How an understanding of professionalism underpins our response to Ofsted’s Big Listen

Ofsted inspections need to change. Earlier this year, almost all of more than 2,000 members who responded to our poll agreed, with 83% wanting inspections paused, and 15% suggesting inspection should continue while reforms take place. Even some of those who didn’t believe reform was needed suggested that the single word judgement should go, or that inspection of safeguarding needed to be changed. 

The big question for the Big Listen of course is ‘how should inspections change’? At the Chartered College of Teaching, we believe that any changes in policy and practice must be underpinned by a focus on developing and sustaining teacher professionalism. In particular, Ofsted needs to consider consistency, context, and complexity. 

First though, we need to consider the negative consequences of inspection. The arguments for change are not new. As one of our members told us:

“numerous studies highlighted the negative effects on teachers’ morale, stress levels, and job satisfaction, as well as the increased pressure on school leaders. Other negative consequences include: increased workload, stress, and a focus on compliance rather than teaching and learning. I personally believe that these inspections promote a culture of blame.”

Chartered College of Teaching member

High-stakes inspection can lead to disruption and narrowing of teaching practices, a loss of innovation, decreasing motivation and creativity, all of which can lead to teacher and school leader attrition. Teachers have lost trust in the inspection system, and they don’t believe it supports them to improve.

One of the biggest concerns from our members was the lack of consistency in inspection:

“In my experience there is no consistency between the skills, experience and emotional intelligence of inspectors. It’s pot luck if you get a ‘nice’ one or a ‘tough’ one. It’s not fair.”

Chartered College of Teaching member

Members pointed to inspectors’ lack of expertise in the subject, qualification, phase or setting under inspection, or the particular needs of the children, leading to a lack of faith in the accuracy of judgement. There were calls for more training and higher standards for inspectors. But for an inspection system to support teacher professionalism, there needs to be a shift in the culture of inspection: inspectors as experienced and respected leaders in education; inspections as professional conversations about strengths and weaknesses, where teachers can “show off how well they do” for the children in their care; and a focus on collaboration, where the aim is improvement.

This leads to a clear need for inspection to recognise the context in which schools operate. Teachers and leaders are well aware of how important it is to get schooling right for every student, they understand the need to be accountable for the education they provide, and they want to share and learn from others. They want to be accountable for

“the holistic development of the students, where they are striving and why, not based wholly on what progress/grades the previous year 6/11 students achieved and how much work is in their exercise books.”

Chartered College of Teaching member

Too often, members feel that inspectors have made up their minds about the judgement they will make before they even set foot in a school, based mainly on attainment data. And they feel they are being held accountable for issues outside their control, for student mental health and wellbeing, for the impacts of poverty, for an overcrowded curriculum, in a system that lacks respect for their commitment, knowledge and hard work. An inspection system focussed on professionalism would recognise and value teacher expertise and their understanding of context, and would reward teacher agency over their teaching.

Acknowledging context requires also recognising complexity. In particular, the four-point judgement scale is an attempt to simplify both the nature of a school, and the different aspects of an inspection. As one member says,  

“It feels very archaic to have the complexity of assessing the quality of a large educational institution (each functioning in varying challenging contexts) boiled down to a word like ‘good’. I understand wanting to tackle transparency, but oversimplification is far more of a danger here.”

Chartered College of Teaching member

Instead, members suggest that an Ofsted inspection should be “one among many” pieces of data, perhaps a “report card that reflects the complexity of a school or college.”  An inspection system that focussed on building professionalism would seek ways to encourage “greater reflection on the strengths and weaknesses within a setting.” It could also underpin deeper and more nuanced conversations with parents and carers about school provision, to support both choice and continued partnership in children’s education.

Evidence shows us that high-stakes accountability systems curb teacher professionalism. What we need instead is an inclusive approach that puts a stronger emphasis on peer learning, feedback and trust. Inspection that teachers and leaders can trust because it is consistent. Inspection that offers constructive feedback, based on context, that encourages learning within school and between schools. Deep conversations between experts, that simplifies the complexity just enough to be understood, and respects the professional agency of those who know that complexity best. In short, we need inspection that is underpinned by teacher professionalism.


  • John Bald FCCT
    May 14, 2024 at 6:02 pm  -  Reply

    Aside from certain key princiiples of professionalism, I see a risk of defining teaching too closely to allow for individual strengths, partiuclarly exceptional strength in one or two areas. As an example, the currrent teacher standards require regular marking, where at least one of the most successful schools in the country does not mark at all, but uses other forms of feedback.Its claim to success is based on unprecedented examination results, a criterion that is seen as controversial in itself, and is by no means the only one. One person’s view of “holistic” development may not be in the interest of a pupil who either has exceptional ability in a particular area, or a form of SEND that does not fit someone else’s definition. So I’m careful of any definition of professionalism that may seek to promote inclusion and diversity, but may have the effect of restricting both.

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