on educational reform notes “with regret, that Ofsted… widely criticised for the poor quality, consistency and validity of their inspections and inspection methodologies. In addition, rather than boosting educational outcomes for students and organisations, inspections place huge workload pressures and stress onto the professionals involved, distracting them from the main purpose of education. This is highlighted in the work already done by the union’s ‘Replace Ofsted’ campaign.”

Conference will call on the NEU executive to set up working parties ( for Ofsted in England, Estyn in Wales and the Education and Training Inspectorate in Northern Ireland) allocating experienced union staff and recruiting a range of educational professionals as well as selected individuals from outside education for additional expertise and set these working parties two goals: to research and assess the inspecting bodies, what they do, why they do it and to develop a model inspectorate guide and policy with a focus on supportive and effective inspections that help organisations grow and develop.

We can only hope that this proves to be one more nail in Ofsted’s coffin.

Featured image: Waltham Forest College taken on July 28th, 2018. Photo credit: Robert Lamb under Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0

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