Ofsted lesson observations ‘not valid or reliable’

School inspectors’ judgement of lessons is so unreliable ‘you would be better off flipping a coin’, according to the think tank Policy Exchange.

In its new report the think tank that was established by Michael Gove in 2002 has demanded a radical overhaul of Ofsted, the Telegraph reports.

As part of a far reaching set of reforms to improve the way schools are inspected, Watching the Watchmen calls for the usual brief classroom visits by inspectors to be ditched in all routine school inspections.

The report found that observations made by inspectors are often unreliable, with only a 50/50 chance of their judging a lesson to be of the same standard as data on pupil progress shows it to be. It also raised serious concerns over the quality of inspectors, claiming that many lack the skills to analyse data, or possess the necessary specialist knowledge “to make a fair judgment”.

Jonathan Simons, who wrote the report, said: “At the moment a team of external observers watching a handful of lessons can make a judgment on the quality of teaching which trumps the view of the school itself. More needs to be done to drive up the quality of inspectors. Heads and teachers must feel confident that the person running their eye over their school is a specialist, preferably with recent teaching experience.”

The report calls for a new two-stage inspection system, where all state schools would face a ‘short inspection’ lasting one day every two years. Any school that falls below ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’ would face a second ‘tailored inspection’, with twice as many inspectors assessing it as under the current system.

Ofsted’s Michael Claddingbowl said that parents will always expect inspectors to spend time in the classroom. “Inspectors also take account of the school’s own views of teaching, undertake joint evidence gathering with senior leaders, look at children’s work and teachers’ marking, discuss test and examination results, and talk to parents, pupils and staff.”

Do you think the harsh criticism of Ofsted and its inspectors is well founded? What’s your own experience of inspections?

22 thoughts on “Ofsted lesson observations ‘not valid or reliable’

  1. My own recent experience of OFSTED was farcical. An inspector observed the first twenty minutes of my Literacy lesson where I was teaching Year 3 children the skill of note-taking for the first time. I spent ten minutes on the modelling process, then a further ten minutes supporting the children to have a go on whiteboards. At this point, the inspector left the lesson. For the remaining forty minutes of my lesson, the children worked independently and made their own bullet pointed notes about climates. All the children achieved and I was particularly thrilled that the lower achieving children had succeeded. The judgement from the inspector was that the lesson required improvement as “ all the children had been doing was copying from the board”! When I pointed out what the children had done after he had left, he expressed surprise but would not change the judgement. This experience was typical of many of my colleagues during the inspection which resulted in a Special Measures judgement for our school overall. I have no faith in the OFSTED process at all. In my view, judgements on teaching are far more reliable when carried out jointly by senior staff and local authority curriculum consultants, who then give practical, focused feedback which helps to develop and improve practice.

  2. More tinkering with a ‘systematic’ approach to judging State Schools which gives very poor value and wastes taxpayers money.

    When will there be a change in culture where inspections will be replaced with useful supportive structures which actually help to improve schools rather than engender suspicion, stress and panic! A supportive structure of school improvement which focuses on the outcomes rather than imposing pre-packaged one size fits all processes would be a much better use of resources.

    Unfortunately many of our public services have become centres of disenchantment and state education is the best example of how the blame, name, shame, league table mentality has become the driving force of continued central tinkering.

    I agree with some of the elements of the ‘Gove Thicktank’ but their structural changes to a flawed system offer little in terms of real school improvement.

  3. I once requested that I video a lesson that was being observed by an inspector, for CPD purposes. It was standard practice to video lessons at the school. The inspector refused on the basis that Ofsted would not want this. Ofsted seem to avoid accountability. Perhaps we should all video our Ofsted lessons to enable us to independently moderate them.

  4. What happens now to the good schools that Ofsted said needed improvement and were forced into bullying academies with so many teachers careers ruined? The school I worked in twenty two staff left because of this. Some still suffering from stress and will never get over what has happened to them. This needs to be investigated. This is a school which was second highest GCSE results in the LEA beating a local independent school.

