Education Column It's about time that the standards of Ofsted were questioned by someone

Questions are being asked of OFSTED inspectors following a controversial visit to a Sheffield school '“ and it's good this educational giant is being taken to task.

Thursday, 20th July 2017, 8:34 am
Updated Monday, 11th September 2017, 12:24 pm
Forge Valley School, in Stannington

Forge Valley School was judged to be requiring improvement after inspectors visited in April and then took the very unusual move of making a return visit in June.

The judgement made by OFSTED was an improvement on the previous inspection, in 2013, that put the school into special measures.

But it’s the way the inspection was carried out that angered headteacher Dale Barrowclough and last week he publicly hit out at the process.

It’s right and proper that questions are asked of OFSTED if and when it falls short of the mark; after all, they are the body that are quick to ask questions of schools and the conclusions they reach can make or break careers.

The inspection of this particular Sheffield school appears to have been of farcical proportions. I have never before heard of an inspection team visiting a school and then making another trip a couple of months later, apparently in an attempt to broaden their evidence base.

To understand how bizarre and unacceptable this move was, it’s important to realised just how stressful, just how momentous the phone call from OFSTED actually is. When the inspection from OFSTED is due, schools are full of tension for weeks – maybe months, and in some case years – until the call comes on the Monday or Tuesday about the inspection in that week.

I know headteachers that have suffered stress-related illnesses from this process. Their whole future can depend on the outcome of an inspection and so it’s unsurprising every single weekend becomes a hotbed of stress and pressure.

When the inspection comes, it’s important it is carried out professionally, efficiently and with as little impact on the day-to- day running of the school as possible. The inspection team should know exactly what they are looking for.

The moment an inspection team leaves the school is either one of huge relief or massive anxiety, depending on the indications about the outcome. But whichever way it goes, the report should be written swiftly so that the management team, teaching staff, parents and children know where they stand.

What nobody needs is a lengthy delay in completing the report, let alone a further visit a couple of months later.

Forge Valley has really been put through the mill. It has suffered the stress of the original inspection, ridiculous delays in the final verdict and the further anxiety caused by the return visit.

Mr Barrowclough is right to be frustrated. He, along with headteachers up and down the country, should expect the utmost professionalism from the organisation that upholds standards in education. What are we to do if OFSTED cannot uphold its own standards? Some of the claims being made by those at Forge Valley are very troubling. It’s well known inspectors shouldn’t try to predict the forthcoming ‘Progress 8’ scores. The calculation is just too difficult to forecast.

The suggestion that inspectors sought to predict the Progress 8 score a Forge Valley is worrying – it would go against their own guidelines. If judgements have been made using this, the school should get answers from OFSTED about its conduct following the investigation that is taking place.

Similarly, claims that key safeguarding documents were lost are even more concerning. If a school breached of safeguarding rules, it would be severely punished in the judgement and report. That should be the case for OFSTED. An inspection should also take into account special circumstances and have a holistic viewpoint of daily life there, not be blighted by narrowmindedness.

It is, of course, right that a judgement is not reached on a school until all the appropriate information has been collated. But this should be done during the initial visit.

If claims made by the school are correct, what we have seen at Forge Valley is an inspection process that certainly requires improvement.