How could Ofsted and the Department for Education reform school inspections in England?

Think tank: Institute for Government

Author(s): Sam Freedman

December 28, 2023

This report from UK think tank the Institute for Government looks at careful reform of school regulation and inspections.

Careful reform to school regulation and inspections is needed to build on the benefits of inspection while reducing the risk that teachers will be put off entering school leadership. The new chief Inspector Sir Martyn Oliver starts his five-year term – on 1 January – at a time when Ofsted is under heavy fire. Inspections are valued by parents and many school leaders but are used in too blunt a way by the Department for Education to fire headteachers.

The report finds that large cuts in Ofsted’s funding made by the Department for Education have put the quality of inspections at risk, even though ministers are more reliant than ever on these judgments to make decisions about firing headteachers. Arguing against a pause in inspections, as called for by headteacher unions following the inquest in headteacher Ruth Perry’s death, and warning that a radical overhaul of schools regulation could cause damage to education outcomes in the long-term, Sam Freedman sets out how to improve the existing system in a way that would ensure it worked better for school leaders, while not sacrificing the interests of young people or their parents.

Reforms also need to take into account the wider work Ofsted does – the majority of Ofsted’s funding is not for schools related work – and the potential knock-on consequences for regulators in other sectors like health and policing.