  5. So how about having inspectors attached to each LEA to go around the authority and give support, run courses, pick out good practice and generally be supportive where and when if matters. We could then slim down this ofsted rubbish and only bring them in when head teachers and management have failed in their jobs to provide a decent educational experience. Hang on.. We had then about 30 years ago minus the Ofsted bit……So I guess that is a good enough reason not to consider this a viable idea…… Stand still long enough you become an innovator.

  6. The biggest and most unfortunate result of Ofsted inspections, is that everyone is being squeezed into the same sausage tube! Individuality, spontaneity, fun and responsibility have all been stripped from the great teachers. Everyone is being spooked into believing they have to follow a set pattrern! Its killing education in its true form!!

  7. The sooner ‘gestofsted’ is deposed the better ! The idea that untrained wallas from the business community can be judge and jury over what teachers do in the classroom is expunged from the face of the earth , the better it would be for education !

    I’d prefer a fellow colleague coming into my classroom to advise me and make suggestions and not some banker or accounting or green grocer imposing his/her notions of excellence on me !

    Ofsted is only an intrusion of politicians into education to enhance their own careers !

  8. After a staggeringly contradicting Ofsted, in which different staff were given opposing views about the same thing, I can honestly say that Ofsted needs to ‘get a realistic grip’ or back off and let us do our job!.

  9. Totally agree with Pete and ready to leave the profession in 2 weeks time because of the size of the job , ridiculous expectations and lack of funding.

  10. Personally, I would go further than the think tank and include school improvement advisors as well. How can it be right that people with only a dim and distant memory of what it is like to teach, and/or a theoretical knowledge of what schools should be like in an ideal world, can waltz into schools and pronounce judgements that can ruin careers? It is also often the case that these people sub-contracted in to do this job, which leads to the thought that need to justify their role by making as many changes as they can. Maybe I’m being a little cynical, but the stress these people cause, along with the pressure of OFSTED, is causing many teachers to suffer from stress related illness and results in good teachers leaving the job, either on long term sick or permanently.

  11. Having been inspected several times and having recently taught in a variety of schools I am not observing that this deeply flawed system is improving the quality of teaching and learning. There are simply too many disenchanted children, too many unsupportive parents and too many teachers who settle for mediocrity because they are running scared. Children’s education is increasingly hampered by muddled thinking and political interference.

  12. There is so much corruption within education that no matter what system is introduced the crooked always find a way to abuse it. Ultimately too many uninterested, unqualified, unscrupulous, greedy … get promotions in education because the only talent they ever had to begin with is how to play politics well. Once these people are promoted the only people they promote and are positive towards are other people who behave like them. Those who can teach are a threat to their seniority so will ultimately face unfair scrutiny in order to be kept down. This phenomenon is only getting worse and the ones who ultimately suffer are the children. Children usually know best who are the good teachers OFSTED should start with them. Avoid asking the very worst behaved kids in a school and the rest can be a great help to OFSTED inspectors as to which teachers can do their jobs after all education is meant to be for them.

  13. I worked as an Ofsted RgI for several years before going back to the classroom for six years before retirement. The report strikes me as good in it’s analysis of the weaknesses of Ofsted as I knew it. Ofsted’s research on the reliability of inspection judgements was never published and I recall that the post of head of research was advertised at less than the going rate for a London teacher with no special responsibilities. The statistical analysis was crude given that Woodhead couldn’t grasp things like z-scores and insisted on nothing harder than percentages and I found a great reluctance/inability to take any stats at less than face value. Some team members were very good, many just ‘good in parts’ and unaware of their weaknesses and not infrequently arrogant. Despite the fact that a school I headed got a rating of ‘very good’ improvement I do not find compelling evidence that the Ofsted regime has been of benefit overall. I agree that an alternative system could do better. Finland, as described by Margaret Heffernan in ‘A bigger prize’ does better with less inspection.

  14. Teachers today are the mud on the political football that is education. We all wait anxiously to be kicked and scattered to the four winds as sides jostle for dominance. The sooner politicians are given the redcard the better! The education of our nation’s children is just too important to be routinely kicked around. The bank of England was made independent because politicians were ruining the the economy for the obvious reason that politicians are not economists. They are not educationalists either (Gove is a journalist) and so education should be independent of their meddling too. When will our politicians put our nations children before their own self-interest? No wonder that politics has dug its own grave (dwindling party members, low turn out at elections etc.).

