Ofsted: a case in the mismanagement of the standard of education in England


This post is a preliminary summary of the report of a study of the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) and its inspectors. The final report is published by GRIN Academic Publishers and is available as e-book and paperback at Waterstones, Foyles, Amazon, UK, and Barnes and Noble, New York.

The study

The study was carried out as a fraction of the main part-time PhD research project I was engaged in during the period 2002 to 2013. The study was conducted in two colleges in the London area. Over the period there were eighteen Ofsted inspections of the colleges. The inspections included full inspections, reinspections of departments that were judged and awarded Grade 4 during the previous full inspection and monitoring visits in which the colleges were subjected to progress reviews. Thus during the period 2002 and 2013 the colleges were inspected as follows:

College one: General FE

Number of students: 10,000 plus

Campuses: three

  Inspections  Year of inspection Number of inspectors
College Inspection        2002         6
College reinspection        2004         3
College monitoring visit        2006         1
College Inspection        2007         6
College monitoring visit        2008         1
College Monitoring visit        2009         1
College inspection        2012         6
            24 Inspectors


College Two: Sixth Form

Number of students 1200 – 1500

Campus: One

                        Inspection Year of inspection Number of inspectors
College monitoring visit          2013        5
College inspection          2013        1
College Monitoring visit          2012        1
College Inspection          2011        5
College reinspection (specific departments identified for reinspection          2010        3
College monitoring visit          2009        1
College  Inspection          2008        5
College monitoring visit          2007        1
College Monitoring  visit          2006        1
College reinspection (two departments)          2006        3
College Inspection          2004        6


Thus as could be seen from the above data between 2002 and 2013 the two colleges were inspected, reinspected and paid monitoring visits eighteen times as follows:  the FE College was subjected to full inspection in 2002, 2007 and 2012; one reinspection in 2004, and  monitoring visits in 2006, 2008 and 2009. The Sixth Form College was subjected to full inspection in 2004, 2008, 2011 and 2013; reinspections in 2006 and 2010, and monitoring visits in 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012 and 2013.

During the period a total of fifty-six Ofsted inspectors were involved in the inspection of the two colleges. It was these inspectors that were the subjects of observations during the study. And it was as a result of the observations of this population of inspectors that it was found that 30% of the Ofsted inspectors involved in the study did not have the skills and competencies to meet the performance criteria defined by Ofsted for inspectors within the further education and skills remit.

The methodological approaches

This report is a culmination of ten years of observing Ofsted inspectors as they go about the practice of the inspection of two colleges in England. As I have pointed out in the preceding section this study was an addition to the main research I was engaged in from the early 2000s. Accordingly the methodological steps which I am going to describe occupied the same space, interacted and ran in the same directions as the ones I used in the main research.

Observations of inspectors

However, there were methodological steps and approaches which were specific and unique to the study. The first such approach was observation. This involved informal observations of inspectors at close quarters during inspection of the two colleges.  I used observations because I was sometimes also in the classroom when the inspectors were carrying out lesson observations. Thus the method was the most appropriate because inspectors do not give interviews during or after inspection. They do not even answer questions from the teachers whose lessons they had observed. Instead they interviewed people. And as a research person attached to the colleges I was member of the colleges. I was present in many of these interviews and the discussions in these interviews centred on the extent to which teachers and Support Staff were converse with the colleges’ policies and practices, management practices and student characteristics. Thus there was nothing that I could not have read in the documents I have outlined below.


The second methodological approach was ethnographic interviews. Five rounds of interviews were planned, but the fifth interviews were not carried out for reasons that would be explained below.

Accordingly, the first round of interviews was proxy interviews involving students.  And by proxy interviews I mean that I did not conduct this part of the interviews. Instead they were conducted by inspectors, but I recorded the interviews as they were being conducted. Thus as I have pointed out above inspectors never discuss with anyone within the remit they are inspecting, so I used proxy interviewing by indirectly interviewing the inspectors through the analyses of the inspectors interviews with students.

The second round of interviews involved structured and open post-lesson observations discussions and interviews with teachers.

The third round of the interviews involved post-inspection discussions and interviews with principals, managers, heads of departments and team leaders.

The fourth round of interviews involved a cross-section of the entire student population in the two colleges.

