Time to give Ofsted the boot

If you want proof that Ofsted has no educational credibility, then look no further than its recent reports on the Sir John Cass secondary school in East London and the Middle Rasen primary school in Lincolnshire. In both cases, Ofsted showed itself to be illogical, illiberal and worse than useless for teachers.

In the case of Sir John Cass, the fact that the school has been rated ‘outstanding’ in its past two inspections, and is generally acknowledged to be one of the most improved inner-city schools in England, counts for little in the safeguarding-obsessed eyes of Ofsted. The school officially failed to meet certain ‘leadership and management’ criteria. In fact, it failed because it allowed sixth formers to set up an Islamic Society and a related YouTube channel. I would have thought that this was an example of students showing initiative and developing wider interests. Not according to Ofsted. Sir John Cass was accused of failing to monitor its own pupils. As a result, the school is to be placed in special measures. 

Local headteachers are on record as saying Ofsted’s judgement is too harsh. This is probably a generous assessment, but it certainly beats the response of Tower Hamlets director of education, Robert McCulloch-Graham: ‘As is common practice, we will work with the leadership of this school to address any issues identified by Ofsted.’

Really? Even if these issues are not education-related? Even if Ofsted’s decision is likely to engender mistrust among staff, pupils and parents? Is this man a director of education or an Ofsted apparatchik?

While Sir John Cass has been punished for not promoting British values enough, Middle Rasen primary school in Lincolnshire has been denied outstanding status for being too British. The Ofsted report’s main complaint is that the school fails ‘to extend pupils’ understanding of the cultural diversity of modern British society by creating opportunities for them to have firsthand interaction with their counterparts from different backgrounds beyond the immediate vicinity’. As if to exemplify this confusion, Ofsted demands Middle Rasen teach ‘British values’ in the very same breath as it criticises the school for reflecting the social make-up of the British community within which it is located.

It is outrageous that an institution as defunct and irrational as Ofsted should be judging education in this way. The only real issue the Sir John Cass and Middle Rasen reports raise is why Ofsted still exists. In its Middle Rasen report, Ofsted writes: ‘All schools must teach pupils about fundamental British values, including mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. That way they will be prepared for the future wherever they go.’ 

In this, Ofsted reveals itself to be thoroughly disingenuous. There is no social consensus over British values. So what is there to teach students other than some arbitrary, ill-defined values dreamt up by academics and politicians? When it comes to values, Ofsted has no legitimate authority to say what schools ‘must’ teach. Parents, not teachers, are best placed to judge whether the values of a school are acceptable for their children.

In urging schools to focus on values and aims rather than providing a curriculum based on knowledge, Ofsted reveals that it prefers indoctrination to education. It’s time to pass our judgement on Ofsted: it’s beyond special measures; it’s time to shut it down.

Alka Sehgal Cuthbert is reading for a PhD in the philosophy of education. She is a member of the Institute of Ideas Education Forum.

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