UK: Unions highlight shortcomings of Ofsted report on ‘stuck’ schools’

published 20 January 2020 updated 29 January 2020

Education unions in the UK have said that a report detailing how some schools have improved and others have not does not paint the full picture, and school inspection must be reviewed.

On 8 January, Ofsted, the UK’s Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills, published a report, Fight or Flight? How ‘stuck’ schools are overcoming isolation. The evaluation report investigated why some schools that had previously delivered a low standard of education for long periods of time had managed to sustainably improve and others have not. Ofsted is the government department charged with inspecting services that provide education and skills for students of all ages.

NEU: New inspection framework is not fit for purpose

The National Education Union (NEU) said that Ofsted needed to acknowledge its own role in this situation. “Ofsted identifies the problem of ‘stuck’ schools but persistently and resolutely fails to recognise its own role in creating the problem,” said Mary Bousted, the NEU’s Joint General Secretary and member of the Education International’s Executive Board.

She highlighted how recent research by the Education Policy Institute showed that schools in deprived circumstances were much more likely to find it hard to get out of their Ofsted category than schools in thriving suburbs. The Institute is an education policy think tank that aims to promote high quality education outcomes through research and analysis.

Teacher flight

“Ofsted is not the independent and objective arbiter that it’s making itself out to be,” Bousted said, adding that “fear of Ofsted is a key factor in school leader and teacher flight from these schools”.

She also noted that Ofsted judgements routinely fail to recognise the work of schools in challenging areas with deprived student intakes. Even when these schools are doing well in terms of student progress, she said, Ofsted “disproportionately and unfairly awards them negative grades” which can end the careers of teachers and school leader.

Judging that the new inspection framework is “not fit for purpose”,” she underlined that “far from being a force for educational improvement in the areas that need it most, Ofsted is, unfortunately, part of the problem, not the solution”.

NASUWT: Unions are part of the solution

The National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) also found that the report echoed its experience of the barriers that schools can encounter in their improvement journeys. It agreed with the Education Policy Institute’s report that schools say that the advice they receive comes from too many quarters, is often contradictory, and fails to address the reality of the challenges that they face.

“It is, therefore, disappointing that these important messages are distracted from by the inclusion in the report of unverified assertions by two schools that ‘antagonistic union voice’ had been an obstacle to their progress,” said Chris Keates, NASUWT Acting General Secretary.

She observed that, sometimes, poor employers persist in not seeing the work of trade unions in legitimately representing the concerns of their members as part of the solution to the challenges they face.

Mutually inclusive goals

Keates called on employers “to recognise the tried and tested principle that providing high quality educational experiences for pupils and securing fair and equitable working conditions for teachers are mutually inclusive goals.

“Working constructively with trade unions is the best way for all schools to secure working conditions for teachers that will help to transform the learning outcomes for pupils.”