Stephen Tierney, the Chair of Headteachers' Roundtable, set out in a piece that can be seen on Schools Week why they believe the English schools inspectorate should be placed on hiatus. Their #PauseOfsted campaign is concerned that:
- There is a systemic disadvantage for schools serving poorer communities
- Ofsted's new inspection framework may be perpetuating inequality.
They say that what is needed instead is "a system founded on the principle that there is no single way to improve a school", suggesting that this can be done "peer-to-peer".
They call for schools to withdraw from Ofsted their staff currently working as inspectors to pressure for radical change to the inspection model.
Parentkind has decided, after reflection, not to endorse the #PauseOfsted campaign. We strive to represent parent voice in education, recognising that parents will often have radically differing views from one another about almost every topic affecting schools. However, the research we carried out with parents in responding to the consultation on Ofsted's new framework broadly suggests that parents are supportive of the change in direction the inspectorate has taken.
Not only that, but earlier research (sample size = 295) carried out in late 2017 to respond to the National Audit Office’s (NAO) Value for Money Study revealed that 60% of parents agreed that they value having an independent body assessing how well their child's school is performing (where nevertheless a significant minority of 27% disagreed). Although results were lower in some instances when it came to Ofsted in practice - only 21% agreed that Ofsted values the views of parents, where 54% disagreed - parents tended to be supportive of Ofsted in principle.
What our research found
In early 2019, 316 parents responded to our Dotdigital survey about Ofsted's proposed new inspection framework. We found:
- 83% agreed or strongly agreed that Ofsted's proposed shift to include an assessment of curriculum and away from a focus on exam results is a good approach
- 82% were in favour of the new ‘quality of education’ key judgement
- 76% agreed that it was important that Ofsted clamps down on off-rolling.
However, our respondents did not look to Ofsted reports as the final word when it comes to judging a school's merits or suitability for their child’s learning needs:
- 91% of parents had looked at an Ofsted report within the previous two years, but 90% of parents disagreed (and almost half [48%] of parents strongly disagreed) that "Ofsted reports tell parents everything they need to know about a school"
- 59% felt that Ofsted does not do enough to take parents' views into account
- 80% agreed that Ofsted reports should include feedback specifically about how well a school engages with its parent community.
Now that the new inspection framework has been implemented, we also welcome that Ofsted is making its school reports shorter and easier to digest, which will benefit parents in being able to see key information at a glance. The move will help to make reports accessible to a broader base of the parent community, especially those with lower literacy levels, or whose first language is not English.
There is more work to be done in ensuring that the majority of parents find Ofsted reports accessible and a reliable indicator of a school's merits, providing them with the information that is important to them. In order to progress, we encourage the inspectorate to continue to consult with parents, such as through focus groups, and give serious thought to including a judgement on how well a school engages its parent community in its reports. As the NAO suggested in its Ofsted's Inspection of Schools report, "Ofsted should build on its research and take action to engage more with parents and make inspection reports more useful to them. In particular, it should consider how it can collect more feedback from parents and how it can reflect this in its reports."
Parentkind continues to advocate mandating our blueprint for parent-friendly schools as a mechanism all schools can adapt to engage their parent community, and which would be useful to Ofsted in liaising with parents to gather their feedback during inspections. We will also closely monitor parental attitudes and trends when it comes to the work of Ofsted, with future research on the new reports and inspection framework. Our findings will be made publicly available.
We continue to be willing to engage with all education stakeholders, and to discuss our parent voice research on a subject we know is close to the hearts of everybody involved in the education sector, parents and practitioners alike.