Calls for a review of school watchdog urged

Council leaders are calling for an independent review of the Ofsted, amid concerns that the schools watchdog is losing credibility.
Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael WilshawOfsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw
Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw

The inspectorate’s objectivity and reliability has been brought into question in recent months, according to the Local Government Association (LGA), which said action is needed so that parents can have confidence in the system.

It claimed that Ofsted has a habit of re-inspecting schools and children’s services when they have hit the headlines and often then downgrading them from a previous judgment, which sometimes may have only been handed out months before.

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The LGA highlighted the “Trojan Horse” scandal - which related to an alleged plot by hardline Islamists to take over schools in Birmingham. This saw five schools downgraded to “inadequate”, the lowest Ofsted category, in some cases only months after previously being inspected and given a higher rating, it said.

And Haringey Council’s children’s services were downgraded from “good” to “inadequate” after the Baby P scandal was made public in 2007.

Coun David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “Mums and dads, when choosing a child’s school, are making a commitment, and need to know that a judgment is credible. So when a judgment goes from the highest to the lowest rating in months, when results, leadership and management has been consistent, it leaves them in a confused position.”

The LGA said that serious problems and under-performance must be tackled, but insisted that there are questions about whether the inspectorate’s judgments were accurate in the first place, as it is quick to re-inspect and often downgrade schools and services caught up in a controversy.

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Ian Stevenson, NUT regional secretary of the Yorkshire and Midland region said: “The NUT is prepared to support an independent review but we think that nothing short of Ofsted’s abolition will be a sufficient outcome.”

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: “Ofsted is not doing what it should, which is to get beneath the data and find out what is really happening in schools.”

Ofsted said: “Ofsted’s job is to hold every institution to account and to report without fear or favour. We make no apology for championing the interests of those who rely on the services we inspect nor for bringing our findings to wider public attention. Shining a spotlight on under-performance, however uncomfortable, helps bring about change.

“But it is simply incorrect to suggest our inspection judgements are influenced by anything other than the evidence we find.”