Opinion: An end to OFSTED

old schoolThe dissolution of OFSTED is a policy we as Liberal Democrats need to support and implement to ensure our young students are being offered the best education possible.

I am not saying that schools shouldn’t be inspected and checked.The public needs to have confidence in the school system. Parents have the right to be informed about teachers abilities and performance. Most of all we must be able to ensure that teaching meets the needs of our children.

OFSTED for too long has been nothing but a political football. School inspections should be about the students, not the teachers, not the politicians, not the parents. They are the only people who matter in a school.

Here are my alternative proposals for an alternative inspection regime.

We should replace OFSTED with a new regional inspection framework and inspectorate because Westminster doesn’t know what the schools in Nottingham need. Nottingham knows what those schools need, and no-one else. Although to make this a possibility I would say we use regions similar to Euro election constituencies.

The new inspection teams must be staffed purely by teachers from within the region. No more career or consultant inspector who have never worked with a student or in a school in their life!

Teaching contracts (including school leaders) should be changed so that all teachers are seconded to the inspectorate for 1 year out of every 6 years or so. This will give the staff to fill the inspection teams. No more will teachers be able to say ‘you don’t know what it’s like’ as most inspectors I’ve met don’t know anything about day to day life in a school. This would give teachers confidence in the inspections and judgements/feedback given.

Each inspection team would be made up of 1 school senior leader (head teacher, deputy head, vice-principal etc.) and 3 teachers. This would give everyone confidence that the ‘inspectors’ do actually know what to look for and what’s best for the kids.

All inspections would be made with zero notice and all schools would be inspected every 2 years. I work in a school and I am sick of seeing teachers running around panicking because ‘OFSTED are coming’, hurriedly writing lesson plans & creating worksheets. These things belong in every lesson, not just OFSTED day!

The new inspectorate would use a new 5 point scale to be used for judgements:

  • outstanding
  • good
  • satisfactory
  • requires improvement
  • failing.

This gives a better scale for parents and professionals to actually understand the difference between the grades. The current system is understood by no-one and used by less!

Schools, Academies & Free Schools categorised as ‘failing’ would be supported by another school categorised as outstanding or good at Local Education Authority discretion.

Schools categorised as ‘failing’ in any inspection to be placed in ‘special measures’ and therefore inspected every term for 2 years. Schools will not be moved from ‘failing’ until 2 consecutive inspections are judged to be satisfactory or higher. As part of special measure the senior leaders will be required to create a plan for the school to improve. This plan must meet with teacher representatives’ approval, guaranteeing the buy-in of the ‘coal face’ staff and must include the points raised as concerns in the inspection.The plan must then be approved by the inspectorate.

Schools who fail to be moved from ‘failing’ status within the 2 years would have all senior leaders removed and replaced through the LEA.

Academies & Free Schools who fail to be moved from ‘failing’ status would be re-integrated in to the LEA, that’s right – brought back into the fold. Too many stories of schools leaving LEA control only to fail and the current system only allows for them to be closed or given to another academy chain.


* Barry Holliday Barry Holliday is Lib Dem PPC for Nottingham South, Nottingham City Lib Dems vice-chair & campaigns officer. He is a secondary school teacher of History & PSHCE and Notts County FC fan

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  • Well done! I completely agree with this idea, because a lot of OFSTED inspectors have never worked a day in a school in any capacity, and also some inspectors are former secretaries and headmasters from failing schools. As a student, it really annoys me when the management of the school say that we’re doing different lessons due to OFSTED coming in to the school. I believe in spot-checks and that I would say that OFSTED should do random checks every two years and that all school (whether they’re LEA-run, private, independent or academies) should be inspected.

  • Barry I’m no expert in this area but I love the ideas in here. Particularly the idea of teachers being seconded out to do the inspections. I imagine they’d pick up a tonne in new teaching methods as well.

    The only thing I’m not certain on is the regional approach. Isnt teaching the kids the same wherever you are in the country? Each region will have inner city schools, rural schools, good schools, bad schools…

  • Paul Howden 8th Jul '14 - 1:23pm

    This is very well put and I agree with the above principles. We had lots of excitement last week at my daughter’s school with an impending OFSTED inspection. It does make you consider what are the school doing so bad if they have to suddenly make huge changes to impress the inspectors. I like the idea of removing the prior warning whilst equally replacing inspectors with a mix of differing levels of educational staff on a” jury service” style secondment ensures the right aspects are being inspected. I believe it offers good incentives to academies and free schools to excel whilst constantly reminding them that a drop in standards will jeopardise their set up. This can only be good news for students and should go into the 2015 manifesto.

