UCU: Most FE staff back alternative to ‘traumatic’ Ofsted inspections

Lecturers call for 'peer-led' model, as new chief inspector also floats the idea

Lecturers call for 'peer-led' model, as new chief inspector also floats the idea

“Distracting and anxiety-inducing” Ofsted inspections should be axed and replaced by a peer-led model to improve education quality, according to the University and College Union.

A survey of more than 1,000 further education union members found that just one in five believed Ofsted raises standards and nine in ten backed “an alternative model of improvement/challenge”.

Ofsted has come under increasing pressure to reform its inspection regime from all sides of the education sector following the death of headteacher Ruth Perry last year.

Last month, the National Education Union (NEU) reported that nearly two-thirds of its member schoolteachers believe inspections have caused them mental ill-health and four in five want Ofsted replaced. NEU has advised its members not to work as inspectors or to display their school’s judgments on publicity materials.

The education watchdog is in the final weeks of its ‘Big Listen’ exercise, with new chief inspector Sir Martyn Oliver repeatedly vowing “nothing is off the table” when it comes to reform.

“College staff are clear that Ofsted inspections need to be abolished,” UCU general secretary Jo Grady said.

“Our members say inspections are traumatic and, especially after the tragic death of Ruth Perry, we need an end to the stress and anxiety they induce,” Grady said.

UCU’s report reveals just over three-quarters of college teachers believe the Ofsted term ‘inadequate’ is “not acceptable terminology” with the union recommending simpler ‘satisfactory’ and ‘requires improvement’ judgments instead.

The government last week rejected calls from MPs to ditch single-word grades, justifying that the grades provide “a clear basis for taking action” to improve underperforming institutions.

“It is simply unacceptable for the government to rule out replacing it before Ofsted’s consultation has even finished,” Grady added.

The Labour Party pledged in January that a Labour government would end single-word Ofsted judgments and bring in report cards with annual safeguarding and attendance checks.

UCU’s survey found that 83 per cent of college staff agreed that Ofsted visits caused anxiety and stress. Nine in ten teachers said inspections were an additional workload burden and detracted from teaching. 

To combat this, UCU said Ofsted should consult on removing the notice period on colleges ahead of an inspection. Colleges should also be required to publish how much they spend on inspection preparation, including consultancy.

Teachers said their colleges dumped “excessive and unnecessary” paperwork to prepare for Ofsted inspections which took priority over teaching.

“There was a huge amount of paperwork unnecessary in my opinion that I was expected to redo even though it was perfectly adequate. Going in on days off and the weekend were expected prior to the visit which just increased the stress and anxiety for all the staff,” one UCU member said.

Another member said her college rolled out initiatives “purely” to achieve a good grade at inspection and had “very little focus” on whether learners were benefitting from them.

In place of Ofsted, UCU has said the FE sector should be funded to run a “co-designed, collaborative, peer improvement model”, which it claimed would be “valued and trusted” by staff and the public.

Speaking at the Schools and Academies Show earlier this week, Oliver described the existing inspectorate as “a peer-reviewed system” because the “vast majority” of its workforce were serving principals and headteachers.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Ofsted’s independent inspections are vital to ensuring students are safe and receive the education they deserve. We are looking forward to conclusion of the Big Listen, which will help inform us of the steps needed to continue to raise standards for children and young people across the board.”

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