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Parents want Ofsted inspections to be ‘more transparent and less high-stakes’

Last week, a coroner concluded an Ofsted inspection ‘likely contributed’ to the death of headteacher Ruth Perry.

File photo of a school safety zone sign.

Parents and teachers want Ofsted inspections and the school accountability system to be more transparent, well-rounded and less high-stakes, according to a new report.

Research found that parents and carers are in favour of a report card-style Ofsted accountability model, along the lines of Labour’s proposed reforms, with only 6% saying they do not like the idea of overhauling the “one-word” judgment system, the report’s authors, Public First, said.

The report into public support for education reform suggests that 85% of parents agree on balance that Ofsted should continue to inspect schools and 60% think that inspections should change.

File photo dated 12/09/18 of a teacher and students in a classroom.
Researchers have been looking into possible education reforms (Ben Birchall/PA)

A total of 42% of parents said Ofsted should be more transparent on how it reaches judgments, 37% of parents want longer inspections, 36% want greater frequency of inspections and 34% want an end to single-word judgments.

A father-of-one from Seaford, East Sussex, told the authors: “For me I think it needs to evolve, just looking at a more rounded model, rather than having such black-and-white grades, I think a lot more depth, so people don’t just look at that headline.”

Last week, a coroner concluded an Ofsted inspection “likely contributed” to the death of headteacher Ruth Perry, whose family said “urgent lessons” must be learned.

The report, commissioned by the Laidlaw Foundation which invests in education of the underprivileged and underrepresented, suggests parental desire for more balanced accountability is likely to be a reflection of an appetite for a broader curriculum offer.

While parents want schools to maintain a focus on academic outcomes, they are also keen to see expanded extra-curricular activities and the teaching of “life skills”, such as healthy eating, and digital and financial literacy.

Parents are almost twice as likely (57%) to name preparing children for adult life as an essential task for schools compared to preparation for further academic study (32%).

Some 54% of parents would prefer for their child to go to a school prioritising extra-curricular activities and life skills, versus 37% who prefer that their child goes to a school prioritising academic achievement and exams.

As a result, the report’s authors have called for an extended school day, as well as an injection of funding to pay for it and staff to run it.

Public First added that extended provision would need to be designed in such a way that it would not increase stress or workload for heads and teachers, possibly by bringing in civic groups to run the sessions.

Among the report’s key findings were:

– Exams continue to be seen as a cause of needless stress by teachers and parents alike.

– Everyone agrees it is important for schools to continue to be held accountable.

– Parents, teachers, trustees and professionals are all supportive of the expansion of extra-curricular and enrichment activity.

Susanna Kempe, chief executive of the Laidlaw Foundation, said: “A third of children do not pass their English and maths GCSE at age 16; for children who have received free school meals at some point in the last six years, this figure rises to more than half.

“At the same time, employers complain that new recruits lack core work skills, there is a dramatic rise in mental health issues amongst the young, teachers are leaving the profession in droves and senior leaders find the stress of Ofsted inspections beyond intolerable, with devastating consequences.

“The current system of accountability is not working. We can and must do better. Parents, carers and the teaching community know what matters. If we start to trust that, and measure that, education can be the extraordinary force for good it ought to be.”

Ed Dorrell, partner at Public First, said: “The ultimate reward for getting this right could be the creation of a new generation of happy and healthy young people.

“Often acting through successful multi-academy trusts, primaries and secondaries could once again become community and civic institutions – institutions that are capable, ultimately, of playing a role in helping to rebuild our fractured society and local communities.

“This research suggests that there is huge appetite both within and outside the education system for something akin to this vision, but only if the reforms needed to make it happen are conceived of, funded and delivered well.”

Labour’s shadow minister for schools Catherine McKinnell said: “Labour will introduce a new school report card that will give more information on what’s happening in schools, driving high and rising standards whilst also giving confidence to parents about their child’s education.

“Working with experts and grounded in evidence, these reforms would create a modernised inspection system that is fit for purpose.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, called for an end to single-word or phrase judgments in Ofsted inspections and labelled them “brutal and counterproductive”.

He added: “Government GCSE reforms and the use of performance tables to drive traditional academic subjects have placed too much pressure on young people and have been at the expense of other subjects such as the creative arts.

“The system needs to be rebalanced and we must do better in particular for the ‘forgotten third’ of young people who fall short in maths and English each year.”

Last month, a Beyond Ofsted inquiry called for “transformational change” and said it found Ofsted as “having a detrimental impact on schools which some perceive as toxic”.

The inquiry, chaired by former schools minister Lord Jim Knight and sponsored by the National Education Union, recommends the school inspection system should be overhauled.

A poll, commissioned by the Beyond Ofsted inquiry, suggested the majority of teachers believe Ofsted inspections are inaccurate.

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman said Ofsted has made changes to reduce pressures felt by school leaders and “will do more” to address concerns raised by the coroner following the inquest into the death of Mrs Perry.

Mrs Spielman also apologised on behalf of the schools regulator to the family and friends of Mrs Perry.

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