The latest annual survey of 1,788 National Education Union members, conducted ahead of Annual Conference in Bournemouth, shows

  • Just 5% of teachers in English state schools believe that Ofsted contributes to improvement in the education system, 4% that it is independent of government, and 5% that it is a reliable arbiter of standards.
  • Three quarters (74%) strongly associate inspection from Ofsted with “a huge amount” of “unnecessary” extra work. This rises to 81% amongst nursery and primary teachers.
  • 39% of those in leadership roles, complain of insufficient opportunities to feed into their own school’s inspection. A further one in five (21%) complain they have no opportunity to do so.

The State of Education survey is an extensive look at the current mood of the profession, including teachers, heads and leaders, and what they wish to see from Government. We are releasing the findings over the course of Annual Conference.

Is Ofsted credible?

When a series of statements about Ofsted – variously positive, negative and neutral – were put to respondents, the regard in which the inspectorate is held by the profession became all too clear.

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* Chart excludes “don’t know” answers. The white space in the centre of each bar represents those answering “neither agree nor disagree”

These results show very little strong feeling in favour of Ofsted, with just 5% believing it contributes to improvement in the education system, 4% that it acts independently of government, and 5% that it is a reliable and trusted arbiter of standards. It should also be cause for concern that inspection undermines school leaders’ ability to focus on pupil outcomes (68%) and inspections create harmful burdens within the system (86%).

“It could be such a great opportunity to have a professional dialogue about progress and how to move students on but the accountability element means that we do things in school because that is what Ofsted want, not necessarily because it is in the best interest of the child.”

“The adversarial approach is demoralising to both students, staff and parents. I would like to see a more collaborative approach based on evidence and educational research.”

“I have done inspections, they do not work and are harmful; the link to league tables and hidden pay/sanctions is corrosive. A bad model was introduced and should be replaced with a support service using normal intervention tools when needed.”

Inspections drive workload

Although the sentiment is clear across school types (74%), teachers working in England’s nursery and primary schools are more likely to associate Ofsted with huge and unnecessary workloads (81%) than teachers in secondary (67%) or special schools (66%).

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“[There is a] massive increase in workload in run up to inspection. Focus on the inspection rather than children, lots of administrative tasks requested ‘in case’, such as submitting planning each week and book monitoring.

“Inspections cause a tidal wave of pressure on teachers. Staff wellbeing often goes out the window in the wake of an impending inspection.”

The chart above shows figures higher than a YouGov survey which asked the same questions of teachers in England in 2018. At that time, 54% said they associated inspection with a huge amount of unnecessary extra work and another 25% said it would mean ‘some extra work’. In 2019 this was slightly down, at 51% and 26% respectively. Given the higher figures in our own poll of 2022, and in particular the shift towards the most intense response, it is reasonable to construe that the disruption of Ofsted has been more keenly felt during this period of post-pandemic education recovery. As one respondent said:

“We face an inspection soon, the thought of which fills me with anxiety and dread […] and when I am still struggling to catch up with missed curriculum content.”

Ability to engage with inspections

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Excluding the teachers who had no experience of an inspection in their setting, or could not remember, two-fifths of those polled (41%) told us they had no opportunity to feed in views or contribute to an inspection in their setting. Almost the same number again (37%) had a little opportunity but not enough.

This was most stark amongst teachers in leadership roles, who one might expect to have greater engagement in the inspection process. However, a fifth (21%) of teachers in leadership roles had no opportunity to feed into an Ofsted inspection of their setting. An additional 39% complained of insufficient opportunity to do so, whereas 41% felt they had had sufficient opportunity.

Commenting on the findings of the survey, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“Ofsted is an out-of-touch, harmful and unwelcome presence in schools. There is no question that accountability is important, but what is now in serious doubt is the credibility of the inspectorate. Ofsted contributes nothing positive to education and showed itself to be not just irrelevant but insensitive to the priorities of schools during the pandemic.

“The current inspection system is inadequate to the job and needs to go. As the findings of this survey shows, Ofsted’s reputation is through the floor. Worse, a clear majority think that inspections serve to undermine the ability of school leaders to focus on pupil outcomes. This cannot be right.

“Ofsted has changed its inspection framework five times in the past nine years. This is not the behaviour of an inspectorate worthy of the profession’s trust. As our members tell us, any change to the inspection framework will inevitably generate more additional work, on top of already excessive working hours.

“If this government was serious about raising standards of education, then it would by now have replaced Ofsted. Instead, we have a zombified inspectorate lumbering on regardless and a government apparently too fearful to take it on. Yet it is quite clear to the profession that what we need to see is Ofsted replaced with a new and truly collaborative system. This would pair a rounded picture of a school’s work with informed engagement, ensuring good outcomes. Crude, ill-informed judgements would finally be a thing of the past.”

Editor’s Note

The National Education Union State of Education survey was conducted online through membership and received 1,788 responses from English state school teachers between 24 February – 8 March 2022. The relevant data tables are provided.

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  • The National Education Union stands up for the future of education. It brings together the voices of more than 450,000 teachers, lecturers, support staff and leaders working in maintained and independent schools and colleges across the UK, to form the largest education union in Europe. 
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Ofsted
State of education Ofsted responses

Member responses on Ofsted, State of Education survey 2022