Ofsted ‘poorly understood’ claims Spielman in final annual report

Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of Ofsted, has said that the inspectorate is underfunded and poorly understood as she delivered her final report before stepping down. Ms Spielman, who will leave office next month after seven years in the role, wrote in her letter accompanying the report that she was pleased to report on ‘much progress’ during her time in post. Among the developments during her tenure has been the implementation of a new inspection framework with an enhanced focus on the curriculum.

Ofsted carried out 7240 inspections of state-funded schools in the year to 31 August 2023, up from 4670 in 2021/22 and the highest number of inspections completed in the last five years. The significant increase was largely because of additional funding to catch up on inspections missed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to inspect all schools at least once between April 2021 and August 2025. Inspections in 2022/23 resulted in 88 per cent of schools judged ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’, with 90 per cent of previously ‘Good’ schools remaining so or improving to ‘Outstanding’. 75 per cent of schools that were previously rated ‘Requires Improvement’ improved to ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’, and 97 per cent of previously ‘Inadequate’ schools improved also.

There has been increasing debate about the role and future of Ofsted in the past year. Particular focus has been given to the impact of Ofsted’s single-word inspection judgements, especially in the wake of the death of Ruth Perry, Headteacher at Caversham Primary School, in January 2023. No mention is made of Ms Perry’s death in the report. Ms Spielman does note there has been ‘a wave of publicly expressed discontent about issues that Ofsted alone cannot resolve’. She added that Ofsted’s role is ‘poorly understood’ noting that government policy limits its work ‘to the diagnostic function of inspection’. Ms Spielman feels clarification is needed that Ofsted is ‘not a policy-making department’. She also argues that in the ‘wider framework’ of public service accountability, inspections for health, adult social care, police forces, fire services and prisons all use a ‘very similar’ grading system.  

More contentiously, Ms Spielman suggests in the letter that Ofsted is ‘routinely told that inspection now feels collaborative and supportive’. However, this was contradicted by figures released from the NAHT union from their own survey data, which found that the top 5 words given by respondents when asked how Ofsted made them feel were: anxious, sick, stressed, terrified and dread. The union received 1890 responses from its members to a survey conducted in September/October this year.  85 per cent reported that they were ‘unconfident’ or ‘very unconfident’ in Ofsted, while 78 per cent said they thought Ofsted inspectors were not able to fully understand and evaluate a school in the time they spend on site. This last point chimes with a point made by Ms Spielman in her letter, in which she notes that ‘Relative to school budgets, the current government allocation to school inspection is about a quarter of what it was 20 years ago’, and as a consequence ‘school inspections are necessarily shorter and more intense; reports are necessarily briefer’.

Responding to Ofsted’s annual report Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary said it: ‘rightly reflects the achievements of schools, which have come against a difficult backdrop post-pandemic – including a cost of living crisis, continued funding challenges, and amid a growing crisis in staff recruitment and retention.’ He added: ‘However, Ofsted still seems to be in denial about the growing consensus across the education sector that as an inspectorate, it needs fundamental reform. We do not recognise the picture being painted of schools being largely positive about the inspection process – our evidence tells a very different story.’

Full annual report: https://tinyurl.com/2p9ts52a

In the UK Samaritans (www.samaritans.org) can be contacted on freephone 116 123, or email jo@samaritans.org

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