Michael Gove’s and Sir Michael Wilshaw’s plans to use Ofsted to drive up standards in schools have been much vaunted in the press recently.
Hit squads of inspectors started arriving in schools in January to force the ‘satisfactory’ schools into special measures and to force schools to rapidly rid themselves of their ‘satisfactory’ teachers. The fact that ‘satisfactory’ is a categorisation used for all qualities of service about which there is no cause for concern and which often includes highly regarded practices which don’t tick the boxes Ofsted has defined for higher classifications (especially in teaching) does not concern them.
But it is concerning the teachers and communities who are suddenly finding their schools facing special measures despite them being well run. Special measures is a brutal process which is deemed to be successful and constructive by…….Ofsted. Respected and experienced staff who go through it and are find it more damaging than constructive are rarely heard.
But not only is Gove and Wilshaw’s behaviour deeply alienating for teachers, it is also illegal under the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act (2006) to which Ofsted became obliged in October 2009 (see part 1A point 17), as I pointed out to Ofsted last July and regarding which I received no response when I asked Graham Stuart to query this with Michael Gove in January.
Last Wednesday, one of the first schools to be put into special measures under the new regime successfully challenged Ofsted in the High Court in London. Furness Academy had Ofsted’s judgement of their performance as being unsatisfactory overturned. Mr Justice Collins concluded that although maths results did not reach nationally expected levels Ofsted must issue a covering letter with the report, “making it explicitly clear that but for Maths the Academy would have been judged to be satisfactory”.
This judgement means that Ofsted will now be subjected to a Judicial Review regarding its practice which should require it to demonstrate that its future practice will be ‘proportionate and targeted only at cases where action is needed’ as the law demands. Given the number of similar cases of inspectors descending into schools intent on creating the evidence they need to force those schools into special measures I have heard of this year it is likely other such judgements will follow in which case an Independent Commission will be convened. An Independent Commission would look not only at the wording of the law but also at the interpretations of it by our other regulators who take seriously their duty to protect the organisations they inspect from counterproductive intervention by themselves or politicians in accordance with Hampton Principles (page 2 point 9) which the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act (2006) was designed to enforce.
I would strongly advise the Lib Dems to lead the way in demanding an Independent Commission to review Ofsted’s behaviour. Otherwise they will be seen to be endorsing Gove and Wilshaw’s ignorant and illegal bullying of schools.
* Rebecca Hanson is a teacher, a lecturer in education, an education adviser and a member of the LDEA committee.