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Out of school: Michael Gove was perfectly justified in not reappointing Baroness Morgan as Ofsted chair (credit: Richard Gardner/Rex)

In the world of education it is rare to find a subject on which both Left and Right agree wholeheartedly. Yet here we are: the abolition or at least the reform of the schools inspectorate Ofsted is something that both sides want.

The arguments from the Left (voiced in the past by the teaching unions) have been relatively consistent for years and are often the ones held by most teachers. They point out that it is strange to trust the judgement of Ofsted inspectors because they are merely teachers or headteachers who couldn't cut it in schools. Others believe that it is impossible to judge teachers on a 10-20-minute visit to a single lesson or indeed judge an entire school from a visit lasting two or three days. Some think that it is very discouraging for a teacher to be judged in this fashion and it doesn't help them to improve. There is truth in all of these claims.

Indeed, as the Times Education Supplement online forum will confirm, there are two things that teachers complain about incessantly: bad behaviour and Ofsted. As such, any criticism of Ofsted has always been interpreted as teachers moaning and their complaints have gone unanswered.

Britain has not always had a national inspectorate. Ofsted evolved into its modern form in 1992 under John Major's government. Many English-speaking countries, like the US, Canada and Australia and many other countries across the world, do not have inspectorates. Of those that do, many do not have the same remit as ours. They don't try to inspect every school, nor do they publish reports about schools or shut them down. Why then, do we feel we need an all-powerful inspectorate for our schools?

Because it just feels right, doesn't it? Ofsted makes families feel secure that someone is keeping our schools in line. Of course there are other methods of ensuring quality in our schools. One could leave school choice to the market and genuinely give families choice of school (unlike the current system of pseudo-choice). The market would weed out the weaker schools and the stronger schools would be inundated with applications. But that would require a voucher system and the acceptance that certain schools would fail and close. Currently as a country we simply don't have the national stomach for a more competitive system, so we're back to square one. Ofsted makes sense.

Except that it doesn't make sense when the inspectors are not able to judge schools properly. Such was the charge recently lobbed at Ofsted by the right-leaning think-tanks Civitas and Policy Exchange: Ofsted, they suggested, might not be doing the excellent job that parents presume and its reports cannot always be trusted. This is important not just for parents, but for teachers too. Ofsted, more than anything else, shapes teaching practices in schools.
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May 16th, 2014
11:05 PM
Basically, middle class Labour have betrayed the education of British children for the money paid by the teaching unions. It was the middle socialists who mocked discipline and when chaos ensued in the classes, they were unable to cope.As the Greeks said" Those the Gods wish to destroy, they first make mad".

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