Tag Archives: ofsted

Ofsted reports shouldn’t be reduced to a single word

The government’s decision to ignore a cross party committee’s recommendation to abolish one-word Ofsted judgements is the wrong one.

The pressure that school leaders and teachers feel in relation to Ofsted inspectors is huge. And it is not just those two days in which the inspectors are physically in the school; the intensity of being on ‘red alert’ for an imminent inspection can be just as bad – if not worse – than the inspection itself, not least because that period of time can last months if not years. The tragic death of Ruth Perry was a dreadful yet timely reminder of the stress placed on school leaders, and while legislation made in response to a single specific incident is rarely good legislation, this is hardly a new issue.

For schools in areas where competition is high, the difference between ‘outstanding’ and ‘good’ can be perceived as huge in terms of attracting applications from prospective students. But in reality, the actual difference on the ground can be very little, if anything at all. One school leader told me that their school, which had been judged as outstanding for a number of years, was downgraded to ‘good’, despite receiving an outstanding grade on the majority of Ofsted’s criteria. The narrative of the actual report was almost unwaveringly positive and in many cases glowing. Of course, to the outside eye, the school had declined since its last inspection, when in reality it had maintained, if not improved on, its excellent standards. One of the sections in the report hailed the school’s highly impressive arts department, with plenty of extra-curricular drama and music opportunities on offer for the pupils. However, these do not fit particularly well into the rigidity of Ofsted’s marking criteria. Off the record, inspectors suggested that, had the school ‘played the game’ of chasing specific progress measures, they would probably have avoided being inspected and thus remained ‘outstanding’.

And here is the problem with the single-word judgements. It can only be based on very limited criteria, and this will rarely reflect the broad spectrum of curricular and extra-curricular options available at a school.

One of the main arguments put forward in favour of single-word judgements is that it makes things simpler for parents. This is debatable, but even if true, it is both patronising and misleading. Although not a parent myself, I know from speaking to those close to me who do have young children that schooling is one of their biggest priorities. It is something that parents think about before they even become parents. So to suggest that they may not have the time or inclination to read a few pages worth of information on local schools in the area is bizarre.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 17 Comments

Rooted in pragmatism: a Liberal Democrat approach to school accountability

At the 2023 Autumn Liberal Democrat conference, we changed our position on school accountability in England away from the “abolish OFSTED” line, to a more pragmatic viewpoint of reforming our system of school accountability. I have taken the time to set out what reform should actually look like.

2023 was, I think it is fair to say, a fairly tumultuous year for the schools inspectorate, OFSTED. From the tragic death of Ruth Perry to increasing disquiet about the blunt-tool of single gradings.

However, whilst disquiet has been on the rise, 2023 has also seen an increase in high-quality research about what the future of school inspection should look like. From the IPPR’s review led by Loic Menzies, to Sam Freedman and the Institute for Government’s report. Another notable report was that of Public First, the consultancy firm who undertook a highly rigorous consultation on the future of school accountability.

All of these reports chimed into what appears to be a general theme and feeling now, that more of the same is not an option. Nevertheless, where opponents of OFSTED have traditionally been limited in their success is that the phraseology of “abolish” leaves the receiver of the message of the opinion that school accountability and improvement is not a priority.

The same criticism cannot be levelled at the work undertaken by Menzies and Freedman which both provide comprehensive analysis of the problems with school inspection whilst crucially providing recommendations for reforms that are rooted in pragmatism. Whilst the phrasing “reforms rooted in pragmatism” may not set the world alight, they do understand what is, to most people’s minds what is needed.

We should start, by recognising the problems that do exist within the schools inspectorate at the moment. 

These chiefly fall around three categories, workload leading up to inspections, the manner of inspections (inclusive of outcome from) and the subsequent support needed by each school to improve. However, where these issues come together is the overarching question “what is the purpose of school accountability”?

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , and | 7 Comments

Do not walk away from accountability, reform OFSTED, do not abolish it.

OFSTED, the schools inspectorate has received flack for its inspection methods in the aftermath of the tragic death of Ruth Perry earlier this year. Following a period of silence, OFSTED Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman appeared on BBC Laura Kuenssberg this morning to face questions over the OFSTED’s approach to inspections.

