Ofsted director backs calls for schools to inspect each other

Ofsted would support a move towards a radically overhauled system in which it no longer carried out front-line school inspections, a senior official has said.

Sean Harford, the watchdog’s national director for schools, told the Association of School and College Leaders’ (ASCL) annual conference in London today that, in in 10 years’ time, schools could be assessed by each other under a peer-review system, rather than by inspectors.

In this system, he said, Ofsted’s role would be to “moderate” judgements and to make sure the system was rigorous rather than being based on “cosy fireside chats between colleagues”.

Mr Harford noted ASCL’s call for an expansion of school-to-school improvement. He said he was “keen to work with the grain in this respect”, although it would make the watchdog’s role “very different”.

“If Ofsted is still around in 10 years’ time, the way we inspect and what we inspect would be very different in the type of school-led improvement system envisioned in the ASCL blueprint,” he said.

“If that is the case for the future, I would see Ofsted’s role being to moderate judgements and assess the robustness of peer-review arrangements – making sure they weren’t just cosy fireside chats between colleagues.”

He added that Ofsted “strongly supported” the idea of schools “evaluating each other’s performance” – as long as school leaders were knowledgeable and well-trained.

Mr Harford said Ofsted’s decision to dramatically increase the number of teachers that carried out its inspections “could be seen as a key staging post on this journey towards a fully realised self-improving system.”

“I have very little doubt that during the five years of the next parliament, we will continue to see our education sector evolve further down the path towards a fully self-improving system,” he said.

During his speech Mr Harford also said that the government’s new requirement for Ofsted to inspect whether schools promoted “British values” had “made life difficult” for the inspectorate. But these checks were “one of the most important things we are doing”, he added.

“Our inspectors have had to go into schools serving predominantly Muslim communities in Birmingham and Tower Hamlets, Jewish schools in Hackney and Christian schools in the North East and say some uncomfortable things about how these institutions were failing to prepare their pupils for life in modern Britain.

“This has been a tough call. But it is absolutely essential…that we apply the same principles and inspect by the same standards in every school in every part of the country. Challenging intolerance – in all its forms – is the right thing for all schools to be doing.”

He said Ofsted inspectors had “been at the receiving end of some particularly lurid smears and accusations about their professional conduct” after publishing critical reports about Christian schools in the north east.

“It is right that we have a robust complaints process, but the type of mud-slinging and public bad-mouthing of inspectors we have seen recently seems to reflect a tendency on the part of a minority of institutions to deflect attention from their own palpable failure to tackle serious issues,” he said.

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