Recently, Ofsted admitted that its complaint process is not working. As the Managing Director of an Independent Training Provider that tried to challenge an Ofsted Inadequate grading last year, this comes as no surprise to me.
Many of you reading this will have been through an Ofsted inspection and will know how horrific they are. It feels like you are on trial, that you are constantly having to defend what you do and explain everything you do to people who may or may not have any experience in your specific subject area. In only a couple of days, Inspectors make judgements on years of work.
During the inspection we are trying to keep things running as normal but also deal with the constant requests from Inspectors for information and arranging meetings for them. It is highly, highly stressful on all staff, especially when the continual lack of appropriate funding for education and skills has meant that we are already understaffed. In our case, I walked into our inspection straight from the airport having arrived on a transatlantic flight that morning. I know I was certainly not operating at my capacity, fighting jet lag and the fact that during the entire inspection week, I probably had about ten hours sleep in total. How can we expect people to be operating at their best when they are tired and stressed and the stakes are so high?
An independent complaints process is so much more than giving the right to challenge, it is about accountability and natural justice without the regulator having the ability to “mark their own homework”. I’m not sure many Ofsted inspectors give any thought to the consequence of their actions when they are making their judgements, but these outcomes matter, not just to the institutions or organisations involved, but also to the many young people who will be impacted by these decisions. Morale within the education and skill sector is at an all-time low which is compounded by the approach of Ofsted which appears to be “I'm right and you're wrong, I'm big and you're small, and there's nothing you can do about it,” to quote a certain Mr Wormwood from Roald Dahl’s Matilda.
The current Government are continually repeating the mantra that integrity and accountability are at their core. So, let your actions speak for themselves and put in place a process that truly is independent and maybe we will have a system that has the faith of all the users. At the minute we have a system predicated on fear; fear of the inspection process and outcome as we know there is no way to effectively challenge it. The factual accuracy and formal complaints processes within Ofsted are not independent and are simply ineffective. They nearly always result in the same outcome. We really do have to ask ourselves, is that a morally just basis for educating our young people and developing our future workforce?
Martina Porter is the Managing Director of All Spring Media, an Independent Training Provider working with apprenticeships in the film and television sector.