Ofsted and refusal of interview access

As a part of the second methodological approach Ofsted and the three Regional Inspection Service Providers (RISPs) were contacted via email for access to officials for interviews. The interviews with Ofsted and RISPs would have completed the fifth cycle of planned interviews.

The Regional Inspection Service Providers (RISPs) that were contacted were CfBT Education Trust in the North of England, Serco Education in the Midlands, and Tribal Education in the South. The requests for interviews were refused. The grounds cited by RISPs for their refusal to be interviewed were, first, that they owed Ofsted contractual obligations. They claimed that the contractual obligations forbade them from discussing Ofsted’s information with a third party. The second ground which was cited by the RISPs was the argument that they could only participate if the requests for interviews and access to documents were routed through Ofsted. In other words, I was to route my request for interviews to Ofsted for approval.  The third ground which was cited by the RISPs was that Ofsted must give them written permission to participate in the study.

For its part Ofsted has never accepted or declined the requests for interviews. Indeed it has never replied to the request for interviews with its HMIs and the RISPs. And it has never agreed or declined permission for the RISPs to participate in the study

Documentary sources

The third methodological approach was ‘ethnographic reading and analyses’ of documentary sources (Igbino 2010: 79). There were two main documentary sources consulted and read during the study. And these sources were as follows: the colleges’ documents and Ofsted’s documents.

1. Colleges’ Documents

The first documentary source was the colleges’ own documents, including the colleges  research analyses, particularly researches on attendance and punctuality,  policy documents including attendance, punctuality, Equality and Diversity, Lesson observations, exams and assessment, Learning and teaching, student financial support, child protection, bullying and harassment, and corporate risk management documents. These documents were made available in compliance with the requirements of the Data Protection legislation and they contained non-confidential data. These documents were also the made available to inspectors by the colleges.

2. Ofsted’s documents

The second documentary data was Ofsted’s. This involved direct contacts between the study and Ofsted via the Freedom of Information Act (2000). Thus under the FOI (2000) Ofsted made certain documents available.

Given that Ofsted had already refused to cooperate, why was it necessary to contact it via the FOI for access to their documents? The answer is that the contacts with Ofsted via its documents and direct email communications were important to the study. The importance of the contacts lay, first, in the central argument of the study that 30% of the practicing Ofsted inspectors who were observed during the inspection of the colleges were poorly skilled and incompetent to inspect within the further education and skills remit and, second, that the inspectors who were observed together with the documents that were read and analysed were emanations of Ofsted. Therefore the observation and documentary data and subsequent analysis and evaluation of the data were deemed to be legitimate evidence emanating from Ofsted.

Thus it was important to close the research cycle by establishing direct contact with Ofsted, first, in order to explore, analyse and evaluate how it educates, trains, develops. And, second, the contact was important towards the exploration, analysis and evaluation of how Ofsted manages the performance of its inspectors in order to update their skills and competencies. Here parts of the focus of the explorations, analyses and evaluations were aimed at looking for the origins of poorly skilled and incompetent inspectors within the ranks of the inspectors that were observed during the study.

Thus two sets of questions based on the above aims were sent to OFSTED and to the three inspection contractors in April 2012 under the Freedom of Information Act (2000). Ofsted has refused to answer some of the above questions by invoking Section 12 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI), even in the face of the intervention of the Information Commissioner.  At the same time it forbade the RISPs from answering any of the questions. However Ofsted gave access to some documents and some documents were written purposely in answer to my questions, but it has never given its consent for me to access any documents from the Regional Inspection Service Providers (RISPs), even when some of these contractors agreed to participate in the study.

Nevertheless, the ethnographic reading and analyses of the documents which Ofsted has supplied have enabled me to piece together some answers, particularly answers relating to inspection decisions, judgement criteria, evaluative statements and more importantly the main objective of the research, which is the education and training and development of Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMIs) and Additional Inspectors (AIs) and their impact on the quality of Ofsted inspections.

Thus it may be argued that Ofsted has deliberately tried to stop questions being asked about how it RISPs train their inspectors and about the skills and competencies of their inspectors and hence its abilities to achieve its statutory responsibilities. A cross-section of the email transactions between this research, Ofsted, RISPs and the Information Commissioner are in the (Document two: communications). 

