Ofsted is back in the news. The organisation of school inspections is to be overhauled.

Schools that are judged to be ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ (currently 78 per cent of schools) will receive shorter but more frequent inspections.

Schools that are failing, or that need to improve, will be subjected to a fuller inspection process.

In certain respects this is a step in the right direction. Why over-burden schools that are successful with the intrusion of Ofsted and its bureaucratic operation?

However, beneath the appearance of good sense, some more important issues remain unaddressed. We certainly need a school inspection system but, in its present form, do we need Ofsted?

“If you seek his monument, look around you,” states the Latin epigraph to Christopher Wren in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The same can be said of Ofsted. It is an organisation has presided over a crisis in our education system and, on international comparisons, a relative decline.

Its monument is a monument to failure. It has promoted this failure rather than addressed it.

All major political parties, for example, now accept the reality of examination grade inflation over the past 25 years.

I qualified as an Ofsted inspector back in the 1990s. The ‘training’ took place, intermittently, over several months and was completed by having to take five exams.

The whole process was rigorous enough. Unfortunately, this rigour was devoted to producing inspectors who were ‘on message’.

This meant a commitment to educational ideas that were fashionable at the time and, largely, remain so to this day.

It meant, for example, that whole class teaching was discouraged, that lots of group work and personalised learning was encouraged and, most important of all, that equality of outcome was as important as equality of opportunity.

Anything with a whiff of the ‘traditional’ about it was, more or less, outlawed. So, no one was to dispute that teaching children to read through the use of phonics was out-dated, boring and unnecessary.

Never mind that it was a tried and tested method that had been successful for centuries. It was, now, on the scrap heap. Instead, ‘best practice’ depended on the use of ‘real books’.

This meant, in effect, that children should be taught to recognise the shape of whole words rather than recognising the sounds of the letters and letter blends that make up a word.

The consequence of this trendy method has been to condemn many, many youngsters to a life of illiteracy. It formed the core of the reading strategy of the original National Curriculum.

After 25 years, under Gordon Brown, Government finally recognised that the cause of the reading disaster was the ‘approved’ method being enforced by Ofsted and the National Curriculum.

Although, today, we have recognition of the importance of phonics the battle against the ‘real books’ approach is far from over. Too many children are still leaving primary school without a basic grasp of literacy.

Similarly, with mathematics, where Ofsted inspectors have long been resistant to whole-class rote learning of arithmetical tables at a young age.

Without this knowledge and an equivalent grasp of ‘number bonds’, children cannot progress in the subject.

For too long, Ofsted inspectors have been the ‘enforcers’ of fashionable but failed educational ideology.  At a time of crisis, Ofsted has been the dog that did not bark.

We need more than a tinkering with the administrative arrangements for school inspections being announced today.

 

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