Big Listen: Ofsted must enforce ‘humane accountability’, say leaders

The way Ofsted delivers its judgements remains a key concern for the sector

The way Ofsted delivers its judgements remains a key concern for the sector

31 May 2024, 17:21

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An end to one-word judgements and the need for more specialist inspectors with “credibility” are some of the top issues raised by sector bodies during Ofsted’s ‘Big Listen’ exercise.

The wide-ranging consultation exercise, launched in response to the coroner’s report on the death of Ruth Perry, closes at midnight after almost three months.

Ofsted chief inspector, Sir Martyn Oliver said in his first keynote speech in post “every voice will be heard” in the Big Listen and “nothing is off the table.”

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has strongly urged Ofsted to completely remove graded judgements, which it called “the single biggest reform that would alleviate anxiety” in the education system.

Others, including the Association of Colleges (AoC) and the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA) both shared concerns about the “high-stakes approach” behind the one-word.

Damaging consequences

Aside from reputational damage, concerning consequences include entering formal intervention, losing out on capital funding or access to initiatives with foreign students.

The SFCA said: “Tweaks can and should be made to ensure that a system focused on accountability is as humane and fair as possible, but a peer review system would be one in which grades are either not given or matter less – both cannot coexist in the format of the current inspection framework.”

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) called for a “wider range” of inspection grades, suggesting the re-introduction of a judgement that recognises whether providers have the “capacity to improve”.

They pointed out that unlike other educational institutions, there is “no second chance” for private providers who receive a grade four outcome, who often see the Department for Education “terminate their funding agreement”.

The Fellowship of Inspection Nominees (FIN) agreed with AELP, telling Ofsted that keeping single-word judgements is “not a huge issue”.

FIN, which represents a range of providers, colleges and universities that are inspected by Ofsted and receive public education funding, said a different word to ‘inadequate’ is “most definitely needed”.

On the well-being of staff at providers following Ruth Perry’s death, FIN said its members have reported “more consideration” from inspectors.

Inspectors’ credibility questioned

But the AoC said the quality, knowledge and “credibility” of some inspectors is a concern for many colleges due to their “complex diversity” of learners.

It said: “Too often, new inspectors appear to not have the confidence to make a judgement, rigidly applying the framework/handbook and lacking flexibility and applying common sense.”

FIN – which based its submissions to Ofsted on discussions and surveys with over 1,000 responses – said it regularly hears that too many inspectors “lack experience” in sectors such as apprenticeships.

One member providing hairdressing apprenticeships reported that an experienced inspector with a college background repeatedly asked questions about maths, English and Prevent during a lesson about the ‘balayage’ hair highlighting technique.

Natspec, which represents organisations that provide further education for students with learning difficulties, said inspectors do not always have a “sufficient understanding” of all learners.

But attempts to help the watchdog “address a gap in expertise” have been “slow”.

Examples the membership body cited included rejecting a proposal to produce a video resource for understanding people with profound and multiple learning disabilities.

Other key themes in the sector bodies’ feedback included a desire for more consistency in inspections and questions over whether the same education inspection framework should apply to every type of provider.

FIN told Ofsted the framework should be “streamlined to reflect different types of provision.

It shared the view of other membership bodies such as AELP, that only funded provision should be graded by Ofsted.

They said: “Reform should follow the principle that if it’s paid for, it should be graded; if it is not in the contract and therefore not funded, don’t grade.”

The Big Listen consultation survey closes at 11.59pm on May 31 and found be found on the Ofsted website.

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