Shortcomings of Ofsted's performance highlighted

A report by the Public Accounts Committee has said that it is unacceptable so many schools are exempt from re-inspection and that the government should review its approach.

The report says that budget cuts have 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.

It reveals that 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, the report says.

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. The report authors said they were "disappointed that HM Chief Inspector seemed reluctant to offer her views about wider issues affecting the school system."

The report says that the DfE needs to be clearer about what the purpose of inspection is and where responsibility for improving underperforming schools lies.

Committee Chair, Meg Hillier MP said: “Cuts to Ofsted’s budget have undermined families’ ability to make informed decisions about schools.

“It is not encouraging that Ofsted also misinformed Parliament about the inspections it had carried out—a mistake that further calls into question its effectiveness. We expect to see evidence that action Ofsted says it has taken to address this failing is working.

“If the level of inspection continues to be eroded there is a risk that Ofsted will come to be perceived by parents, Parliament and taxpayers as not relevant or worse, simply a fig leaf for Government failures on school standards.

“Should this happen, its credibility will evaporate."

Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman said: “As with all of the public sector, we have had to do more with less. However, I remain confident that our inspections provide parents, schools and the government with the assurance they need about school standards and that we do so in a way that compares very favourably in terms of quality and value for money with school inspection regimes internationally.

“However, we have reached the limit in terms of being able to provide that level of assurance within our current funding envelope. That is why, with our ongoing framework review, we are looking at how to ensure that schools and parents get everything they need from our reports, and why many of the committee’s recommendations are already long in train.”

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