NUT says Ofsted report gives “misleading impression” standards are in decline

The NUT have hit back at criticisms made by Ofsted in its annual report; the schools watchdog has itself come under fire in recent days.

The annual report from Ofsted, published on Monday, paints a picture of a schools system that is improving too slowly due to a “stubborn core” of inadequate teachers. Its criticisms of teachers, however, come as Ofsted itself is facing strong attacks from councils, head teachers and MPs over the way it inspects schools and children’s services.

The watchdog’s new framework leaves schools with only high levels of attainment able to be judged good or outstanding. The changes, which were introduced this September, have already seen a sharp rise in schools being handed failing or satisfactory verdicts.

Schools can be failed if exam results are too low, even if they are improving in the face of factors such as social deprivation, and even if staff are meeting other targets surrounding attendance, behaviour and student wellbeing.

This week’s Times Educational Supplement (TES) reports that schools minister, Vernon Coaker, is to hold talks with Ofsted about its controversial new inspection framework as the number of schools being given low ratings continues to rise. He is reported to be sympathetic to head teachers’ pleas that inspections should not focus so heavily on exam data.

Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), this week spoke out against of the “punitive“ new framework that allows schools to be graded harshly because of technical or minor failures to meet the new safeguarding arrangements.

The Guardian reports that Ms Blower wrote to the chief inspector, Christine Gilbert, to complain that the new inspection arrangements are “in danger of giving the general public the erroneous impression that school standards are in serious decline”.

In a separate statement, Ms Blower issued strong words to the government, saying that the prospect of a drop in schools achieving outstanding ratings shortly before a general election should provide “great pause for thought”.

Ofsted’s annual report revealed 12 schools, that were in all other respects at least satisfactory, have been given a ‘notice to improve’ because of failures to meet safeguarding arrangements. Last week, The Times reported that schools were being penalised for lacking high gates and offering coffee to inspectors before asking for identification.

Speaking to The TES this week, Mick Brookes, General Secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, said the union has been inundated with inspection “horror stories”. He added:

“There’s a massive mismatch with what Ofsted think is happening and what others are seeing.”

However Ms Gilbert has rejected mounting criticism of Ofsted’s new framework. Writing in today’s Independent, she says:

“Ofsted must not pull its punches – our job is to speak up for children and learners, and I make no apology for that. There can be no hiding place for poor practice.”

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.