UK: Education union concerns remain after reform to the framework of the school inspection

published 25 October 2018 updated 25 October 2018

Following the admission by the Chief Inspector of the school inspection agency Ofsted that focus on data has been a major factor in schools becoming exam factories, UK teacher unions have reiterated their views that the focus put on data has achieved the opposite of what the agency intended, namely raise school standards.

NEU: a change in focus is welcome, but will Ofsted be able to deliver change?

The effects of Ofsted’s focus on data “are clear for all to see”, commented the National Education Union (NEU) Joint General Secretary Mary Bousted, stressing “the exodus of teachers from the profession and the rising rates of mental illness among children and adolescents because of the constant pressure of testing.” Ofsted inspects and regulates services that care for children and young people, and services providing education and skills for learners of all ages in the UK.

“Rather than raising school standards”, she deplored, “Ofsted has caused them to decline,” adding that “teachers see the harm that data driven targets are doing to their students and to themselves as education professionals”.

Recognising that “no education system can exceed the quality of its teachers, and our schools are being starved of that vital resource because the constant pressure on data driven targets, promoted by Ofsted, is taking the joy out of teaching and learning,” Bousted stressed that “whilst a change in focus is welcome, the National Education Union remains acutely concerned about the ability of Ofsted to deliver this change.” The NEU believes that Ofsted is an agency which is “so discredited that it cannot achieve this U-turn in its inspection practice,” she noted.

Observing that other high performing countries operate very different school inspection and accountability systems, she also acknowledged the need to learn from the best international practice and create a new inspection system which holds schools to account, whilst supporting and developing teachers and school leaders.

NASUWT: schools must be able to demonstrate the full breadth of their contribution to students’ lives

“The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) has,  for some time, been concerned that data does not fully recognise and allow schools to demonstrate the full breadth of their contribution to the lives of their pupils,” NASUWT General Secretary Chris Keates said, responding to the same reports that Ofsted is to refocus inspections on what children are being taught rather than exam grades.

Insisting that teachers will no doubt welcome the comments from the Chief Inspector that she wants to shift the focus of inspection and treat teachers as experts, rather than data managers, Keates also went on to emphasise that “data collection, often for the purposes of inspection, is one of the biggest contributors to excessive teacher workload and if implemented effectively, the NASUWT would expect these reforms to help address the problem of excessive bureaucracy which is diverting teachers from focusing on teaching and learning.”

However, she added “the changes, if they are to genuinely support schools to continue to improve and succeed, will need to be carefully developed in close consultation with the school workforce and those that represent them”.