Validity of Ofsted inspections called into question

Teachers railed against Christine Gilbert's assessment. Photo: Ofsted

Teachers have railed against Christine Gilbert's assessment. Photo: Ofsted

Criticisms issued by the chief of Ofsted this week have stirred up disagreement among local education professionals along the East London line.

Chief officer Christine Gilbert issued a stark warning to local authorities to improve standards in children’s services in the watchdog’s annual report, published on Monday.

“Nine councils are performing poorly,” she said, “principally because they are making an inadequate contribution to ensuring that children and young people are adequately safeguarded.”

Ian Timpany, a teacher at Central Foundations Girls School in Tower Hamlets, disagreed with some of Gilbert’s comments. “There is just a culture of knocking anything that the schools are doing. I’m not even sure how true it is. There’s a problem with the measuring [of services], not the outcomes,” he said.

Mr Timpany, the NASUWT representative for the borough, added that Gilbert’s comments about a “core” of inadequate teaching were misleading. “It may be true for a tiny minority of teachers, but not in Tower Hamlets,” he said.

Even when local authorities were seen as performing well, the new report dampened their achievements: “The large majority of councils provide good children’s services overall, often in challenging circumstances. However, even in some of the councils judged to be performing well overall there are pockets of underperformance.”

A teacher in Hackney, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “I partly agree with Christine Gilbert’s comment that ‘schools with a high proportion of pupils from deprived backgrounds are still more likely to be inadequate,’ but this is not due to inadequate teaching.

“From what I have seen, teachers in these [deprived] schools always plan to inspire, challenge and extend children as they have to engage children more than in other situations. The workload in deprived urban schools is considerably higher.”

She added that the reason many deprived inner London schools were reported as “inadequate” was due to bad behaviour. “Schools are committed to improving. It cannot happen overnight,” she said.

According to her, Ofsted put intense pressure on teachers when they inspected. “Ofsted inspections are far too arbitrary – they are seen as a threat to many staff. The panic and stress that they cause is ridiculous.

“I know from my own practice that I can deliver outstanding lessons, but should the children arrive and not be in the right frame of mind for learning then that lesson could go from outstanding to inadequate within minutes.”

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