This week my housemate, who is a teacher, discovered her school was facing the dreaded Ofsted inspection. She has since been living on a few hours sleep a night as she gets all her teaching folders up to speed. It made me reflect on how we evaluate good teaching, and ask myself whether the Ofsted inspections inflicted on teachers really have any worth.
Having taken a PGCE, I remember the prescriptive means by which teaching is assessed. It was a source of much frustration seeing how the National Curriculum and threat of Ofsted inspections stifled creativity as teachers’ time was eaten up teaching to the exam syllabus whilst desperately trying to keep up with their teaching folders and paperwork. My experience of teaching in the state sector taught me that teaching is currently much more a task in box ticking than instilling a love of learning and nurturing children’s talents. In my view Ofsted inspections just place unnecessary extra stress on teachers with no obvious positive educational outcome. As Chris Woodhead pointed out last year the focus is not ‘education, education, education’ but ‘compliance, compliance and yet more compliance’.
Fortunately, Michael Gove has made some steps to free up the teaching profession, including allowing high performing schools to be exempt from Ofsted inspections. However, a lot more needs to be done and the whole mechanism of how schools are assessed needs to be re-examined. Ofsted inspections are costly, unreliable and don’t lead to better schools. If Ofsted inspections fail to improve educational standards then they have very little purpose. Moreover, what’s the point in providing parents with information on school performance if there is still no choice over which school you send your child to?
If Gove really wants to free up schools and teachers it’s time he scrapped Ofsted inspections and continued to push through with his free schools agenda. If un-inspected schools seems a scary, there’s always the possibility of voluntary school assessments run by private companies. Sadly, such solutions still seem a long way off being considered.