  • Gareth~ yes and no. This is mostly to wrest control of the inspections away from politicians and Westminster and into the hands of those who know the schools well.

    Plus those seconded to the inspectorate wouldn’t be travelling to far the fulfill their duties.

  • Paul~ I’ve submitted it to the Social liberal forum manifesto debate

  • Richard Dean 8th Jul '14 - 1:41pm

    Why is it that “Nottingham knows what [Nottingham’s] schools need, and no-one else”?

    Don’t schools teach more-or-less the same syllabus across the whole of the UK? To more-or-less the same age-ranges of children with more-or-less the-same ranges of abilities and backgrounds ?

    Why are the inspection requirements in Nottingham different, say, to those in Essex?

  • ” I work in a school and I am sick of seeing teachers running around panicking because ‘OFSTED are coming’, hurriedly writing lesson plans & creating worksheets. These things belong in every lesson, not just OFSTED day!”

    If the school is having to “hurriedly writing lesson plans & creating worksheets” then there is something wrong with the school!

  • School inspections should be about the students

    Please do not perpetuate this horrible Americanism. Children who are taught in primary and secondary schools are pupils, not students.

  • Teaching contracts (including school leaders) should be changed so that all teachers are seconded to the inspectorate for 1 year out of every 6 years or so. […] Each inspection team would be made up of 1 school senior leader (head teacher, deputy head, vice-principal etc.) and 3 teachers.

    That sounds nice and cosy… so you’ll be inspected by your colleagues at other local schools, and in turn you will inspect them?

    Lots of good opportunities for ‘you give me a good report and I’ll do the same for you when I’m seconded’ deals there.

    Bit like that wonderful system where teams of CEOs decide on each others’ pay. That works so well, of course it should be expanded into other areas.

  • Jonathan Pile 8th Jul '14 - 2:11pm

    Finally Barry a policy opinion I 100% agree with. Abolishing Osted would win back favour with our education heartlands and improve standards by empowering professional teachers to do their jobs without a hoard of backseat drivers. Well done 10/10 A star !!

  • Jayne Mansfield 8th Jul '14 - 2:18pm

    @ Roland,
    That was the point that stuck out in my mind.

    I think that sometimes it takes an outsider to notice that which is no longer noticeable to those working in accordance with the customs and habits that have developed within a group.

  • Simon McGrath 8th Jul '14 - 2:42pm

    Take a look at what happened when the Welsh Govt got control of inspection in Wales – it was a disaste

  • I have known some Finnish teachers and a Finnish inspector. It is obvious that teachers and inspectors work with mutual respect in a very cooperative way. By any standards the Finnish inspectorate is a success whereas OFSTED is a failure. It has certainly managed to help push up grades, but that in itself has turned out to be testimony to its lack of standards. This is most evident in subjects such as Maths and Languages where it is harder to disguise dropping standards.

    Things to get right.
    1. Inspectors should not judge without making recommendations. They need to work with schools and be professionally accountable for their pronouncements.
    2. Inspections should be based on communities: what matters to people are the educational opportunities available in their locality taken as a whole.
    3. Education has to be decentralised; all schools should be answerable to the Education Authority; inspection needs to be able to assess how well institutions are responding to local conditions.

    Of course the insolvable problem is the politicisation of education. There is an imperative for every political initiative to be deemed a success. Success is most often measured by results so in order to be deemed a success, the results have had to change (upwards).

  • Roland: I do not think you have much idea. The lesson plans that OFSTED have little relationship to lesson plans that a teacher needs to organise a decent lesson. Likewise with worksheets and presentations, the requirements for the classroom and the requirements for OFSTED do not necessarily coincide.

  • Julian Critchley 8th Jul '14 - 4:28pm


    Exactly. So much of what a teacher does is in their heads, based on their prior experience. It doesn’t mean they haven’t got a plan, it just means that they’re not wasting time writing it down. In one’s NQT year, one might well write down lesson plans as a means of helping sort out ideas in your own head, or to offer ideas to your mentor/trainer so they can advise on pace/content etc. That’s a useful thing to do. But when experience comes into play, that becomes unnecessary.

