The future of school inspection and accountability

June 2024

There is a growing consensus that the current approach to school inspection and accountability in England is deeply flawed. While there is much that is good about the Education Inspection Framework, its implementation has been problematic. Too many school and college leaders feel that the framework allows for overly subjective judgements to be made, that the quality of inspection teams is too variable, and that inspection activity sometimes goes beyond that set out in the handbook.

In particular, the use of single-phrase judgements – outstanding, good, requires improvement, inadequate – to categorise organisations as complex as schools is inappropriate, has many unintended consequences. This is a key driver of workload and stress among leaders and teachers, and a key reason for the current recruitment and retention crisis. 

Ofsted, under the new HMCI, has made some welcome changes to the way in which inspection works, but much more ambitious reform is needed. We are heartened by the growing interest – including in Labour’s manifesto – in an alternative model based on a more rounded view of what schools do, and a more nuanced approach to supporting them to do so. 

ASCL has published two papers to help shape such an alternative model: 

  • Our 2023 policy paper on the future of inspection proposed some suggestions for immediate improvement, and some recommendations for a better approach to inspection in the longer term. 
  • Our 2024 discussion paper on an accountability model based on school report cards – Labour’s proposed approach – builds on these thoughts.  It explores different models of report card-based systems, considers the pros and cons of these models, and proposes some principles that should be applied to the introduction of such a system to schools in England. It also considers how the government could continue to ensure sufficient oversight of the system, and identification of schools in the greatest need of support, under a report card-based system.

ASCL welcomes the views of school and college leaders, policymakers, the inspectorate and other stakeholders on our proposals. To share your views on the proposals set out in either of these papers, or to offer an alternative perspective on inspection and accountability, please email by 30 September 2024

ASCL Council, our policymaking body, will be returning to this issue at its October meeting. 

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