Preliminary conclusions

1. Performance criteria: skills and competencies

1.1. There are incompetent inspectors within the ranks of registered Ofsted inspectors. Up to 30% of Ofsted inspectors lacked the skills and competencies required to successfully achieve Ofsted’s performance criteria , particularly the collection, analyses, evaluation and assessment of evidence in the three areas of Ofsted’s judgements, namely ‘Outcomes for Learners’, ‘Teaching, Learning and Assessment’, and ‘Leadership and Management’.

1.2. There are significant gaps in Ofsted’s management of the standards of the quality of education in England. The gaps arise because of the population of poorly skilled and incompetent inspectors and also because of Ofsted’s inorganic organisational and management philosophies have not allowed Ofsted to adapt to the dynamics of developments in national education discourses.

1.3. The current performance criteria for inspectors are watery and wholly inadequate. They are inadequate because, first, they do not demand the essential skills and competencies that would enable Ofsted to assess the employability of potential recruits into the ranks of inspectors.  And, second, they are inadequate because they do not provide the basis for the development and assessment of the continuing employability of practicing inspectors. Thus as they currently stand the performance criteria do not demand that practicing inspectors demonstrate the skills and competencies that would enable them to interrogate the multi-layered transactions occurring between teachers, students, parents and the environment in which colleges operate.

1.4. Ofsted’s performance criteria for inspectors are too ambiguous. They do not pay sufficient attention to the collection and assessment of evidence and they do not require practicing inspectors to demonstrate the abilities to assess and distinguish between different types of evidence. This is a very serious defect because inspectors must be able to gather and assess evidence in order to be able to make the three aspects of judgements outlined in paragraph 1.1.

1.5. The performance criteria do not require inspectors to demonstrate the skills and competencies needed to negotiate the impact and the consequences of the economic, social and cross-cultural developments in contemporary England for education, teaching and learning.

1.6. The performance criteria do not require inspectors to demonstrate the abilities to analyse and evaluate the consequences of these developments for the rates of educational achievements and hence ‘Outcomes for Learners’.

2. Education, training and development

2.1. Ofsted stands alone among national organisations because of its poor and ambivalent attitudes towards human resource planning and development: it has yet to realise the value of the quality of human resources for the quality of inspection.

2.2. Its education and training and development programmes are not good enough. They are poorly focused and ill-defined. Their contents, syllabuses, performance criteria and the assessment of those criteria are not defined.

2.3. The programmes are too narrowly focused on training inspectors on how to operate the statutory ‘Framework for Inspection’. Therefore they do not sufficiently prepare and continuously develop the basic skills and competencies which inspectors would need in order to understand and manage the wider issues and factors, including economic, social and cultural changes, which have consequences for education, teaching, learning and assessment in England and in the rest of the UK.

2.4. The Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programmes are haphazard, unstructured and lacked aims and objectives. Their contents and syllabuses are vague and ill-defined.

2.4. The programmes lacked the associated and important systems of continuous evaluation of the contents, syllabuses and the methods of delivering the programmes in order to ensure that those contents and syllabuses and delivery methods are continuously fit for purpose and that they enable Ofsted to continuously deliver on its statutory duties.

3. Performance Management

3.1. The management of the performances of inspectors are poor and lacked focus. The objectives are unclear and the process is totally divorced from the established performance criteria because there are no evidence of the analyses of the job of inspectors, descriptions of job components and of the evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the contribution of the jobs to the effectiveness of Ofsted as an organisation.

3.2. The system of managing inspectors’ performance lacked direction. The system lacked defined and recognisable processes for accountability and responsibility for remedial action in cases where inspectors have failed to meet established performance criteria.

3.3. The Roles of Inspector Performance Management Administration (IPMA) and Performance and Development Planning (PaDP) in terms of performance management are unclear.

3.4. There are no systems which have been developed to ensure that the results of performance management, particularly the performance data collected and disseminated by the IPMA, are used to inform the contents and syllabuses of Ofsted’s Continuing Professional Development programmes.

4. The Management of Quality

4.1. There is no robust system designed to manage, control and monitor the performance of the Regional Inspection Service Providers (RISPs). The current system is inadequate and wholly worthless because it relies entirely on market-based activation of ‘Contract Management’ by the (RISPs).

4.2. There is no clarity as to how underperforming and underachieving RISPs and AIs are managed by Ofsted and the roles of ‘Contract Management’ in this respect are unclear.

