Headteachers are calling for a radical overhaul of school inspection in England, including the scrapping of ratings such as “good” or “requires improvement”, which they describe as a “woefully blunt” measure of a school’s performance.
The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) says the current system, which labels a school either “outstanding”, “good”, “requires improvement” or “inadequate”, fails to reflect the vastly different circumstances in which schools operate, while Ofsted’s inspection regime is “punitive” rather than constructive.
The schools watchdog for England is deeply unpopular among many school staff, who say it adds to pressure on leadership teams and is contributing to the recruitment and retention crisis in education.
ASCL, which represents 22,000 members in the UK, outlines its proposals in a discussion paper, The Future of Inspection, published on Friday. It comes as the search for a new chief inspector of schools is due to begin, to replace Amanda Spielman at the end of the year.
The paper accepts there should be an independent inspectorate, but says Ofsted is losing the trust of the profession. It suggests the current grading system, which can stigmatise schools that receive negative judgments, should be replaced with a narrative description of strengths and weaknesses.
ASCL also suggests getting rid of the grades awarded in four inspection areas – quality of education, behaviour and attitudes, personal development, and leadership and management. “Removing these has the potential to end the unhelpful and misleading practice of reducing a school or college’s performance in key areas to a single word or phrase, and to instead give parents and other stakeholders a more nuanced understanding of what a school or college is doing well and how it could improve,” it says.
In addition, ASCL wants schools to be told in which academic year they will be inspected, to reduce the burden of uncertainty. It also wants greater transparency over inspection activity and a review of how pupils’ comments are considered during inspection, and how any pupils’ claims are “triangulated”.
ASCL’s general secretary, Geoff Barton, said: “Graded judgments are a woefully blunt tool with which to measure performance, failing to account for the different circumstances under which schools operate. Negative judgments come with huge stigma attached and create a vicious circle that makes improvement more difficult.
“We know from speaking to members that the punitive inspection system is contributing to the recruitment and retention crisis in education by adding to the pressure school leaders are under, and by making it more difficult to recruit high-quality staff in the schools which most need them.”
Ofsted declined to comment on the report.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Parents rely greatly on schools’ Ofsted ratings to give them confidence in choosing the right school for their child.
“Thanks to the tireless efforts of teachers and school staff, 88% of schools are now rated as Good or Outstanding, up from 68% in 2010.
“To support schools we have provided an extra £2bn both next year and the year after, which will be the highest real terms spending on schools in history, totalling £58.8bn by 2024-25.”