    Imagine a GP before a consultation with a patient. She knows what questions she’s going to ask, she knows what equipment she’ll use, and she will react to the information she receives from the patient based on her expertise. She may well record the outcomes or agreed actions at the end., as a teacher might record assessment grades. If you suggested that prior to each consultation, she produce a separate piece of paper on which she had written : “1st minute : Ask patient what he wants to talk about; 2nd minute, take blood pressure; 3rd minute, discuss outcome of blood pressure test etc etc etc”, then she’d look at you as if you had two heads.

    That’s what OFSTED require teachers to do. Basically it’s simply writing down something which already exists, not because it helps the students, but simply because it allows a paper trail to be checked. That’s why schools rush around writing lesson plans when OFSTED are coming – they’re not useful, and they don’t help students. Like all things connected with Ofsted, they’re simply pointless extra workload to please box-tickers.

    Lesson plans belong in every lesson, for sure, but not in written form – a waste of time, a waste of effort and a waste of paper.

  • Martin: It has been known for many years that OFSTED require lesson plans etc. and the format is also known, albeit they have changed a bit over that time. Hence when preparing their lesson plans the well prepared teacher would prepare both.

    But your comments are a little confusing, on one hand you are lambasting other teachers for “running around panicking”, and imply because “These things belong in every lesson” that you do them as part of your lesson planning. Then you defend teachers for not preparing OFSTED lesson plans because they “have little relationship to lesson plans that a teacher needs to organise a decent lesson”. Do I take it that you are actually one of those teachers “running around panicking” when the OFSTED inspection is imminent?

  • Hi Barry,can I suggest you ask teachers across the school ages to show you the volume of paperwork they have to complete purely to supply OFSTED Inspectors with”evidence on demand” before taking this any further?
    I was going to comment on lesson plans and teachers panicking before OFSTED come in.However Julian has beaten me to it. Julian knows what he’s on about.

  • Roland: no wonder you are confused if you write ‘you are lambasting other teachers for “running around panicking”’ as I have written nothing of the kind.

    Carefully read Julian Critchley‘s sensible comment again. What he is saying, at least with regard to lesson plans, is that OFSTED is literally a waste of time. You, on the other hand, appear to be advocating that teachers waste their time for every lesson that they teach. Do you really think teachers have such time on their hands that they can waste it so profligately?

  • Richard Dean 8th Jul '14 - 6:42pm

    I imagine written lesson plans are similar to written lecture plans in university, and on that basis I cannot understand why good teachers would have any issues at all with written lesson plans.

    Lecture plans really only have to be done once as new, then in subsequent years it’s just a matter of adjustment rather than complete revision. So it’s doesn’t take a lot of time over the years. We found that there was a difficulty in getting lecturers to understand how to frame aims and objectives, but once that skill is achieved things get easy.

    The formal act of writing out the plans does help organize a lecturer’s thoughts, and it makes the lecturer’s life easier since the thoughts don’t have to be re-thought all the time. If you happen to get up late one morning it’s easier to remind yourself what the plan was from written ones, instead of having to think again what to say and do that morning.

    Written plans can also help to avoid disruption when a lecturer has to miss call, for instance as a result of illness, and another has to take over; the substitute can read the plan and act accordingly. Plans provide evidence of competence and completeness to inspectors – thereby avoiding wasting time by having to repeatedly prove oneself from the ground up. And they can perhaps give students, parents, and sponsors some confidence that the lecturers aren’t acting in some random way. Also, sponsors are able to comment on plans, and this provides a way of improving things.

    So I see no real problem with written plans. Some skills are needed to compile them, and perhaps this is one reason why there is a benefit to have formal teacher training.

  • Martin – many apologies, with respect to my second paragraph. I didn’t do a final audit check before posting between the author of the article, Barry Holliday (and the source of quoted comments) and your post.

    Yes Julian Critchley does make a valid point, but in his example I see him falling into the same hole that many fall into when writing quality standards and procedures, namely going into too much detail.

    Yes much of what I do is in my head and based on my prior experience – that’s what clients pay me for. However, they also expect me to be able to communicate to them just what it is I am doing and why. Often I have to put such information into documents mandated by them or the systems they operate, its part of the job.

  • No doubt at all that OFSTED can be improved. Big doubts about the ‘big idea’ in this article. Only teachers, or more precisely local teachers, have the right experience to judge the quality of school education.

    Does this apply to every profession?

