What’s next for Ofsted?
Ofsted’s been enjoying an unusually high profile in the last couple of weeks – though “enjoying” is perhaps the wrong word. First, Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw accused the Education Secretary, previously his greatest fan, of briefing against him. This scrap was swiftly smoothed over, but within days another row erupted over Michael Gove’s sacking of Baroness Morgan, Ofsted’s Chair – allegedly on political grounds.
Both stories were brilliant examples of how politicised and ideological education is in 2014. But they were also a distraction from bigger issues Ofsted is facing. Sir Michael may have been motivated to speak out in part by the knowledge that centre-right think tanks are openly imagining a world without Ofsted, and hoping to capture the imagination of the Conservatives’ manifesto writers. The consistency of the Inspectorate’s grading of schools has recently been called into question, as has its impartiality when deciding which schools be downgraded to “Needs To Improve” – something that triggers the process of academisation.
In our report Make NEETs History, Impetus-PEF recently called for changes to Ofsted – but not for its abolition or for changes at the top. We know that what Ofsted does is important. Schools’ ratings are crucial to their status, their resourcing and their intake. The things that Ofsted values are powerful incentives for head teachers. But are these incentives also aligned with what matters for our children and young people?
At least one in five children fails to make a successful transition from school to work – a crisis for those individuals and society, and the cause of the UK’s high number of NEETs. The causes of NEET status lie, at least in part, in what happens to children in school, and this needs to be taken much more seriously. We need Ofsted to look closely at what measures school have in place to ensure that they are helping young people to transition into further education or employment. Our experience supporting a number of charities helping children and young people provides us with some knowledge of what works in this area – high-quality careers advice, a good vocational learning offer, and multiple engagements with local employers. These are not factors on which Ofsted routinely focuses in its inspections. As a result they are nowhere near the top of the priorities list for the majority of schools.
We need to realign incentives so that preparing pupils for the world of work becomes central to a good school’s offering. Building the school-to-work transition into the standard Ofsted reporting and inspection regime could focus minds… and resources.
Ofsted is probably here to stay, although it will undoubtedly have more stormy seas to weather. What matters is that it works with the Department for Education to ensure that the behaviour it inspires, and the results it looks for, are the most significant and transformative for all the nation’s pupils, including those least likely to move on to education or employment.