The Liberal Democrat policy on OFSTED is to abolish it and replace it with a new body for school accountability. This is flawed for a number of reasons, not least because the hiatus period between abolition and refounding could lead to serious failures in uncovering failing establishments, hurting the life chances of the thousands of pupils in the communities that those schools serve. However, reform is a more appropriate method to secure the faith of the profession in their regulator.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 3 Comments

OfSTED needs urgent reform now – and the Lib Dems should be leading calls for it

The tragic news that Primary headteacher Ruth Perry took her own life after the primary school she led was downgraded from Outstanding to Inadequate after an inspection in November 2022 has shone a spotlight on the schools inspectorate, OfSTED. It has led to calls to review how these high stakes inspections take place and into the aftermath they wreak. It took over a week for the Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman to publish a rather tin-eared statement outlining sympathy with Mrs Perry, her family and the school but making it very clear that inspections will continue unabated and unchanged. At least they responded – however Inadequately. This much – unless I’ve missed something – cannot be said for those that drive education policy in the major political parties, something I find perplexing. There is no way that the tragic death of someone should be used as a political football and this may lay at the heart of the relative silence of Gillian Keegan, Bridget Phillipson and Munira Wilson, but will it take another suicide or 2 more or 3 more before those in power stop, look and realise that putting their heads in the sand and hoping it goes away isn’t the right response?

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 6 Comments

29 November 2019 – the overnight press releases

  • Lib Dems: Johnson’s Brexit plans would let thousands of criminals off the hook
  • Liberal Democrats will invest £1 billion a year to restore community policing
  • Lib Dems: Ofsted stats reveal Tory failure on school standards

Lib Dems: Johnson’s Brexit plans would let thousands of criminals off the hook

  • Estimated 6,000 criminals could evade justice if Johnson’s Brexit goes ahead
  • UK police to be locked out of EU crime database used 1.6 million times a day
  • Brexit would undermine UK’s ability to tackle terrorism and organised crime

The Liberal Democrats have warned Boris Johnson’s Brexit plans risk enabling thousands of criminals to escape justice, after analysis revealed the …

Posted in News | Also tagged , , , , and | Leave a comment

22 September 2019 – yesterday’s press releases

Well, I’m not sure what happened there, as I thought that I’d set this for 10.30 yesterday evening. Nevertheless, here are yesterday’s official press releases…

Scrapping Ofsted must be the beginning of the end of teaching to the test – Lib Dems

Responding to today’s announcement by the Labour Party that they will campaign to abolish Ofsted, Liberal Democrat Shadow Education Secretary Layla Moran MP said:

It is always good to see the Labour Party copying another key Lib Dem education promise, just as they followed us in calling for SATs to be scrapped, here they are trailing in behind again.


Posted in News | Also tagged , , and | 1 Comment

4 December 2018 – today’s press releases

It perhaps tells you all that you need to know about the state of our politics when the Government is found to have acted in contempt of Parliament and yet, hours later, nobody has resigned. But you can guess what’s dominating today…

  • Lib Dems demand urgent action on prisons crisis (already covered here)
  • UK can get out of Brexit mess
  • Moran: Govt is fostering a culture of senseless competition in our schools
  • Cable: Legal advice must be published urgently
  • Parliament wins back control, but people must have their say
  • Cable: Bring country together with a People’s Vote

UK can get out of Brexit mess

Responding to the …

Posted in News | Also tagged , , , , , , , and | 1 Comment

Is regulation becoming the new religion?


In whatever field you care to mention – whether it is education, services or business – employers and organisations are checking up on us as never before.

Recently my car broke down in Glastonbury, so I called the AA. Out came the AA repair person, who did a great job, but he then asked me to rate the service he had provided on a tablet, by clicking on a happy face, sad face, or categories in between. Not only that, I got a follow up phone call asking me whether he had done a good job. Why couldn’t the AA just let me call to complain I there had been a problem? This all creates so much pressure on working people.

Last time I went to my GP surgery there was a plastic plinth asking me to rate my experience, with the happy and sad faces again. I tried to type in a message saying “Stop checking up on people, the pressure on staff must be intolerable”, but the message box vanished! On the back of many lorries there is a number to call, inviting us to rate the lorry driver’s performance – and on it goes. And, in my experience, when performance-related pay is introduced in a company the spirit of collegiality can quickly turn into one of competitiveness and dissatisfaction.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 14 Comments

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 …

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 39 Comments

It’s Laws v Gove again as Lib Dem schools minister says academy chains should be accountable to Ofsted

‘It’s civil war in the Coalition classroom’ – that’s how the Independent bills the latest row between those two very civil politicians running the education department, Conservative secretary of state Michael Gove and Lib Dem schools minister David Laws.

I wrote at the weekend about the first spat, which erupted after Michael Gove’s decision to sack Baroness (Sally) Morgan as chair of Ofsted for doing too good a job – at least, that seemed to be the gist of his argument, as he praised her to the skies for her “superlative” work before saying it was time for a …

Posted in News | Also tagged , , , and | 8 Comments

Gove and Laws scrap it out on front pages over sacking of Ofsted head. Here’s what the row is all about.