4.3. There is no clarity as to how ‘Contract Management’ is administered.  And there is no clarity how ‘Contract Management’ covers underperforming and underachieving RISPs and AIs.

4.4. There are no monitoring, feedbacks, and action plans designed to interrogate the workings of ‘Contract Management’ at critical points. And the associated systems of ‘Badging’ and ‘Signing-off’, which are used to control, manage and monitor the quality, skill and competencies of Additional Inspectors (AIs), are inadequate because they are entirely under the control of RISPs and lacks Ofsted’s oversight.

4.5. There is no evidence that Ofsted has established the procedural steps for the administration of its own codes of conduct. There is no clarity about the allocation of responsibility and accountability for enforcing the codes of conduct.

4.6. The management structures for assuring the quality of inspection are not strong enough. The systems for controlling and assuring the quality of inspection are focused on fault finding rather than fault prevention. The systems as they stand are not able to prevent poor quality performance by inspectors. This is because they do not have the capacity to control and assure the quality of inspection and the quality of inspection judgements before these judgements are arrived at.

4.7. There are too much wide variations in inspection results because Ofsted has not defined the minimum standards of the quality of performance which should operate as a reference point to guide inspectors at their duty stations. The consequences of the absence of defined minimum standard are that performance, quality and decisions become a function of the opinions of inspectors and hence subject to wide variations and consensus.

5. Professionally qualified inspectors

  • It is suggested that Ofsted should work in consultation with accredited awarding bodies to design courses, contents, syllabuses, performance criteria, assessment methodologies, and learning objectives and outcomes covering not only the entire remits which Ofsted inspects, but also the wider skills and competencies needed to know and understand the consequences of economic, social and cultural change for education in England.
  • The courses should lead to recognised qualifications within the national qualification framework.
  • One size inspection should no longer fit all. And one size education and training and development of inspectors should not fit all. Accordingly the qualifications, syllabuses, assessment methodologies and performance criteria should be broad enough to escape the confines of the statutory ‘Framework for Inspection’ and they should embed and reflect the ethos; the real lives of colleges, their students’ and the historiographies of the communities in which the colleges sit.
  • And anyone wishing to become an Ofsted inspector in order to practice in any of the remits or combinations of remits shown in table 22 must be required to submit portfolios of evidence in which they demonstrate how they have met the relevant performance criteria for their remits for moderation and assessment by independent examiners.

5.1 The areas to be covered by the CPD programmes

The potential courses contents, syllabuses assessment and subsequent certification should cover the following broad areas of Ofsted inspection judgements:

a) ‘Outcomes for Learners’

For inspection judgements on ‘Outcomes for Learners’ it is suggested that the courses’ contents, syllabuses, performance criteria and assessment methodologies, and learning objectives and outcomes should embed the following:

  • Documentary analyses – statistical analyses
  • Ethnographic interview skills
  • Developing and writing interview questions
  • Conducting ethnographic interviews
  • Making judgement on outcomes for learners

b) Teaching, Learning and Assessment

For inspection judgements on Teaching, Learning and Assessment’ it is suggested that there needs to be CPD programmes designed to enable inspectors to recognise and observe teaching and learning in the following circumstances:

  • During the unstructured intervals in lessons when teachers oscillate between the interpretations and use of scientific and artistic cultural attributes.
  • During the unstructured intervals when teachers oscillate between subject specialisms and pedagogical specialism, and theories and adjustments.
  • The patterns of interactions between the technicalities of subject specialisms and the social relations between teachers and students and between students and peers.
  • The programme should embed appreciation of current researches in education, teaching and learning.
  • The programmes should include teaching inspectors how to use and reformulate the judgement criteria and evaluative statements much more objectively such that teacher evaluation, lesson observations’ judgements and the ‘Grade Characteristics’ in tables 6 – 9 would cease to be based on speculative opinions.
  • The programmes should enable inspectors to adapt and rationalise Ofsted’s judgement criteria and evaluative statements.
  •  The programmes should pinpoint and train inspectors on the judgement criteria and evaluative statements that promote objective analysis of teaching and assessment and hence the elimination of redundant criteria and statements. And there are currently very many of the latter.

c) Making judgements on teaching, learning and assessment

A portfolio of evidence in which inspectors demonstrate evidence of how they have met the performance criteria and elements of the teaching, learning and assessment of the judgement criteria and evaluative statements.

