State of education: Ofsted

82% of teachers surveyed believe Ofsted should be replaced with a new system of inspection.


In the latest survey of almost 6,000 National Education Union members, conducted ahead of Annual Conference in Bournemouth, we asked teachers and support staff in England about their attitudes toward Ofsted. 

  • 90% of teachers believe that single word judgements are unfair reflections of performance.
  • 82% believe Ofsted should be replaced with a new system of inspection.
  • Just 3% of teachers believe that Ofsted is a reliable and trusted arbiter of standards. Only 4% believe it acts independently of Government.
  • 83% of teachers tell us that the current inspection system adds to their workload; 79% say it not only distorts workload but distracts from the core aspects of their job. For 62% it causes mental ill-health and affects the home life of 59%.
  • Almost half of support staff who responded (47%) said that inspections distort workload and distract them from their core role. One in three (37%) tell us their mental health is also affected.
  • Two thirds of teachers (66%) believe that inspection does not take account of the level of pupil/student need. 67% of leadership staff share this view, as do a majority (64%) of support staff. 

The State of Education survey gauges the views of working teacher, support staff and school leader NEU members. We are releasing the findings over the course of Annual Conference. 

When an inspector calls…

“I have been very fortunate in only experiencing two inspections in my nearly 12 years of teaching. However, those four days of my life are among the most stressful and upsetting I have experienced in my 44 years.” 

We asked teachers to tell us, via multiple-choice, about what effect an inspection has on their lives. 

Does inspection have a negative impact?

Inspections and the prospect of an inspection have implications for workload, with 83% confirming an increase. 

The Department for Education’s own survey from 2023 showed full-time leaders work an average 57.5hrs per week and full-time teachers 51.9hrs per week. This is above the UK Working Time Regulations of 48 hours per week. Much of these hours are spent away from the classroom, and our survey confirms this – 79% told us that inspection distorts their workload and distracts from the core aspects of a teacher’s job. 

A recent report from the Commons Education Select Committee, said that the current inspection framework “places ongoing stress on schools due to the breadth of issues it includes and its emphasis on subject ‘deep dives’.” The impact on workload is all too clear. 

It is striking that teachers’ wellbeing are so affected by inspection, with almost two thirds reporting mental ill-health (62%), and a similar number (59%) saying it affects their home life. 

Many support staff experience inspections in similar ways. Almost half (47%) say their workload is distorted and they are distracted from core work. 42% confirm an increase in working hours. One in three (37%) point to mental ill-health generated by inspection, and for a quarter (27%) it affects their home life. 

This year’s survey appears consistent with two years ago when a similar question was asked. In 2022, 74% of teachers told us they strongly associated Ofsted with “a huge amount of unnecessary extra work.”

In this year’s survey members described the impact of inspection in their own words: 

“The negative impact on leaders and staff before and during an inspection is ridiculous – which other profession has this type of inspection?” 

“The whole concept of a school leadership team being conscious of being ‘Ofsted ready’ is sickening and damaging and impacts the teaching profession in a wholly negative way.” 

“We are due an inspection soon and the number of things we have been asked to remember that are nothing to do with teaching and learning or our students is mind boggling.” 

“Had lots of inspections! When schools are due, there is a constant pressure.” 

“Ofsted has created toxic environments resulting in damaging pressure on staff and ending the careers of excellent staff.” 

“I only cried twice during the last academic year and one of the reasons was after speaking to an Ofsted inspector. I was absolutely petrified that I would say something ‘wrong’ and let the school and my colleagues down. I felt so stressed and overwhelmed by the process.” 

Level of Need 

There is a material gap in Ofsted’s inspection framework, in that it fails to take proper account of the level of need amongst pupils/students and the challenges a school or college may face. This can include poverty, English as an Additional Language, SEND, etc.  

When asked if they “feel inspection takes account of the level of pupil/student need,” two thirds of teachers (66%) disagreed. Almost all the rest (30%) said “yes, but not enough.” Leadership Team members are slightly more likely to disagree that inspection takes the level of need in account (67%), and members who work in schools with the highest level of deprivation are even more likely (70%). Respondents working in primary or nursery phase (72%) disagreed most with the statement. 

One teacher whose school was recently inspected was unhappy with the feedback. “It was so frustrating as we aren’t able to meet all of the needs of SEND, because there is only one teacher and no support staff to provide interventions or pastoral support. Yet, our CEO expects above national data outcomes, with less staff and extra demands on the teacher. I am already offering 1:1 support in my own time at lunchtime and after school to plug the gaps.” 

Another said, “I know from my own cohort that there are 13-14 students who will not achieve their target grade due to ill health, anxiety, behavioural issues that are completely outside my control, however I will be judged by them.” They add that a Requires Improvement grade for the school “has had the effect of actually making the school worse.” 

There was a similar story from this member: “My school has been Requires Improvement for the past four years. Improvement was needed in some areas, but the pressure has been terrible on ordinary teachers and Heads of Departments. An awful system has also altered our intake and we are not properly equipped to deal with them.” 

