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Russell Hobby

Russell Hobby

Russell Hobby, general secretary of NAHT blogs about his thoughts and passions and the work of the National Association of Head Teachers.

Ofsted reform: part one

This is the first in a series of posts on the reform of Ofsted - an event many consider likely after the election. By way of preamble, the fact that I speak of 'reform' rather than 'abolition' betrays an assumption that some form of inspection should continue. I have always thought that the alternative to inspection is a data driven approach to accountability. Indeed, some recent proposals for Ofsted reform see it as little more than the final stage of an algorithm. I'd like to avoid that - it seems like a waste of money. 

I'd like to begin with a series of questions or points of consideration that a plan for inspection reform should answer. The first is obvious: what purpose does inspection seek to play in our education system?

There is an important corollary of that though, which is to address how inspection fits in with other agencies and methods of holding schools accountable. Too much of the debate on Ofsted treats it in isolation; this then leads to it being asigned functions it is not equipped to deliver or to an unhealthy balance of power. Much of the development of the system over the last few years can be seen as the centralising of power in Ofsted as ministers realise they have few other levers of control. 

The next question is what is (and what is not) inspected. In a world of limited resources, focus is essential. What can be discovered through inspection is as important as what should be discovered.

What triggers inspection? Data, complaints, random selection?

Who conducts the inspection and how is quality assured?

What judgements are formed and what are the consequences of these judgements? In many ways, the answer to this question on consequences sets the boundaries on what can be done with other questions. The uses of assessment influence its integrity. High stakes put pressure on reliability. 

And, ultimately, what behaviours do these decisions trigger among school leaders and teachers? Inspection casts a shadow beyond its formal mechanisms. In many ways, this is its greatest impact. Ofsted dominates education thinking - how much thought really should be occupied by it and what directions should such thought tend to?

This is only a preliminary list; no doubt others can supply some questions too. 

For more on NAHT’s policies on inspection, take a look at our manifesto for education.

26 January 2015