Posts Tagged ‘OFSTED’

Ofsted – head in the sandpit?

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

As we focus on where we could save money and where we waste money in the UK in order to balance the books, I am becoming increasingly unsure of why Ofsted continues to exist – at least in its current form.

Earlier this year (15 August 2010) I blogged about my thoughts on what Chris Woodhead, the former Chief Inspector of Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education) had been saying about schooling. In The Times (25 July 2010), whilst talking about English Literature classes, he wrote, “The aim should not be to develop ‘critical thinking skills’”, and added that children, “should not be encouraged to express their opinions on the texts. Who cares what they think or feel?” I find that harder to believe every time I read it. And, incidentally, I care what they think and feel.

His more current collegues were also involved in the tragic Baby Peter case. You may recall that Ms Shoesmith’s was the Director of Children’s Services in Haringey at the time, and she appealed against unfair dismissal by the Council. During the appeal Ofsted suddenly discovered thousands of pages of undisclosed evidence which they had previously said could not be located. These contained snippets such as notes relating to Ofsted inspectors being told to delete all emails on the case, and evidence that an additional finding was popped in stating, “There is insufficient strategic leadership and management oversight …”  Ofsted had also given Haringey’s Children’s Services a glowing 3-star rating only a few weeks after Baby Peter had died. The subsequent revelations didn’t make things appear that 3-star to others.

And last week Ofsted again hit the headlines for their part in the awful Little Ted Nursery case. The Plymouth Safeguarding Children Board completed the Serious Case Review into the Nursery in March 2010, and sent it to Ofsted as is required. Apparently, Ofsted didn’t respond until October 2010, thus delaying the publishing of the Report until last week.

The purpose of a Serious Case Review is to ensure that lessons are learned and practices are changed so that incidents such as this should not recur – so that society safeguards and promotes the welfare of children. How is taking 7 months to respond to a report an effective way of protecting children? I thought that there must be a good reason for this delay, so I went to its website and had a look at the ‘News’ section. Not a mention – even though they’ve had 7 months to think about it.

Paragraph 5.44 of the Serious Case Review states, “It has become clear from this review that whilst the Early Years Service had many concerns about the nursery there was no formal mechanism for informing Ofsted, since they did not reach the threshold of a breach of regulations. Similarly Ofsted had no means of discussing with Early Years the support need of the nursery. It is notable that whilst Early Years had the nursery identified as red or amber on its own rating system, Ofsted inspections were good or satisfactory”. Again, Ofsted making a judgement that is far removed from reality.

So why is this happening? There is a theme, and that is the ‘tick-box’ culture that Ofsted appears to support. This was noted by Deborah Orr when she wrote in the Guardian last year (26 November 2009). “Does Ofsted’s  tick-box culture deserve the criticism that has been heaped on it this week? I do believe so. I have before me an inspection report on a London primary school, rated outstanding. It scores the highest grade (out of four) in every one of 33 categories, except two. What are the two categories that this school fails to achieve perfection in? Oh, just ‘standards achieved by learners’ and ‘how well learners develop . . . skills that will contribute to their economic well-being’. Little things, of no great consequence in a school.”

What’s the common denominator in these last three examples? Ofsted have awarded ratings that are far higher than the services or institutions warrant – when looking at it from the perspective of society rather than ticked boxes.

Exactly. Because what generally happens when you create a tick-box culture? You measure things that are easy to measure – because that’s what ticking boxes is about. And that in turn makes unimportant things suddenly important – because they are generally easier to measure when using boxes to be ticked. And so people stop concentrating on the important things – because what gets measured generally happens.  And so the truly important matters are not important any longer – well, not to the inspectors and those who are being inspected and want to achieve a good rating.

These examples are three occasions where Ofsted have given ratings far higher than they deserve.

Earlier this year Zenna Atkins announced she would be standing down as Chair of Ofsted on 31 August 2010.  When she spoke of her decision to stand down, she said, “The work of Ofsted not only costs the taxpayer a third less than when undertaken by four separate inspectorates but we are also supporting improvement in a more efficient and effective way. Front-line observation and engagement with children, parents and leadership teams are now at the heart of all new inspection arrangements, sweeping away any inherited tick box culture”.

I’m not convinced, Zenna.

In my view, Ofsted is not providing value for money – even if it is costing a third less – and it needs a complete overhaul. More important than it not providing value, it is not measuring the right things, and most importantly it is not effectively protecting children or supporting their development. And it appears to be institutionalised in its processes and so I wonder whether it will be able to change. I’d scrap it.

It is great as a case study of what can go wrong when tick-box processes are created. But, sadly, in my opinion, that’s all it’s currently good for.