Sentiment Towards Ofsted 

We posed a set of twelve statements to respondents, with teacher members in England responding as follows: 

Do you agree or disagree with the following statements? (Teachers in English state schools)
 AgreeNeither agree nor disagreeDisagree
Ofsted/Estyn/ETI acts as a reliable and trusted arbiter of standards across all different types of schools/settings3%16%81%
Ofsted/Estyn/ETI is contributing to improvement in the education system3%15%82%
Ofsted/Estyn/ETI acts independently of Government4%32%64%
Ofsted/Estyn/ETI inspections are a valid method of monitoring performance and holding schools/settings to account4%16%81%
Inspection undermines the ability of senior leaders to focus everyone's efforts on achieving the best outcomes for our pupils/students71%19%10%
Those employed to undertake inspections on behalf of Ofsted/Estyn/ETI have the relevant frontline experience, skills and qualifications to do so6%40%54%
Ofsted/Estyn/ETI helps individual schools/settings improve5%26%70%
Ofsted/Estyn/ETI inspection introduces unsustainable or harmful levels of burden into the system85%11%5%
Pressure from Ofsted/Estyn/ETI impacts on the curriculum in my setting78%16%6%
Pressure from Ofsted/Estyn/ETI impacts on teaching and learning in my setting79%16%6%
Ofsted/Estyn/ETI has so many problems that it would be better to start afresh with a new system of inspection82%15%3%
Single word judgements are a fair reflection of a school/setting's performance4%7%90%

The most powerful rejection was of the notion that single-word judgements are a fair reflection of a school/setting, with 90% saying they are not. Just 4% believe that they are fair. 

Only 3% of respondents believe that Ofsted is a reliable and trusted arbiter of standards. This has fallen from 5% when asked just two years ago. 

There is a common perception that inspectors are not sufficiently qualified to inspect (54%), while almost two-thirds (64%) do not believe that Ofsted acts independently of Government. 85% believe that Ofsted introduces “unsustainable or harmful levels of burden” into the system. This is consistent with the sentiment in 2022, when 86% agreed with the statement and 5% disagreed. 

Finally, 82% of respondents take the view that Ofsted should be replaced with a new system of inspection, with only 3% disagreeing. 

“Ofsted arrive with an attitude of guilty until proven innocent.” 

“Ofsted inspectors themselves should be rated with a one-word rating, Good to Inadequate. Their approach continues to be abrasive and rude, despite their recent ‘training’.” 

“The single word judgement is obviously incredibly damaging/unfair/simplistic, but when I read through our school’s FULL inspection report it too was totally meaningless. It was clearly trying to make generalisations from a tiny, unrepresentative sample of our school life.” 

“The Ofsted inspection system feels nakedly political. It does not feel like it has pupils’ best interests at heart, because ‘best interests’ is always defined by the government – meaning it can never be objective, meaning the whole system is flawed. Government should have no say in Ofsted matters – the whole organisation should be completely apolitical and driven by evidence-based policymaking, rooted in proven ways to improve pupil attainment and social mobility.” 

“I believe inspections are vital, but I believe they should be cooperative and formative rather than oppositional and combative.” 

“I’m not against accountability at all. I’m against the stress and pressure that Ofsted or threat of inspection brings.” 

“Ofsted is a ridiculous tick-boxing exercise that is inaccurate and invalid.” 

Commenting on the findings of the survey, Daniel Kebede, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“Ofsted is out of touch and out of favour. As this survey shows, the inspectorate’s reputation has worsened since we last sought members’ views in 2022. 

“No amount of rebranding will eradicate the entrenched view that Ofsted’s days are numbered. If it ever commanded respect, those days are now long gone.

“Single-word judgements are destructive and wrong, and our members agree. But the faults of Ofsted run much deeper. There are serious wellbeing concerns, brought to stark public attention last year. We know that Ofsted has been forced into a listening exercise because of that tragedy, but the NEU and its membership do not believe this will lead to fundamental change. 

“Ofsted is not a supportive system. It does not offer advice or solutions. It is a wholly negative force, and never stands up to Government. There has been no allyship with the profession on the question of real-terms cuts to funding and the damage this is doing. Instead, Ofsted criticises schools for not doing enough when they do not have the resources to do so. 

“Only root and branch reform can bring an end to the tyranny of inspection. As the recent Beyond Ofsted inquiry showed, there is a clear case for a new system that is supportive, effective and fair. Ofsted is currently none of those things.” 

Editor’s Note 

We conducted the survey between 6-20 February 2024. This specific report covers the findings from 5,932 responses from teachers, leaders and support staff in schools in England. Wales has its own inspection system. 

For the survey as a whole, we split the responses into two broad groups: school teachers and school support staff. We split these two groups into English state schools, Welsh state schools and independent schools in England and Wales. We did this so we could weight responses against the different demographic data available from their respective workforce censuses.

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