Written evidence submitted by a Member of the public

My evidence has been submitted in a way that I hope makes the school unidentifiable. However, by aligning it with my name, you would make my partner's identity identifiable, and this would jeopardise their future work within the school. It is important that you should have evidence of the damage that OFSTED causes, but not at the expense of causing further damage. Please do not publish it attached to my name. But please read meaning into the fact that the culture of OFSTED means that individuals like me need to request anonymity in order to protect those concerned.

I have worked in education as a teacher and psychologist since 1990. My partner has worked in education as a teacher since 1987. We have wide expertise and experience in our field.

In my opinion, OFSTED inspections are worse than a waste of money: they are actively damaging to the improvement of schools. They create a culture of fear, where schools are concerned about being “outed” by OFSTED, resulting in defensive tick-box practice, rather than creative growth and development. Despite the rhetoric of OFSTED that they are not intended to create stress, there is no doubt that they do. Despite the rhetoric of OFSTED that schools should not narrow their focus to “pleasing OFSTED”, there is no doubt that they do. Despite the rhetoric of OFSTED that parents value the single word judgements, there is no doubt that they do not.

Take a single recent case. I can’t name the school that my partner works in, as they fear for the reputation of the school and their place in it. At the start of this academic year, it had a new headteacher; the arrival of this new headteacher coincided with a significant new and worse communication style, weaker decision making and drop in school morale. Many school staff have left or will leave at the end of the academic year as a direct result of this new approach. When OFSTED came to visit in the summer term, none of the remaining staff felt able to complete the “anonymous” staff survey honestly. They knew that their responses could be traced. They also knew that if they said challenging things about the new environment, the consequence would be a worse outcome for the school, closer scrutiny, and increased stress, and that the consequence for their own future career (through references from the new headteacher) would be compromised. They hoped that OFSTED would be able to detect evidence of low morale and poor leadership. OFSTED failed to do this.

During the inspection, the team failed to keep to their own schedule, meaning that they did not observe something on day one that they had intended to observe. They insisted that this should happen the next day. This meant that the children’s teaching curriculum was changed (the session that OFSTED wanted to observe did not usually take place that day) and that a new lesson plan had to be developed. That new plan then had to be delivered by a teacher, during a time when they had scheduled PPA time. So OFSTED saw an unscheduled lesson, delivered by somebody who was missing their PPA time, and then had the effrontery to make a judgement about how that “subject” was taught. Based on a single, unscheduled lesson. That’s no way to gather evidence.

Stress on the school was immense. Two members of staff could not sleep on the night between the two day visit. One could not eat on the morning of the second visit. Regardless of what OFSTED say about not wanting to cause stress: they do cause stress.

We all recognise that there needs to be an inspection system. But it should be one that is humane, that is likely to help people improve. Creating a culture of fear is not the way to do that. Rather than rely on sporadic, high pressure visits from people that don’t know the school and then require them to behave in unusual ways (I know that OFSTED will deny this but they are wrong: look at the details in my evidence above that shows just one example), the school improvement system should be based on the well established principle of a “critical friend” who can assist the school rather than inspect them.

Reform OFSTED.

July 2023