The portfolio should demonstrate how inspectors carry out the assessment of evidence they have used to determine the grade characteristics of lesson observations.

d)  Leadership and management

  • It is suggested that the programmes of educating, training and developing inspectors in order to enable them to judge the ‘Effectiveness of Leadership and Management’ of colleges should focus on the following four core leadership and management functions:
  1.                     I.            financial management,
  2.                   II.            human resource management,
  3.                 III.            the management of physical resources
  4.                 IV.            the management of technological resources
  5.                 V.            making judgement on the effectiveness of leadership and management
  • And it is suggested that these functional activities within the above core management functions should become central to the contents and syllabuses of Ofsted’s CPD programmes for inspectors.

6. A new approach to quality and standard

  • It is suggested that a new standards and quality control systems should be established. The systems should be evaluative systems, rather than restrictive. Such systems must be designed to achieve the following:

i. They should continuously assess the extent to which all aspects of Ofsted’s educational, training and developmental programmes are fit for purpose. This means that the systems must continuously equip inspectors to be in a state of readiness to respond to the dynamics of developments in research in education.

ii. The systems should define a set of standards which is unambiguously stated and which is understood by all employees, HMIs, AIs and RISPs alike, to represent the focus and the goal which all activities including inspections, educational, training and development programmes must achieve. The standards should exist for all concerned and should be recognised as the level below which those programmes must never be allowed to fall, be the programmes administered in-house or otherwise and be the programmes for HMIs or AIs.

iii. The systems should continuously and proactively interrogate and monitor developments before the start and not after the start or during inspection in-progress, or during education, training and development programmes in-progress. This would ensure that everyone concerned and involved in the achievement of the statutory goals of Ofsted are working towards the achievement of the defined standard.

iv. The systems should be designed to identify and correct sub-standards and ensure that poor performances are flagged and that measures are triggered to prevent potential suboptimal performances before they occur.

v. The new systems of standards and quality should embed a quality management system. The quality management system should be designed to oversee, verify, check and certify that Ofsted’s quality standards and quality subsystems are achieving the specified minimum standards.

vi. Responsibilities and accountabilities under the management system should be made unambiguously clear.

7. Inspection of education must become a regulated and structured profession

In England there are accredited organisations which regulate inspections in other fields, for example, Health and Safety Inspectors. There is currently no equivalent organisation for Ofsted inspectors. And there are no justifiable reasons why such an organisation should not be established for Ofsted inspectors.

Accordingly, it is suggested as follows:

  • That the DfE should consult its constituents including parents, teachers, schools’ and colleges’ leaders, governors, students, Local Authorities and MPs on the Select Committee on Education in order to institute an independent national organisation with the ability to establish and monitor a register of qualified Ofsted inspectors.
  • The independent national organisation should accredit and register prospective inspectors who have met specified professional standards in accordance with the wider skills and competences and the respective remits in table 22.
  • The organisation should establish and accredit rigorous and compulsory programmes of CPD to enable practicing inspectors to keep abreast with educational researches, research methodologies, researches and developments in teaching and assessment methodologies, and in researches and developments in resource management.
  • The problems of posed to the quality of inspection by unskilled, incompetent and underperforming and underachieving inspectors should come under the purview of the accredited professional organisation. It should deal with incidence of poor skill, incompetence, underperformance and underachievement by requiring that the condition for continuing registration to practice as inspectors, be HMIs or AIs, within any of the remits in table 22 should depend upon the successful completion of prescribed core programmes of CPD.
  • The organisation should have the authority to require practicing inspectors to demonstrate competence.
  • The organisation should define and establish professional codes of conduct for practicing inspectors.
  • The organisation should maintain a register of inspectors and should, first, establish disciplinary structures for breaches of codes of conducts and, second, it should oversee disciplinary procedures to deal with misconduct and poor professional practice by HMIs and AIs.
  • The organisation should have the power to sanction inspectors and indeed suspend their license to practice or strike them off the register entirely.
  • Membership of the organisation should be compulsory for inspectors, irrespective of the remit in which they practice.
  • The organisation should be funded, paid for and supported by subscriptions from inspectors.


Igbino, J.O. (2010) The meanings of inclusion in cross – cultural contexts: exploring the experiences of adult learners and teachers in two further education colleges in the London Area; PhD Thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London