Ofsted: a word that strikes fear in both students and teachers alike. Everyone has memories of entering school on Ofsted day with all new classroom displays, stressed teachers and the pressure on you to be on your best behaviour.
Created as part of the 1992 Education (Schools) Act, Ofsted is the form of inspection for all state schools and about half of the independent schools in England. It was created as a way to combat the sustained criticism that state schools had received and to ensure that there were set standards met in schools and that these standards would be checked throughout schools regularly. Most governments have reformed how Ofsted inspections have taken place, but Labour have pushed for a complete overhaul of the current system. There is a need for schools to be regulated and assessed, but without the intense strain that Ofsted creates. It is Labour’s aim to reform Ofsted through collaboration between experts in the education system, parents and school communities creating Regional School Improvement Teams enabling a local team to help assist with improvements to schools. This method of examination is very similar to the method used before Ofsted was created, where Her Majesty’s Inspectors and local education authorities conducted the inspections. This previous method was respected by teachers but disliked by the Conservative Party due to their encouragement of liberal teachings in the 1960’s and the condemning of school infrastructure, undermining the Conservative narrative. Indeed, implementing a new system of school inspection would be difficult, but being so closely based on previous methods used means that it is far from impossible.
Schools are a community, and at the heart of that community are the teachers (who arguably suffer the most from Ofsted). A study carried out in 1999 by Occupational Medicine saw a positive correlation between mental health morbidity and teachers in inspected schools. More recently, the tragic death of head teacher Ruth Perry made the reality of Ofsted become all too real. The family of Perry insist that her suicide was the result of the stress and anxiety placed upon her after the inspection which resulted in her school being downgraded, with Perry’s sister stating that ‘she was fine beforehand, she was not fine during or after it. It is a potentially dangerous system.’ The way that Ofsted grade a school is on a 1-4 scale with a word associated with each number. Parents will typically just look at the word when deciding where to send their children to school, so the number awarded does hold a lot of power in that decision making process. Ofsted argue that there is a four-page report that can be accessed after the inspection takes place although for most parents, they don’t have the time or the knowledge to fully understand the report. Labour’s reform also aims to make the report more accessible to parents by ‘replacing headline Ofsted grades with a new system of school report cards, that tell parents clearly how well their children’s school is performing.’ Multiple petitions have been made and supported by the teaching union but more has to be done to protect teachers.
Inspections do have a place in the education system but not in the way that they are currently being implemented. The reform proposed by Labour achieves the outcome of current Ofsted inspections but in a way that seeks to protect the mental health of teachers and makes it easier for parents to understand the results. Relieving the pressure off teachers will also take the pressure of students which would create a more realistic classroom environment for the inspection. Indeed, changing the entire inspection routine is a difficult task and one that cannot be implemented immediately, but change does need to happen, and the Labour proposals aim to achieve this change.
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