Family & Education

Jewish teachers join call for reform of Ofsted

Positive Ofsted campaign calls for significant changes to inspection regime


LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 23: Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman arrives at BBC Broadcasting House on April 23, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Rob Pinney/Getty Images)

Dozens of Jewish teachers have backed a campaign for significant reform of Ofsted as the inspection service faces mounting public demand for change.

School assessment has become a topic of growing debate in recent weeks following the death of a primary headteacher, who took her own life after her school was downgraded.

In response, Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman promised improvements to the inspection regime at the end of last week.

But the Positive Ofsted Reform campaign, which has attracted the support of many Jewish educators, particularly from the more Orthodox sector, is looking for more extensive revision of inspection procedures.

Without serious reform, it warned in a paper published earlier this month, relationships with teachers will “continue to be under strain”.

Ms Spielman said the service was looking at returning more quickly to those schools which need to improve safeguarding but “are otherwise performing well” in order to check progress.

Ofsted was also piloting a “more robust” complaints process.

But she defended the single-word grade system to mark a school’s overall performance — which some have criticised as too blunt an instrument — as “useful” for parents.

Since the introduction of a new inspection framework in 2019, Ofsted had received good feedback from the “vast majority” of those who had experienced it, she said.

Positive Ofsted Reform, however, believes the grading categories should be reviewed and it is also calling for a return to longer inspection reports which contain more evidence to support inspectors’ findings.

It also believes that complaints against inspections should be adjudicated independently, rather than internally as at present.

The campaign is also concerned at a shift in emphasis brought in with the new framework — with less focus on educational attainment that could be objectively measured by exam results and more on personal development and the teaching of the curriculum.

This has allowed more subjective ideas of teaching methods to creep in — and Ofsted has become overly prescriptive in favouring certain methods, the campaign believes.

Its report also draws attention to the perception among some faith schools that the inspectorate is biased against them — and contends that the discretion they are permitted in teaching relationships and sex education is “consistently ignored” by Ofsted.

Judith Nemeth, the executive headteacher of the Lubavitch Multi-Academy Trust in London, who supports the reform campaign, said, “Positive Ofsted Reform has support from many organisations which wish to see a more accountable school inspection organisation, which is more closely monitored and accountable, thereby avoiding the promotion of specific political values.

Ofsted’s response, she added, “to the tragedy of the extreme trauma of the headteacher who was tragically driven to take her own life has been heartless and lacks any sense of Ofsted’s self-awareness. The system of one-word outcomes, which do not reflect the education of a school, and the system whereby the impact of lack of paperwork can bring down a whole school represents a broken system.”

Another supporter of the campaign is Samuel Rosenthal, deputy head of Ateres High School in Gateshead, which lodged a complaint after its recent inspection, alleging that the inspectors’ original positive evaluation of its personal, health and social education programme was overturned by Ofsted’s quality assurance unit.

From his experience, he said, “many schools in the Jewish community have been unfairly downgraded because of a lack of full compliance — in Ofsted’s eyes — in one minor area. Whereas the ‘report card’ approach proposed by Labour and some in the Positive Reform camp would give a much fairer and accurate picture of our schools.

“Schools which are indeed outstanding in many areas would benefit from having this acknowledged rather than clouded over by an overall judgment that focuses on the lowest common denominator that can be found.”

In addition, he said, after the school’s own complaint, “I am left with no doubt that it’s vital for complaints to be handled by an independent body rather than Ofsted themselves. 

“I have never received a satisfactory answer why Ateres was downgraded in the area of personal development… and our inspectors were highly impressed with our PD.

“Every time I pressed Ofsted on this, they dodged my question, whereas an independent body would undoubtedly have considered our challenges properly.”

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