Ofsted’s grade fixation fails pupils and teachers | Letters

Readers respond to Ofsted’s new guidelines and plans to re-examine its inspection system

The chief inspector has launched a consultation on the new framework for the inspection of schools and colleges (Ofsted plans overhaul of inspections to look beyond exam results, 16 January). While we welcome most of Ofsted’s new inspection framework, it is doomed to fail unless Ofsted drops its flawed four-point grading system.

Schools and colleges will remain fixated on fear-inspiring grades. Institutions labelled “outstanding” will obsess with keeping it, stifling innovation. Schools “requiring improvement” or dubbed “inadequate” will lose pupils, staff, funds and morale, undermining their ability to improve. The overwhelming power of a single number will continue to create personal and professional casualties. The fraught relationship between Ofsted and teachers will remain and there will be no reduction in teacher workload.

Ofsted claims grades are wanted by parents, but where is the evidence? We asked Ofsted and there is none. Ofsted should give parents a well-written paragraph, summarising strengths and areas for improvement, with a bespoke report to give a sense of what it is like to be a pupil/student/teacher in that school or college.

There is no educational justification for reducing the complexity of a school or college to a single grade, and overwhelming evidence that it causes harm. We appeal to the chief inspector to transform Ofsted into a force for genuine improvement by dropping the grades.
Prof Colin Richards Spark Bridge, Prof Frank Coffield London, Prof Peter Earley London, Prof John Bynner London, Prof Bernard Barker Leicester, Mark Quinn London, Dr Helena McVeigh London, Titus Alexander Kings Langley, David Godfrey London, Glynis Bradley-Peat London, David Powell Huddersfield

• Whether or not there is any substance to Ofsted’s apparent volte-face on its inspection regime – and based on experience, I’m certainly not holding my breath – the damage has already been done, and is now irreversible. For approaching three decades, the professional identity and autonomy of teachers have been under concerted assault from Ofsted and the noxious “audit and accountability culture”; and the impact on the morale and mental health of teachers and children alike has been catastrophic.

Anyone teaching in universities has also seen the appalling fallout – students less able to think critically and exercise their own learning autonomy, having been fed on a relentless diet of narrow, unimaginative test-driven teaching and the examination, and the accompanying tyranny of being governed by numbers.

The psyche of the whole schooling system has been comprehensively colonised by decades of this Gradgrindism, and even if Ofsted’s mooted changes come to reality, they can never reverse the damage that’s been done to the subtle, delicate pedagogical experience of teaching and learning.

The only way to reverse this malaise is to replace Ofsted with a supportive inspectorate that empowers, rather than punishes, bullies and publicly humiliates.
Dr Richard House
(Former university senior lecturer in education), Stroud, Gloucestershire

• Well, Ofsted? What have you got to say for yourself? Speak up. You mean to tell me that, throughout the last 28 years, instead of assessing schools for the quality of their teaching, staff dedication and competence, you have merely focused on exam results? Disgraceful. This not only represents a shameful waste of resources but is tantamount to cheating since, as you well know, exam results are readily accessible to all and sundry.

You remain the single biggest source of disruption throughout the entire education system. Your actions have led to the resignation of hundreds of excellent teachers with many more suffering from stress, anxiety and high blood pressure. You are directly responsible for not only the cancellation of countless art and sporting activities but, in many cases, their removal from the curricula. You have consequently failed a generation of pupils for whom instead of the rounded educational experience they were entitled to, their schools were transformed into exam factories with the pupils’ own strengths and talents largely neglected.

I shall have to report to your guardian, Damian Hinds, to discuss your future relevance at this establishment. In the meantime, you will remain in detention with a dunce hat on until further notice.
Sally Elliff
Harrogate, North Yorkshire

• Your report describes Ofsted’s new framework, including how “A new inspection area – personal development – will rate how a school prepares pupils for life in modern Britain”. How it will assess this is not detailed, but it will almost certainly overlook the most obvious outcome measurement, which is to actually check with ex-pupils how/whether their education prepared them for life in modern Britain.

Has any Guardian reader ever been contacted by their secondary school to ask them how the teaching they received equipped them for adult life?

It is hard to name any other service where the customer is not routinely asked for their opinion on the service and how it could be improved, yet in this fundamental area the feedback loop is closed to the very people who could provide vital, improvement information.

Are there any examples of where ex-pupils provide feedback to their alma mater in a meaningful way? If not, is it too late to at least start a conversation about how people who have been through the education system can inform the process?
Nick Broadhead

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