Are OFSTED inspections the best way of marking Lancashire's schools?

Lancashire County Council has given its backing to new-style school inspections which were introduced last month.

Inspectors from OFSTED are now basing their assessments on a new framework which focuses on the quality of the education provided by a school, the behaviour of its pupils and their personal development and the standard of leadership.

OFSTED launched new-style inspections last month

OFSTED launched new-style inspections last month

Presenting a motion to a meeting of the full council, Conservative member David Foxcroft said the changes allowed schools to be judged in “a much fuller way”, instead of having a narrow focus on attainment alone.

“These inspections will change the conversation from understanding and analysing data and bringing it back to the substance of education. Teachers can be treated as experts rather than data managers – and I’m sure many of us can agree this has been a very long time coming,” County Cllr Foxcroft said.

The revised inspection guidelines indicate that schools will be expected to provide an “ambitious curriculum” and that teachers should “understand the limitations of assessment” – while still preparing pupils for the next stage of their education and whatever formal qualifications they need to achieve beforehand.

But Labour opposition leader Azhar Ali welcomed his national party’s plan to scrap OFSTED and replace it with inspections conducted by local authorities in the first instance – and then to be followed up with detailed assessments by education specialists should problems be identified.

“[In] those affluent areas with good schools and people who can support them…those schools thrive. But there are lots of schools in our deprived areas where children and their families rely on foodbanks and other organisations – and there really is a gap in the support they get [which is] not reflected in how OFSTED rates them,” County Cllr Ali said.

But Labour’s recently-announced policy to abolish the regulator was criticised by the Tory group at County Hall for risking political interference from local councils – a charge which County Cllr had levelled at OFSTED itself.

Conservative member Aidy Riggott said that he had found the organisation’s website invaluable when selecting a school for his two young children.

“Yes, you get a single worded rating – but very quickly you can dig into the detail to find the information that, as a parent, matters to you.

And this goes much further than the inspection reports, progress scores or absence rates. There are areas where parents’ feedback can be seen to [statements] such as “my child is happy at the school” or “this school deals effectively with bullying”.

The motion welcoming the new inspections was passed by 45 votes to 29, with four abstentions.