    Only local police officers have the right experience to judge the quality of local policing?

    If no, why yes for teachers? Who decides which professionals have that required combination of understanding and integrity?
    If yes, where does this end? I mean, why bother setting standards. We can trust the professionals do that to. Let’s ‘take the politics out of education’. And law and order. And health. And social care. Wow! Let’s uninvent accountability. All we need to do is trust the professionals. People like us.

  • Sorry – ‘that too’ obviously.

    Or alternatively, I’m a professional communicator. Trust me!

  • Julian Critchley 8th Jul '14 - 11:18pm


    As I wrote, teachers will produce written plans aplenty in the first year or two of teaching, as they sort out their ideas and learn the trade of pacing a lesson. However, once one has that expertise, there is simply no reason at all to write down what one plans to do in each lesson. What purpose would that serve, other than to allow someone else to tick a box that a written lesson plan has been produced ? It’s an utter waste of time. Interestingly, Ofsted officially recognise this, and their guidance states that written lesson plans are NOT required. The problem – as so often with Ofsted – is that their official guidance is often ignored by sub-contracted private inspection teams who often have little or no experience of actual teaching, and so seek paper trails rather than make judgements on the basis of observed practise.

    I wouldn’t, by the way, assume that there is much similarity between lessons in schools and lectures in higher education. Do lecturers at university deliver 27 lectures each week, 37 weeks per year, on widely different topics to audiences ranging between 12 placid 18 year-olds, through 25 openly hostile 15 year-olds, to 30 hyperactive 11 year-olds ? I think there’s world of difference between a good university lecture and a good lesson in a secondary or primary school. They are different beasts.

  • Richard Dean 9th Jul '14 - 12:34am

    @Julian Critchley

    Nowadays we have word processors, so that once plans are written, they are not lost, they don’t have to be written again.

    You just write the plans once. Then, update them each year as a result of the experience of that year and any changes needed for next year. Updating takes a lot less time, and is a way of improving performance from one year to the next.

    An added advantage is that, when you leave for a different job, you can pass the plans on to the next person, who is then able to incorporate your experience, and does not have to write plans from scratch – just update them.

  • “An added advantage is that, when you leave for a different job, you can pass the plans on to the next person, who is then able to incorporate your experience, and does not have to write plans from scratch – just update them.”

    It can be much much more than an advantage! Last year we were facing the appointment of a newly qualified teacher and parental concerns about standards. By having the leaving teacher’s plans and files and mentoring support from existing staff, this new teacher was able to achieve some stunning results, enabling her Year 4 class deliver an outstanding school assembly on their current topic two weeks ago. The school has received complaints from parents that this teacher won’t be taking this class forward into Year 5 – these being the same parents who were vocal a year ago raising concerns…

  • Nonconformistradical 9th Jul '14 - 9:31am

    “Why is it that “Nottingham knows what [Nottingham’s] schools need, and no-one else”?

    Don’t schools teach more-or-less the same syllabus across the whole of the UK? To more-or-less the same age-ranges of children with more-or-less the-same ranges of abilities and backgrounds ?

    Why are the inspection requirements in Nottingham different, say, to those in Essex?”

    Perhaps Nottingham’s employment and social needs might differ from those in other areas?

    From the continuing chorus of complaints from employer organisations it seems far too many children are leaving school ill-equipped for the world of work – and maybe unable to compete effectively with some of the better qualified and highly motivated immigrants.

    Perhaps a one size fits all nationwide curriculum isn’t appropriate for dealing with this.

    We might reasonably expect the vast majority of children to leave secondary school with basic numeracy and literacy skills and with appropriate social skills for the adult world. Those are nationwide issues.

    I don’t see why some other aspects of the curriculum shouldn’t be modified to take some account of local employment needs (with major local employers having some input), local history etc. I don’t see why the English Literature curriculum shouldn’t take special account of local authors e.g. in Nottingham’s case D H Lawrence.

    It does seem quite wrong that a school should have notice of an inspection – that renders the inspection useless. I do think all inspectors should have teaching experience and be proven good teachers – in schools which have track records of success. I don’t think allowing inspectors to inspect schools in their own local area is a good thing – any more than the police policing themselves is.

