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ATL pre-election debate: What’s the top priority: inspection or improvement?

ATL | Association of Teachers and Lecturers

4 min read Partner content

ATL hosted a pre-election debate chaired by Zoe Williams from The Guardian. Speakers were Dr Mary Bousted, ATL General Secretary; Cllr David Simmonds, Chairman of the LGA children & young people board; Jonathan Simons, Head of Education, Policy Exchange and Sean Harford, National Director for Schools, Ofsted & Her Majesty’s Inspector.  

Sean Harford began the debate by saying it was a false dichotomy to separate inspection and improvement, because he said they go “hand in hand” and that improvements in the last twenty years showed this.There were now more good and outstanding schools than ever before, he said, conceding that “clearly inspection was not the only reason” for this.

If the UK didn’t have an inspectorate it “would be the odd one out”, Mr Harford said: of OECD countries, only Bulgaria had no formal inspectorate and rely solely on exams to assess schools.

In conducting this debate it was important to ask: “What kind of inspection system do we want?”. Mr Harford added that there were of course different opinions on how inspection should be conducted but that the cost of Ofsted now relatively low at 0.27% of the current education budget.

Mr Harford said the system could always be improved and highlighted the importance of the common inspection framework. “We must widen participation which I know ATL would support,” he said, adding that he was going around the country talking to teachers and head teachers, learning and continuing to improve the inspection system.

Dr Mary Bousted, the general secretary of ATL said that the current inspection regime did not lead to improvement, despite the best efforts of teachers.

Due to pressure of workload and of inspection, 1 in 12 teachers were leaving the profession every year, she said.

Dr Bousted said that there was currently “a school leader retention crisis” party because of the demands of Ofsted, with teachers working an average of 58 hours per week, six days per week.

She said that the single most important priority for schools &  teachers alike was quality and giving each school one clear grade.

The quality of teaching within a school often differed more than between schools.

 “We propose locally based inspection teams targeting areas which need the most support,” she said.

Dr Bousted said it was important to coordinate the experience of the inspector with the school they inspect and called for: “no more FE lecturers inspecting early years.”

In far too many cases, the inspectorate was still used as former Chief Inspector Chris Woodhead said it should be: “a weapon of fear and terror”, she said. 

Dr Bousted said the key questions to be addressed were: “Why is teaching becoming so unattractive? Why are so many teachers leaving the profession?”

“There was a massive issue with STEM subjects and other subjects,” she said “It was not primarily about pay.”

Judgements had to be more accurate, Dr Bousted said, with the teaching profession leading locally-focussed inspection and improving partnerships, taking into account local circumstances”.

She said: “Yes most OECD countries do have inspectorates, but not like this”.

Jonathan Simons, head of Education at Policy Exchange said the central question was: “What do we want from an inspection system?”

He said it was important to know how an individual school was doing against thresholds and its capacity to improve further. He added that inspection should also talk about the wider things a school is doing.

He added: “Improvement can be a by-product of inspection but Ofsted shouldn’t drive improvement solely.”

Mr Simons added that the inspection system should define good from not good. He added that below good, there was a huge difference between requires improvement and inadequate.

It was less important to distinguish between good and outstanding schools

Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA children & young people board and deputy leader of the London Borough of Hillingdon, said that the role of the local authority hasn’t changed much since 2010.

He acknowledged that in many cases teachers were under pressure, but he highlighted that UK schools, as with other public services, are world class and in the majority of cases equipping young people for further study and employment.

He concluded, it was important that despite changes to the schools system under this government, the role of the local authority continued, especially for parents who often used it as a final option after discussing issues with the senior leadership team within a school or the governors.

When asked if the continuing legal role of the local authority should continue he said it should and added:

“There is nothing worse as a local politician than having influence but no power”.

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