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Lisa Griffin

What’s the priority: inspecting improvement or improving inspection?

‘Inspection vs improvement isn’t a choice to make, they go hand in hand’ said Sean Harford, one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors and Ofsted’s national director for schools at the ATL’s accountability debate. Lisa Griffin highlights the key findings. 

This kicked off a lively and engaging discussion around whether the school inspection arrangements in place today adequately inspect improvement in schools and promote innovation in education, or whether it is time for an overhaul with more concentration being given at a local level to helping every school improve what it does for pupils.

Workload pressures

Ofsted tells us that there are more good and outstanding schools than ever before. Is this an indication that the right inspection system is in place? Can a single grade awarded to a school indicate the progress it has made? Not according to Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary for ATL, who was also on the discussion panel and firm in the ATLs belief that the current practice of accountability is not working and indeed detrimental to the education system. Heavy teacher workload was referred to many times throughout the discussion. At a time when ‘teaching is more monitored than any profession in the world’, states Bousted, Ofsted has become a weapon of fear and terror. School leaders work on average 60 hours a week and teachers 58 hours a week, leading to, along with increasing inspection pressures, 1 in 12 teachers leaving the profession each year.

A new approach

ATL propose a new approach to accountability with locally based inspection teams made up of subject and age phase experts. Schools would be accountable for their use of public money and leaders and teachers for the work they do with pupils. Jonathan Simons, head of education at Policy Exchange, summed up nicely that an inspection system needs:

  • to know how an individual school is performing
  • to show where progress has been made
  • to show where improvement is needed and
  • to look at the wider curriculum, not just exam results and data.

Looking for an answer to the question of ‘What’s the top priority: inspection or improvement?’ however was, unsurprisingly, like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Keeping the focus on inspection

Although a consensus in opinion wasn’t reached, there were some very clear thoughts to take away from the debate. The current inspection system has seen trust between schools and Ofsted diminished and Ofsted have a job to do to rebuild it. Whether the future of inspections lies with them or a local authority remains to be seen but one thing is clear – keeping the focus on inspection is a top priority. By Lisa Griffin - content lead

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