  15. Quality should be at the forefront of education not figures.Should the education system not also cater for vocational learner? The amount of times that an OFSTED inspector has come into the classroom to do an observation and the dynamics changed with the learners. How can a short observation be an accurate picture of what happens in all lessons? Teachers go through one of the hardest interview process than any other profession. Wake up governments!!!

  16. It is so sad that an organisation that was designed to raise expectations and improve standards has become the reasons for so many good people leaving the teaching profession. The old adage of ‘those who can’t, teach’ is not true. Teaching people, young or old, is a gift and one that should be encouraged and developed; with those who require help to develop skills being given time to do so in a supporting environment. Life is difficult enough without making your 8 hour stint at work so difficult that it makes you feel worthless, undermined and classified a failure when, in one person’s opinion, you are a ‘grade 3 or 4′ teacher.

  17. I taught in London schools 12 years ago and saw the stress which ofsted caused.
    As young teachers in the 60’s we were subjected to a similar process (but only by one person, the dreaded Inspector0.
    Both processes were/are flawed by the one human weakness. Subjectivity. Most of the panel have not been in a classroom for 20 or more years. They have never encountered the challenges of a hopelessly crowded curriculum. Twenty first century students who are 16 but want to act like 20 year olds (the ones who hate school, it’s authority, aging teachers whom are not respected because they are “sooooo old and wrinkly”) and who should be out in the work force and attending school part time to reinforce what they’re learning in the real world. These students have different skills. They are technically “savvy”.
    I’d love to see most of your Inspectors teach one engaging lesson, let alone a full day, a week, a year, a career! Many are refugees from the classroom.
    Teaching is “bloody hard work.”

  18. At last! What all teachers know has been said. It really hurts to say this but I think Mr Gove in his quest for the premiership of this country may have done something right!

  19. Good inspection can be a tool to help teachers improve their skills and knowledge – for example, the inspection done by teachers getting their Cambridge Educational Diploma. However, the inspection needs to be done BY EXPERIENCED TEACHERS, and in a consistent way of each teacher over several sessions for a reasonably long period of time. I knew some inspectors from the National Institute of Education in Sri Lanka in Maharagama – I accompanied them to schools in Trincomalee sometimes – and they were all experienced teachers who knew theory and practice well. However, it doesn’t seem that the inspection done by the government programme in the U.K. is at all helpful, since it is being done by administrators with no teaching experience.

  20. Ofsted inspections are not valid. They have been traipsing through schools and deeming them ‘not good enough’ by these 5-20 minutes observations but we now understand that this agenda is in place so that we can have more Academies etc…low paid teachers.. It’s led by a government who wanted to privatise education. This has nothing to do with good schools/bad schools! It is impossible to say how good/bad a teacher is in a ‘one-shot’ observation. Teaching & learning is progressive…both pupils and teacher reflect as learners. Not everyone can ‘perform’ under pressure but can be a great teacher. I would love to see Gove and some of those inspectors teach for a whole term in those classes they deemed had a poor teacher!

  21. Obviously the people who are so anti Ofsted are usually the teachers that got bad reports regarding their teaching or the fact that they teach in a school that received a bad report; however, it is possible to have an off day in the middle of an inspection and the end result is a bad report. That aside the main problem is that schools get ample notice, far too much, of an inspection and then panic sets in which in turn creates a tense atmosphere within the school and of course the school on the day(s) is just presenting a facade of what it is really like. A false impression is given and once the inspection is over the school/staff revert back to what they are really like…
    Only 24 hours notice is needed before an inspection and the the inspecting team can then really see what a school is like warts and all, that is how it should be to get an accurate picture. There are excellent schools, good schools, not so good schools and failing schools just as the same can be said for teachers, this is real life. Unfortunately we live in a society today where we are all great people, hard workers, everyone is a success and nobody fails. The fact is that people in general don’t like to face the truth and deal with reality…People can fail, children can fail, schools can fail I am afraid it is part of life and always will be.
    Yes, improvements can be made regarding ofsted but schools still need to be inspected and high standards should be set always and this will mean that failure(s) will occur.

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