  • chris j smart 9th Jul '14 - 10:49am

    1. Is anyone out there who can provide me with the logic of offering notice of an Ofsted inspection?
    2, If teachers really are only preparing lesson plans for the inspection, Ofsted inspectors must be pretty dim if they don’t ask for a number of lesson plans from a randomly selected number of lessons since the last inspection.
    3. A teacher must know in advance what is to be achieved by/from each lesson and can /should jot down key points. If not, how can the curriculum be covered across many lesson periods in a balanced way?
    3. Perhaps the lack of trust in Ofsted can be attributed to the comment made above that inspectors may be unqualified contractors and possibly failed teachers.
    4. Who vets Ofsted for performance, checks their work plans, assesses their assessments etc?
    5. Teachers inspecting teachers sounds good but is fundamentally flawed as the press and police have shown.
    6. Ofsted must be an independent civil service body recruiting experienced teachers and educational specialists as a career move.

  • Nigel Jones 9th Jul '14 - 11:38am

    I like the radical nature of this item and discussion, but the detail needs much more thought.
    Thus, one of the failings of the present system (pointed out by many experts when it was introduced) is that it is only about inspection and not much about support and improvement.
    A very important ingredient must be public accountability and hence I would seriously question the idea of it only being run by teachers; other people need also to be involved so that what happens in schools is also given the perspective of those who are not inside the system.
    I also think now is the time to highlight this discussion as an attempt to get our party back to its radical principles, which in many ways we have lost under our present leadership. I share, therefore, Rebecca’s plea for people to join the Liberal Democrat Education Association; we need more members so that we can become a bigger and more influential centre within the party to ensure a truly ‘Liberal approach to Education’ and yes, we even need to discuss what that means, just as the nation needs to discuss what Education is for.

  • Jayne Mansfield 9th Jul '14 - 12:09pm

    @ Rebecca Hanson,
    Thank you for the link, having read the contents, what in your opinion are the justifiable criticisms of Ofsted? I have no idea what the CQC is. Do the solutions, in your opinion, accord with those proposed by the author?

    Is there any evidence that Ofsted as it currently operates actually raises the standard of education for children?

    As with health, education affects the vast majority of us of us, yet what is happening in education and the likely effect of changes is just baffling to many of us.

  • Richard Dean 9th Jul '14 - 1:52pm

    @Rebecca Hanson

    “Ofsted does … damage to schools ”

    What damage?

  • David Allen 9th Jul '14 - 6:21pm

    Yes, Ofsted looks like a failing organisation. However, it’s always easier to identify failure than to work out what must be done to avoid it. It’s too easy to say that if a centralised organisation is failing, localism must be the answer. In different circumstances, localism fails and then the cry is to cure it by centralising.

    I’d second the call for public accountability, in this field and many others. We need state power to regulate many fields of activity, but if it is untrammeled and unchallaengeable state power, then the regulators themselves become the problem. The question is how to achieve accountability. Electing PCCs didn’t work well. Accountability to elected local councillors would make more sense.

  • Richard Dean 9th Jul '14 - 9:09pm

    @Rebecca Hanson

    Item 1 just sounds like you’re disagreeing with Ofsted about when special measures are needed – the obvious question is: what makes you an expert while Ofsted isn’t?

    In item 2, the obvious solution to the innovation issue is to get Ofsted involved from the start of an innovation process. That would have the advantage of reducing the risk of introducing innovations that turn out to be unhealthy ones. An obvious solution to the problem about accurate reporting would be unannounced inspections.

    It seems to me that minor criticisms here and there should not constitute a reason for abolishing the whole Ofsted process. And Ofsted is more-or-less bound to be face resistance if a school is failing and the teachers don’t want to admit it – in a sense that proves that Ofsted’s not failing!

  • Rebecca Hanson 11th Jul '14 - 9:15am

    @Richard Dean

    I’m not suggesting Ofsted should be abolished. But at the minute there are no checks and balances. I’ve seen cases where schools have gone into categories for intervention when they shouldn’t have and I’ve seen actions taken as a result of Ofsted intervention which have caused huge damage to schools. But schools have no rights to there’s no point in challenging decisions as it only draws attention to the issues which further damages the school.

    My policy gives schools the same rights other organisations have to challenge dubious decisions and to win judicial reviews to force their regulator to improve their practice if they are using methods which clearly cause damage and which violate the regulators code.

  • Jayne Mansfield 12th Jul '14 - 11:27am

    @ Rebecca Hanson,
    I fail to see how anyone could object to the aims that you mention in your last paragraph.

    Good luck.

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