Ofsted is marking its own homework

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Marking Their Own Homework?

Let’s start with a number. Quite a long number, with nine digits. To be precise: £174,000,000.

If you are wondering where such a sizeable chunk of money gets spent, well, this is the gross budget for Ofsted in 2021-22.

Why does this matter? It could be a reasonable sum for a national organisation with a large (and seemingly ever-widening) remit.

Here’s the National Audit Office (NAO) in 2018:

“Ofsted does not know whether its school inspections are having the intended impact: to raise the standards of education and improve the quality of children’s and young people’s lives… Ofsted set few targets to measure performance against its 2016 strategic plan, and has provided limited information to allow others to assess its progress. Its performance measures have instead focused mainly on activity and processes.”

Now let’s look at the second sentence again, replacing the word ‘Ofsted’ with the name ‘Anytown Academy’.

Anytown Academy set few targets to measure performance against its 2016 strategic plan, and has provided limited information to allow others to assess its progress. Its performance measures have instead focused mainly on activity and processes.

What would an Ofsted inspector determine if visiting such a school? Special measures perhaps.

In other words, the NAO couldn’t conclude that Ofsted represents value for money. And for 2022/23? Ofsted’s total budget is increasing by £18.1m (11 per cent).

Surely things have gotten better since the NAO last examined Ofsted’s work. How about Ofsted’s Annual Report for 2020-21? Here’s p17:

Around half of schools and further education and skills providers inspected completed the post-inspection survey. Close to nine out of 10 say they are ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with the inspection experience and that the feedback inspectors gave on the quality of education will help them to improve.

This is based on 1,486 state-funded schools (53 per cent) – meaning nearly half of schools chose not to reply.

A bit like Anytown Academy claiming success based on just one half its pupils. An Ofsted inspector might have something to say about that too.

Here’s the headline indicator from another of Ofsted’s performance metrics: “We are increasingly seen as a force for improvement’. And the measure against which it is judged? ‘Percentage of school teachers who strongly agree’. The 2017 baseline was 19 per cent.

The 2022 target is 35 per cent.

This might provoke a double-take. It seems Ofsted considers enjoying the confidence of only a third of teachers a suitably aspirational long term goal.

But what about the number of good and outstanding schools. Here’s Ofsted again:

“Eighty-six per cent of all schools are good or outstanding. The percentage of schools judged good or outstanding has remained the same since August 2018 but is a substantial increase from 68 per cent in 2010.”

Whose success is measured at least in part by a suitable (but not too high!) number of good and outstanding schools? Ofsted. And who gets to decide how many good and outstanding schools there are? Ofsted.

And it has remained at exactly 86 per cent since 2018…

Marking their own homework? Ofsted.

Dr Kevin Proudfoot, Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Glasgow

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