Since I wrote 'Will the Leopard Change its Spots? A new model of inspection for Ofsted', the problems of teacher recruitment and retention have intensified. Part of the reason is that too many senior staff, anxious to hold on to their own jobs, now behave as if they were Ofsted inspectors who create in their schools regimes of “hyper-accountability.”
Able teachers, repeatedly assessed as “outstanding”, still have their preparation, teaching, management of behaviour and marking of students’ work evaluated incessantly. The pressures created by Ofsted cascade down through the system increasing teachers’ stress and workloads to the point of exhaustion and burn-out.
Is it any wonder that, together with a real-terms pay cut of 5% over the last two years, 7 out of 10 teachers have seriously considered leaving the profession. Listen to a young teacher who left recently after 10 years successful teaching: “The pressure and the workload became extreme and unrealistic…I was always working late every night and at weekends.” If the job doesn’t leave sufficient time for family life, then it’s no longer worth doing.
Another issue that Ofsted still fails to address appropriately is the impact of poverty on children’s learning. The Child Poverty Action Group records that last year 3.9 million children in the UK were living in poverty, with the clear majority of their parents in work. The cost of living crisis, especially spiralling energy bills, will plunge thousands more children into poverty this year. The pandemic has already seriously disrupted the education of those without the familial and technical resources to study at home. Ofsted needs to respond to these interacting disadvantages by making more sweeping changes than it has done so far to the inspection of schools and colleges in our most deprived areas.
Overall Ofsted’s methods are unreliable, invalid, ineffective and unjust, especially to schools serving the poorest communities. Most teachers view it, not as a useful lever for change, but as a hammer that creates a climate of fear and intimidation. Ofsted has failed to balance challenge with an equal concern for support.
Ofsted is a public service, paid by us, the taxpayers. It doesn’t belong to the government, the Department for Education or the inspectors, but to those citizens and business that pay for it. So we have not only a right but a duty to review its performance, to point out that its practices are flawed, dysfunctional and damaging, and to demand change. The leopard has shown itself deeply unwilling to change its spots, as it has resisted the growing clamour for reform. As such, it deserves to be replaced by a methodologically sound, just and democratic form of inspection. Ofsted cannot claim there is no alternative because in the book mentioned above, I offer a new model of inspection which is every bit as rigorous as the current one with the added advantage of being based on effective practice.
Frank Coffield, Emeritus Professor of Education, UCL Institute of Education, University of London