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IOE Blog


Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


The case for an immediate pause and reset in school inspection

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 24 November 2023

Teacher speaking to students sitting on the floor. Credit: Ashok Sinha / Adobe.

Credit: Ashok Sinha / Adobe.

Alice Bradbury and Jane Perryman.

The current Ofsted inspection system for schools has generated such a level of mistrust, even perceptions of ‘toxicity’, that it needs extensive reform, and to be paused immediately while an alternative system is developed. This is the overarching conclusion of the Beyond Ofsted Inquiry, for which we provided the research.

We have spent several months collecting data from teachers, school leaders, parents, governors and key policymakers about the impact of Ofsted and options for reform, through a survey and series of focus groups. Based on this feedback and a review of the wider evidence base, the inquiry report proposes (more…)

Location location location: how the ‘wrong’ one can put schools in a difficult spot and the right kind of inspection could help pull them out

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 1 December 2020

Melanie Ehren, Jo Hutchinson and Bernie Munoz-Chereau.

Where schools are located can make a big difference to their outcomes, and the pandemic is making the geographical gap worse in a number of ways. In remote or deprived areas, parents often have limited access to the internet, and this has severely limited schools’ ability to teach online during lockdowns and closures.

Now that students have returned to school, teachers and school leaders are tasked with the enormous challenge of making up for lost time. In remote or deprived areas, these challenges are even greater. In its 2020 report on ‘stuck schools’ – those struggling to improve over more than a decade – Ofsted looked at how location – particularly geographical remoteness and level of deprivation – relates to school performance. The Inspectorate said ‘a system of deeper inspection and better support’ was needed to improve education for children in these schools. This emphasis in tackling schools that are deemed less than ‘good’ is sustained in  Ofsted Annual Report 2019-2020 launched today.

Now more than ever, inspection needs to use place-based approaches to take into account the related challenges. Assessment of (more…)

Education and Covid-19: why we need inspections when schools are shut down

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 23 April 2020

Melanie Ehren.

Ofsted’s decision to suspend all routine inspection from 17 March quickly became irrelevant, as schools closed and staff scrambled to organise distance learning and to support parents in homeschooling their children. Now that the lockdown looks set to continue for weeks or months, how can we ensure that children are receiving a decent education?

Are we to have no school inspections during lockdown? Or should we instead find new ways to evaluate teaching and learning?

I believe we should continue inspections, albeit in a different form. Ofsted should continue to assess teaching and learning for reasons of 1) transparency, 2) improvement and 3) preparing us for when schools open again. The approach I suggest would require a redesign of the current framework, applying it to the current context of homeschooling and distance learning with more agile, mobile tools to collect data. Let me explain. (more…)

OFSTED’s worst practice – its four-grade scale – undermines the real advances in its new draft framework

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 31 January 2019

Frank Coffield
Ofsted has just issued a draft inspection framework for consultation which puts the curriculum at its heart. This is a welcome return to what inspectors used to value, namely the curriculum, although some fundamental questions remain, as John White details in his recent blog.
I want to draw attention to something different: Ofsted’s most objectionable and most damaging practice – the four-point grading scale to which it appears wedded. This is an example of unintelligent accountability.
The danger to Ofsted is that all the advances in the draft framework will be set at naught if it persists with these grades, because (more…)

Ofsted has turned our attention back to what makes a good curriculum. We now need better answers

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 23 January 2019

 John White.
Ofsted has begun consulting on a revised draft inspection framework.
The inspectorate wants to move away from an over-reliance on results and to focus on how these have been achieved – ‘whether they are the result of broad and rich learning, or gaming and cramming. ’The aim is to ‘‘rebalance inspection to make sure that young people are being taught the best of what has been thought and said’.
Ofsted’s focus on whether a school has a good curriculum is welcome. If taken seriously, it should lead us into deep and complex issues about what education should be about. But, bound as it is by current legislation, Ofsted has a very specific interpretation of this. Its references to knowledge and skills and nod to Matthew Arnold’s well-known dictum show its reliance on the current National Curriculum aims, introduced by then Education Secretary (more…)

Schools: how did ‘accountability’ become a synonym for punishment and control? And can we change its meaning?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 15 November 2017

Melanie Ehren. 
Educational accountability, as defined in scholarly work, simply means the extent to which schools or other institutions are held accountable for their behaviour and performance by others. Answerability for performance is at the core of this relationship, where specific processes and measures such as high stakes testing or school inspections inform the way in which people or organizations are held to account.
This understanding of educational accountability is relatively ‘value-free’ and allows for a range of outcomes. Most systems aim for school improvement, but ‘capacity-building’ or ensuring schools adhere to legislation are also common outcomes. Ofsted’s new corporate strategy says that it aims ‘to be a force for improvement through intelligent, responsible and focused inspection and regulation’. Similarly, the Irish Inspectorate explains in its quality framework how it sees external inspections and internal evaluation as complementary contributors to school improvement and capacity building. An external perspective (more…)

Will the leopard change its spots? A new model of inspection for Ofsted

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 11 September 2017

Frank Coffield
Does Ofsted do more harm than good? I have examined the evidence which shows that, despite some clear benefits of inspection, Ofsted’s methods are invalid, unreliable and unjust. A report from the Education Policy Institute, for example, concluded that notable proportions of schools with the highest grades and lowest numbers of disadvantaged pupils are not down-graded even when their performance deteriorates. Conversely “the most deprived schools are systematically more likely to be down-graded”. The very schools that most need help are further harmed by punitive Ofsted reports that make their recruitment and retention of teachers even more difficult.
Besides, attaching a single adjective such as “outstanding “ or “inadequate” to a large FE college with 20,000 students, 1,000 staff and 30+ departments is a statistical absurdity. Research has repeatedly demonstrated that there is great variation within a college or school and one adjective cannot capture either complexity or diversity.
Ofsted needs to change radically and in my new book, which is launched at the Institute of Education by the IoE Press on 13 September at 5:30 pm, and called Will the Leopard Change Its Spots? A new model of inspection for Ofsted, I offer an (more…)