Jasneet Samrai is the Deputy Director of Centre Think Tank, a think tank and pressure group that supports a comprehensive welfare system alongside free markets. All views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent Backbench’s stance. Members of Centre Think Tank will be contributing more pieces to Backbench over the coming weeks and months.
Earlier this month, Maria Miller said that Ofsted had committed a “massive failure” over the sexual abuse that happens in our schools. This is due to them failing to implement new procedures and inspection criteria on time.
Additionally, after this, they also failed to reprimand schools for not recording allegations of sexual impropriety correctly. These massive failings are a clear example of safeguarding breaches, and therefore, action needs to be taken by the Government. This case demonstrates that Ofsted is a failing service and needs to be abolished instead of being replaced by an alternative watchdog that prioritises students and their safety before schools and their statistics.
In this article, I will push towards such a solution, outlining why a new body is needed and why it is the best policy solution towards solving multiple current concerns with Ofsted.
What does Ofsted do?
When considering whether we should replace this investigative body or not, the first thing to focus on is what Ofsted does. On the Government website, they say their role is to ensure “that organisations providing education, training and care services in England do so to a high standard for children and students.”
They do this by performing inspections in educational establishments, eventually giving them a rating, some steps for improvement, and then publishing them online. Ofsted is also supposed to intervene when schools are failing and not delivering the “high standard” of education and care that should be taking place.
The other thing to note when talking about Ofsted is that the body is only existent in England. This is due to education being a devolved area of policy. However, whilst this article focuses primarily on Ofsted, its arguments can be applied to any other nation in the UK. This is because they all have their own regulatory bodies: Wales has ‘Estyn’, Scotland has ‘Education Scotland’, and Northern Ireland has the ‘Education and Training Inspectorate’. Whilst these bodies may have differing responsibilities, they operate similarly and hence also need reform.
What is Ofsted doing wrong?
The first argument towards reform is the significant number of safeguarding failures that they have not picked up during inspections or have not been acted on, even when schools end up in the media. So, for example, there are cases of children not having access to toilets during school lessons, with this being an area of research that I focused on last year.
This has been focused on within the press, yet Ofsted has failed to investigate the issue thoroughly. Meaning, many schools and their bathroom policies have slipped through the net. Moreover, during inspections, access to the bathroom during lesson time is not an area that is mentioned or focused on during Ofsted inspections. This alone shows that Ofsted fails to pick up basic safeguarding hazards, ignoring basic rights like the right to go to the toilet. This has led to some horrific outcomes, such as pupils bleeding through their clothes when on their period or pupils wetting themselves in lessons.
Yet, it is just not this case. As mentioned in the introduction to this article, it is not only toilet access that Ofsted is ignoring. There are other fundamental rights that Ofsted have failed to protect, such as the right to safety. This has been demonstrated by them not recording sexual impropriety correctly, with them not taking the necessary steps needed when tackling sexual abuse in schools.
It is important to stress that this a widespread issue and is not limited to just a few schools. This is demonstrated by the project ‘Everyone’s invited’, which had over 16,000 testimonies from students. This widespread failure by Ofsted to pick up such incidents and also the reluctance to focus on schools’ policies on sexual assault and impropriety during inspections, suggests that safety is not their top priority. This lack of focus on pupils’ wellbeing is far from the “high standards” that they claim to hold, with them actively failing to protect pupil’s safety. These two examples demonstrate that hugely.
Ofsted is not only failing to notice and act on safeguarding issues during inspections, but they are also a body that is out of reach for the majority of students. This is due to pupils being unable to access the service directly. Instead, they have to rely on their parents or caregivers to report an issue if their educational institution fails to act.
This means the power is out of the pupils’ hands, and instead, in the hands of others, who may fail to act even if a student wants an issue reported. As well as this, pupils may be afraid to talk to their parents about certain issues due to fear of any potential repercussions or cultural stigma. Moreover, the sheer diversity in school policy – which Ofsted allows – means that different schools may develop different conclusions in individual cases. This means that there is a lack of standardisation, which should not be the case when safeguarding issues are concerned.
Towards a solution
These major issues need to be solved, which could be done by abolishing Ofsted and introducing a new school’s watchdog that is easily accessible to students. Like Ofsted, it would oversee academic standards and teaching, but it would also prioritise safety within schools.
Moreover, we should also redesign the new schooling structure so that all schools have the same internal policies and follow the same procedures regarding the handling of pupils and any issues that may arise with them. This new watchdog will then have to ensure these are being implemented in each educational institution. They also can investigate schools and individual members of staff who are failing to follow these.
Lastly, they would also have a route in which pupils can talk to staff about issues that they may have. This gives them the power to report concerns directly and without any possible delay, inaction or interference from the people around them.