Today’s newspaper front pages are full of the scrap taking place at the heart of the Department for Education between Conservative secretary of state Michael Gove and Lib Dem schools minister David Laws:

gove laws - papers

  • Ofsted row: Lib Dems furious at Conservative plan to ‘politicise’ classrooms (Independent on Sunday)
  • Lib Dems savage Gove over sacked schools boss (The Sunday Times, £)
  • Angry Lib Dems accuse Michael Gove of bid to politicise education (Observer)
  • Why is there a row?

    On Friday night, The Independent broke the news that Baroness (Sally) Morgan, the Labour

    Posted in News | Also tagged , , , and | 28 Comments

    Clegg says no to childcare ratio changes. My question is: why’s it the Government’s job to dictate them?

    teather_cleggNick Clegg’s statement is categorical — the Coalition is abandoning plans to allow nurseries and childminders in England to look after more children. Revealed in January by Conservative children’s minister Liz Truss, the idea that the ratio for under 2s, for example, could increase from 1:4 to 1:6 was always going to be controversial. Here’s Nick:

    “One of my absolute top priorities in government is to deliver better quality, more affordable childcare for parents up and down the country. I will relentlessly champion and pursue policies that deliver that –

    Posted in News | Also tagged , , , and | 29 Comments

    How Ofsted outperforms the Department for Education in the email stakes

    Yesterday I blogged about how only a third of emailed newsletters and circulars sent out by the Department for Education to schools and teachers are read by the recipients.

    I also mentioned that you could choose who to blame for the low readership rate:

    Who is to blame for this? If nothing else I suspect these figures are a good test of your political instincts: are you already thinking the blame lies with Michael Gove and the Department for Education for not making their messages more compelling or with the teachers who aren’t reading them in greater numbers?

    One way of helping …

    Posted in News | Also tagged , and | 8 Comments

    The pupil premium isn’t a quick-fix solution, it’s a long-haul policy

    The pupil premium — additional cash targeted at the most disadvantaged children — is the policy of which Nick Clegg is proudest and with which he is most closely associated. The policy itself dates back to Julian le Grand in the 1980s (when it was touted as a progressive version of school vouchers) but it was Nick who put it firmly in the political mainstream as long ago as 2002 in a pamphlet he co-wrote based on experiences of it working within continental Europe.

    Though the Tories nominally signed-up to the concept of a pupil premium in their 2010 …

    Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , , , , and | 7 Comments

    Opinion: A serious blow to Gove’s Red Guard – How will the Lib Dems respond?

    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 …

    Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 44 Comments

    Opinion: Ever greater centralisation is not the answer for failing schools

    “Troubleshooters are needed to spot failing academy schools around the country and sack incompetent headteachers, the new chief education inspector has said.” So reported the Daily Telegraph on 28 December. The article continued:

    Sir Michael Wilshaw said ministers must set up regional early warning systems because by the time his Ofsted inspectors discover an institution is in trouble, it is too late.

    As more and more secondary schools gain independence from town halls and become academies, it will also be difficult for the Department of Education to focus on improving individual schools.

    Sir Michael said that to maintain standards, dozens of local commissioners

    Posted in Local government and Op-eds | Also tagged and | 13 Comments

    Opinion: “The Importance of Teaching” White Paper – putting Lib Dem policy into action?

    After a year’s work in the run up to the General Election co-writing the Liberal Democrats’ Equity and Excellence education policy paper with other members of the 5-19 Education Policy Working Group, I opened the Coalition Government’s first education White Paper with understandable trepidation.

    Nothing can be more important than giving every child a fair start in life, but the education system inherited from Labour offered some young people pretty much the best education system anywhere in the world, while leaving others ill-equipped, under-funded, and lacking the skills needed to get on in life.

    The White Paper launched by the government today, called The Importance of Teaching takes as its starting point the unflattering international comparisons of the performance and skills of our pupils. Its critique of where and why the school system is underperforming is one that will be very familiar to most Liberal Democrats. It is a vision for a system based on excellence, underpinned by freedom and fairness: an education system which challenges low aspiration and achievement and where school-level innovation and diversity are seen as strengths to be welcomed.

    Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , , and | 29 Comments

    Recent Comments

    • Paul Barker
      Again, a pointless article - perhaps The Voice Team could think about rejecting pieces that are just nonsense ? Short of War, there is no chance of any result ...
    • David Allen
      "Unfair to say we ‘re saying nothing" Up to a point, yes. However, being against sewage dumping isn 't exactly sticking your head above the parapet and br...
    • Ruth Bright
      Caron, sorry to display my ignorance here but could you tell members like me outside Scotland more about the National care service stuff? Genuinely interested....
    • David Garlick
      Where is a JFK when you need someone to draw the line. No line ,no stopping Putin. rearming is essential. Is the current long away target sufficient? I think ...
    • Zachary Adam Barker
      "In his early career, Rasmussen was a strident critic of the welfare state, writing the book From Social State to Minimal State in 1993." What does this have...