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Ofsted and exams results

OfstedOfsted to ditch exam results as criteria for success. But why wait another year? And can Ofsted make other changes while they’re at it, please?

By Kate Hilpern

Ofsted are, at long last, going to ditch using exam results as a mark of a successful school. School inspectors have finally woken up to the fact that their current obsession with test scores have reduced teachers to the status of ‘data managers,’ which has in turn had a detrimental effect on pupils.

In a broadcast interview this week, Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, said, ‘For a long time, our inspections have looked hardest at outcomes, placing too much weight on test and exam results when we consider the overall effectiveness of schools.’

The pressure on headteachers and teachers – and consequently on pupils – to get good exam grades at the expense of the rest of the curriculum, not to mention mental health, is hard to exaggerate. To hear Spielman acknowledge this must come as a huge sense of relief to anyone whose lives are touched by schools.

But the changes will not be implemented from September 2019. That’s another whole academic year of hellish pressure, made all the harder by the recognition that’s not to anyone’s benefit.

With study after study showing that a relentless inspection regime and culture of target-setting is damaging teachers’ mental health, why wait? Britain’s teachers are suffering from stress and exhaustion, among other things, and, according to one study by Leeds Beckett University, over half have a diagnosed mental health problem, which can’t fail to have a ripple effect on their pupils.

Meanwhile, Britain’s schoolchildren are suffering from an epidemic of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, with less than half getting the NHS treatment they need, according to teachers.

We would like to see Ofsted implement the changes sooner, as well as to take this opportunity to look more widely at what else can be done to minimise the negative impact of school inspections. As it is, many teachers describe these inspections as the worst experience of their careers.

Despite recent improvements, ‘not getting under the skin of a school’ and ‘unsupportive’ are some of the complaints we’ve heard. In many cases, schools believe that Ofsted has already made up its mind before visiting and some also suspect political pressure to come up with some judgements that conform to Government views, with allegations that some ‘superheads’ get advance warning of inspections.

We’ve heard further complaints about the inconsistency of inspections and the difficulty in navigating the complaints procedure which deters challenges when it is felt that mistakes have been made. Some schools also point out that schools with outstanding grades have often not been visited by Ofsted for over a decade. Then there are those who argue that a one or two day visit is nowhere near to make an accurate judgement of a school and that, likewise, a 20-30 minutes’ observation isn’t long enough to make an accurate judgement of a teacher.

There are regular tweaks to the Ofsted framework. And while that’s as it should be, this can leave schools confused about what’s being asked of them. Under a new, improved system, Ofsted would be crystal clear and transparent about what it’s looking for. And in addition, Ofsted would have a stronger relationship with schools – not only working with them when it comes to inspections.

But the biggest sea change of all that’s needed is for schools not be reduced to Ofsted inspections, which should only be part of the picture. As one headteacher we recently interviewed said, ‘We want to be more than good, more than outstanding, more than an Ofsted report, more than a school.’..

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