Ross Clark Ross Clark

Scrapping Ofsted would suit teachers – but be terrible for children

Credit: Getty images

There is one thing that seems to have gone missing from the campaign by the National Education Union (NEU) to abolish Ofsted: children. They hardly get a mention. What we do learn, from the press release announcing the NEU’s latest motion to get rid of the government’s schools’ inspection regime, is that the teaching profession ‘can be trusted to do their jobs effectively without a punitive, high-stakes system to keep them in line’. Further, Ofsted’s regime causes ‘teachers and other school staff sleepless nights, anxiety, and an urge to leave the profession’.

The teaching profession, we’re told, ‘can be trusted to do their jobs effectively’

In other words, NEU members don’t like being inspected. They would rather the government just paid them to get on with teaching without checking from time to time that they are actually doing what they are supposed to be doing. That rather than, say, putting their feet up on the desk while they allow the kids to run riot, or dumping the official curriculum and indoctrinating pupils with their own political beliefs.

It has been clear for a long time that the NEU cares rather more about teachers’ wellbeing than that of children. The union was one of the main stumbling blocks to reopening schools in the summer of 2020. It even opposed online lessons and told its members that children should not be expected to be taught for more than two or three hours a day, leading many children without proper education for months. We are still living with the consequences of this now.

But what is especially disgraceful is the NEU’s attempt to exploit the case of Reading headteacher Ruth Perry for its campaign to abolish Ofsted. Perry took her life in January 2023 after her school was downgraded from ‘outstanding’ to ‘inadequate’, something which an inquest decided had contributed to her death. I have long since learned not to attribute someone’s suicide to any one particular cause as there are often very complex reasons for people taking their lives. Does the NEU have such qualms? An inquiry, Beyond Ofsted, commissioned by the NEU, drags up Perry in its very first paragraph and makes repeated references to her as it makes its case to abolish the body and replace inspections with some kind of ‘collaborative’ procedure.

Only a public sector union would try to get away with abolishing an inspection regime on its members. I don’t think airline passengers would be too impressed if the industry announced that henceforth aircraft maintenance engineers would no longer have their work inspected in order to protect their mental health. As Amanda Spielman, former head of Ofsted, said this week, those who want rid of Ofsted are rather too focused on ‘being nice to adults’ rather than considering the children whom schools are supposed to be educating.

There is a perfectly reasonable debate to be had as to whether Ofsted reports should be summed up with one-word conclusions, and to what extent the state should lay down what gets taught in schools. It could also be debated whether Ofsted is too obsessed with woke issues. But no, teachers should not be allowed to escape being inspected. On the contrary, drifting standards in education since the pandemic suggest there may be a greater need for school inspection, to make sure that the attitudes shown by the NEU and others in trying to keep schools closed in 2020 and 2021 do not evolve into a longer-term malaise.        

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