The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) plays a vital role in making sure that children in schools across England receive the quality of education that they deserve. We recognise that Ofsted’s budget has been cut significantly in recent years, and the amount it spent on inspecting the schools sector fell by 52% in real terms between 1999–2000 and 2017–18. However, this has led Ofsted and the Department for Education to focus narrowly on the cost of inspection, rather the value of getting independent assurance about schools’ effectiveness. There have been clear shortcomings in Ofsted’s performance—it has completed fewer inspections than planned, it has failed to meet its targets for how often schools should be inspected, and schools are being left for longer between inspections. Ofsted now inspects good schools through just a short one-day inspection and, under legislation, outstanding schools are exempt from routine re-inspection altogether. Ofsted is therefore not providing the level of independent assurance about the quality of education that schools and parents need.
As well as reporting on individual schools, HM Chief Inspector’s role includes advising ministers about the quality of schools. Championing standards is an important part of any independent inspector’s remit, and we were disappointed that HM Chief Inspector seemed reluctant to offer her views about wider issues affecting the school system. For its part, the Department needs to be clearer about what the purpose of inspection is and where responsibility for improving underperforming schools lies.
Published: 7 September 2018