The role and performance of Ofsted

Memorandum s ubmitted by Michael Bassey



Whether Ofsted has of itself raised standards in schools over the 19 years of its inspections is not clear, but certainly it has raised awareness of the need for schools to do this. Now that schools are gaining greater autonomy, Ofsted inspections should be replaced by the more effective local accountability of school self-evaluation supported by partner schools and governing bodies. Ofsted is a quango that has served its purpose. It can go.



Emeritus Professor Michael Bassey, Nottingham Trent University, former president and academic secretary of the British Educational Research Association and Academician of the Academy of Social Sciences. Website:



         What the purposes of inspection should be … (my submission is limited to consideration of schools)

         The impact of the inspection process on school improvement.

         The role of Ofsted in providing an accountability mechanism for schools operating with greater autonomy.


1. When Ofsted was established in 1992, Professor Sutherland, its first chief inspector, wrote in his Annual Report that " the intention of, and even the justification for, OFSTED’s existence is to make a contribution, through these inspections, to raising standards and improving the quality of educational experience and provision." [1] [i] This remains the case, as stated in a recent document that "Ofsted's main aim is to help improve the quality and standards of education …" [2] [ii] Ofsted has however grown since Sutherland’s time, now employing 2,000 civil servants and costing over £200 million [3] [iii] – albeit with a wider brief than the original focus on schools.

2. Before 1993 there were no systematic, regular inspections of schools. For a long period up to the late 1980s there had been little obvious change in school standards but, when the GCSE replaced 0-level and CSE in 1988, secondary schools began a slow process of improvement. Likewise the Education Reform Act of the same year with its stringent (if over-powering) national curriculum and national curriculum assessment gave teachers in both primary and secondary schools the tools needed to raise standards of achievement of their pupils. Ofsted inspections did not start until four years later in 1992. Over the next 18 years, increasingly, central government (both conservative and labour) tried to micromanage the teaching and administration of schools and Ofsted, by damning schools which didn’t conform, became in effect an enforcement agency.

3. It has ever been a difficult issue to know to what extent Ofsted has fulfilled its purpose of ‘improving the quality and standards of education’. While the easy-to-measure parameter of the percentage of 15-year-olds achieving 5 or more A*-C grades at GCSE has shown a steady rise during Ofsted’s life-time, it needs to be pointed out that that rise was happening from the very start of the GCSE - five years before Ofsted had any impact. Indeed for the first ten years of Ofsted’s existence the rise was less pronounced than it had been beforehand and the current acceleration may be due to schools becoming ‘streetwise’ about ways of changing the subject range offered.

4. Looking at primary schools the measure of KS2 test results shows that the national average result for those achieving level 4 in English + maths + science, after a climb from 1997 to 2000, and a slight climb to 2008, is now levelling out.

5. Yes, standards have risen, but whether Ofsted can claim much credit is doubtful. Standards rise because young people choose to study hard, are taught well by their teachers, are encouraged by their parents, and influenced by a positive climate towards school work by their peer group of class-mates.

6. As schools become more autonomous (as is the Coalition government’s policy) and act as collegial entities responsible for their own development, the role of Ofsted withers.

7. Accountability needs to move away from inspection and arise through self-evaluation of schools, moderated by partner schools and the deliberations of governing bodies. The fundamental question "Are standards as good as can be?" should be answered by the school itself – not by external bodies like Ofsted. This is how effective progress happens.

8. Schools do not need external inspection as though they were industrial factories . Raising standards is best achieved from internal evaluation – as Professor MacBeath [4] [iv] and others have shown and as schools have discovered.

9. Education is not an industry. Teachers are not technicians. Classrooms are not production lines. Students arriving are not inputs, nor outputs when they leave. Schools are not factories, but places where students and teachers, supported by parents and governors, work and live together in order to nurture and develop the interests and abilities in many dimensions of the students by engaging in the human activity of the pursuit of learning.



Ofsted is no longer needed for school inspection. It is a quango that can go.

October 2010

[1] [i] Standards and Quality in Education 1992-3 Stewart R Sutherland


[2] [ii] Ofsted Strategic Plan for 2003-2006


[3] [iii] Resource Accounts 2009-2010


[4] [iv] J MacBeath and A McGlynn Self Evaluation, “What’s in it for Schools” Routledge Falmer (2002)


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