Principals have reacted furiously and in disbelief to the government’s plans to speed up Ofsted’s inspections, despite widespread calls from across the sector to suspend all routine inspections in English schools due to the ongoing Covid disruption.
The School Inspection Agency revealed on Tuesday that it had been given an extra £ 24 million in a government expenditure assessment to speed up the number of inspections and ensure that all schools and further education providers are inspected over the next four years.
Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the pandemic provided an opportunity to rebuild better and fairer, adding: “Accelerating Ofsted’s inspections in the coming years will give parents an up-to-date picture and faster recognition of the pandemic. The hard work of leaders and teachers.”
Teachers ’unions condemned the move unanimously, promising that all schools and vocational training institutions will be inspected at least once by summer 2025, a year ahead of schedule.
Also of concern is the new attempt to inspect “excellent schools” which have hitherto been exempt from regular inspections. Reports suggest more than two out of three have been deprived of the highest rating since inspections in September, causing anxiety among the affected heads.
“Government ministers are once again showing that they do not understand the exhaustion and stress experienced by teachers and leaders,” said Dr. Mary Bousted, joint secretary general of the National Education Union.
Nick Brook, deputy secretary general of the National Association of Head Teachers, added: “As schools are currently under pressure and recent calls to suspend inspections for this semester, the announcement of new ones seems completely deaf.”
Amst Spielman, chief inspector of Ofsted, said: “Children only get one chance at school. Everyone who works in education must do everything in their power to give this generation the best possible opportunity to realize its potential.
“Ofsted is doing its part – by providing parents and learners with up-to-date information and helping schools and colleges formulate their plans. I am delighted that we can now reach all schools, colleges and apprenticeship providers by summer 2025.
Critics said the School Inspection Agency is facing an unprecedented crisis of confidence among education experts, professional bodies and school leaders who have accused Ofstedia of “losing a plot” and “completely untouching” reality.
“It’s probably fair to say that opinions about Ofsted have rarely been worse than they are at the moment,” said Geoff Barton, secretary general of the Association of School and College Leaders, adding, “the audit agency must be careful that the damage to the relationship is not irreparable.”
Many school leaders believe it is wrong for Ofsted to conduct routine inspections as schools continue to struggle with absenteeism from high school and staff and focus on helping children survive months of learning disability.
“No one trusts them,” said a moderate and widely respected principal, while Dame Alison Peacock, CEO of Chartered College of Teaching, recently accused the Audit Office of “managing terrorism” and the government’s new social mobility. Tsar Katharine Birbalsingh has said that Ofsted was not “the power of good”.
Principals affected by the pandemic burnout have posted messages on social media to share the trauma caused by the inspections, which has led some to stop.
Former school inspectors have added voice to growing dissatisfaction, among them Frank Norris, a former senior at HMI Ofsted who expressed “deep concern.”
“I lived in the north and the pandemic has hit some of our communities the hardest. Schools have done amazingly well and kept things running, ”Norris said. “It is a shame that Ofsted inspectors apparently choose to pay little attention to this crucial area of work when preparing their inspection reports.”
Others have called for the abolition of the ‘humiliating’ rating system – which measures from excellent to inadequate – primarily, including Caroline Derbyshire, who chairs the teachers ’round table.
“One thing that happened during the lockout and the first part of the pandemic is that the heads got respect from their communities. They accepted the challenge and regained some of their voice and professionalism.
“Maybe now comes the feeling that we’ve put up with things for too long. It is wrong to accept a system that is so publicly humiliating, shame is something we should never tolerate as a profession. “