Exclusive: Ofsted are heavily favouring academies and ‘free schools’ in inspections, claim teachers

Teachers claim that Ofsted, favours Academies and Free Schools when inspecting and also claim a new marking scheme when inspecting is unfair. John-Paul Dickie investigates.

Ofsted Michael Wilshaw

Ofsted, the independent organisation that reports to Parliament on quality of schools and other educational establishments, has been favouring Academies and Free Schools in what teachers claim is the government’s plan to say that they have improved education and schools during their time in government. This comes weeks after schools are accused of bribing worst pupils to stay away when Ofsted inspectors call.

Academies and free schools (not ran by a local authority), were a priority for the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, when he came into office back in May 2010 and he has pushed and pledged for all schools to become Academies. There were 203 Academies in May 2010, when the Coalition government took over but there are now 1580 Academies and a YouTube video from the Department of Education shows the Department pushing for schools to become Academies.

They are going to say we are crap until we change

One teacher I spoke to said “I think that they want all state schools to become Academies so they are essentially going to say we are all crap until we change, its Gove’s policy, and it’s totally political”. No surprises though – as the current head of Ofsted was formerly head of Mossbourne academy which opened in 2004.

Michael Gove

I contacted Ofsted and the Department of Education and put the claim made by teachers that Ofsted inspections have been favouring Academies and Free Schools over state run school to them. A Department of Education spokesperson said that the claim was “nonsense”. The DoE spokesperson continued to say that “Ofsted has a robust, rigorous, fair and transparent inspection framework which applies equally to all state-funded schools – academies and maintained schools”. Ofsted simply said “All schools whether Academies, free schools or maintained schools will be inspected under the same arrangements”.

The criticisms from teachers are based on self-interest and a culture of denial

Chris McGoven, Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education said that the claims “A majority of schools it has classified as “outstanding” were not outstanding in teaching – a nonsense, then, to rate them highly”. He continued to say that “given Ofsted’s past failure to properly discharge its responsibilities the new Chief Inspector is trying to tighten things up. He should be supported. The criticisms from teachers that you mention are based on self-interest and a culture of denial”

Teachers have also told me that since January, when the new framework was introduced, schools have been graded differently than before. Before where one area of the inspection wasn’t very good, the mark for that would be taken into perspective for the overall mark but now teachers claim that if one area of an inspection isn’t very good (e.g. good, satisfactory or inadequate), the rest of the areas will be graded the same as the area which didn’t do so well. From September, another new framework will be introduced which will included a zero-notice policy.

A second teacher I spoke to, on condition of anonymity, said that “the whole framework has changed now”. Before, they said, If there was one area of concern but everything else was good, outstanding or whatever, and then the school would be graded according to bulk however now if there’s even one little aspect that’s unsatisfactory and needs to improve everything has to be looked at again. This particular teacher put these changes down to government tightening up.

Academy School Status

Ofsted said “Under the new school inspection framework introduced in January this year, schools are judged on four key judgements: pupils achievement, teaching and learning, leadership and management and the behaviour and safety of pupils. These areas of a schools work interrelate which means that in a number of schools, the four grades may be the same. However, this is not universally the case, there are lots of examples where the grades will be different. But if any one of these four main areas is judged inadequate then the schools overall effectiveness will also be judged inadequate”.

My interpretation of this response from Ofsted is the claims are correct and the new grading structure is part of the new framework that was introduced in January.

Ofsted is no longer needed for school inspection. It is a quango that can go

The Department of Education has said that it’s “confident” that the new framework “will help drive up standards”. They say that they have “brought in changes to the Ofsted inspections to focus on the things that matter most to parents: quality of teaching; quality of leadership and management; attainment and results; and behaviour”.

Emeritus Professor Michael Bassey of Nottingham Trent University has called for Ofsted to  be scrapped. In October 2010, he made a submission to the Education select committee about Ofsted that could be summarised in 15 words:  “Ofsted is no longer needed for school inspection. It is a quango that can go”. Michael Bassey has been a fierce critic of Ofsted for a long time and he says that it does very little and costs a lot of money. Mr Bassey recently wrote a book, Education for the Inevitable: schooling when the oil runs out (2011, Book Guild Publishing, Brighton), which includes a seven page section entitled ‘Goodbye Ofsted’ which further provides points and reasons why Ofsted should be scrapped. The National Union of Teachers has also expressed their disappointment at the recent changes and consultation in relation to inspection and framework changes.