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HomeNewsChris McGovern: Ofsted is part of the problem, not the solution

Chris McGovern: Ofsted is part of the problem, not the solution


Reform of Ofsted is in the pipeline. Currently, only around 300 inspectors work  for Ofsted. The other 3000 work for three private companies that are sub-contracted. Under new plans all inspectors will have to be employed directly by Ofsted. According to Nick Jackson, Ofsted’s director of corporate services, the aim of the reform is to ensure that “Ofsted can best deliver a service that is both efficient and flexible.”

It is laudable, of course, for any organisation to seek greater efficiency and flexibility. However, Ofsted’s performance as the guardian of educational standards suggests that the need for reform is rather more deep-rooted than that which is being admitted.

Since being set up by John Major back in 1992 what quality of education service has Ofsted presided over? Where has it led our schools? What is the legacy of the current Ofsted system?

Many would claim, with some legitimacy, that as a watchdog for standards, Ofsted has failed abysmally. Employers are getting tired of pointing out that too many youngsters are leaving school without, even, the basic skills to make themselves employable.

Fortunately, the country is still able to attract sufficient immigrant workers to cover this skills deficiency and, to some extent, to cover up the problem. But why did Ofsted back methods of teaching reading, for example, that have condemned so many youngsters to a life of illiteracy or semi-literacy? Why has Ofsted stood by as tried and tested methods of teaching mathematics have been ditched in our schools in favour of fashionable methods that are so ineffective that our 15-year-olds now languish three years behind those in Shanghai? Why, according to the OECD, are we the only developed country in the world in which those educated in 1950s are ahead of recent school leavers?

Why did Ofsted sit back with the rest of the educational establishment and our politicians and, for so long, claim that the hyper-inflation of grades in the public examination system represented a genuine improvement in standards? Why has the current government had to act so frantically to arrest that inflation and order more rigorous exams? Why did Ofsted not point out the problem? And why has Ofsted been so unquestioning of the current National Curriculum that has underpinned so much of our educational failure?

Alarmed and aghast at the performance of our pupils on international comparisons the Government has been forced into an attempted revision of that document. In my personal experience, Ofsted had been an impediment to that revsion. It should have been leading it.

We have had an educational watchdog that, on fundamental issues, chooses not to bark. Worse, it has acted as the enforcer of the very ideologies that have been betraying our children. In her brilliant book, “Seven Myths About Education”, Daisy Christodoulou  shows that Ofsted consistently classifies “outstanding” lessons as those that are child-centred but consistently classifies as “unsatisfactory” those that are based on whole-class teaching. This is clear and unequivocal evidence that Ofsted is promoting a particular methodology of teaching. It, also, happens to be a method of teaching that promotes failure for many pupils. Whole-class, teacher led, teaching is a characteristic of the most successful education systems around the world.

So, yes, Ofsted does need reform but the current proposals focusing on the organisation becoming  “efficient and flexible” will do little to address the underlying problem. And who am I to make such a judgement? I am a qualified Ofsted inspector.

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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