School Inspection - why school self-evaluation is more effective


  • The purpose of a school evaluation system should be to enable schools to 'know themselves' honestly in order to support their development and effectiveness. 
  • Yet the current inspection system creates precisely the opposite set of conditions. The lack of professional dialogue between inspectors and teachers is harming, not helping, children's education.
  • Ofsted inspections in their current guise stifle innovation and this leads to a narrowing of experience for children and young people.1
  • There is an inconsistent approach to the use of data; inconsistency across inspectors; and concerns about the quality of inspectors.
  • Although Ofsted found a high level of consistency between inspectors during their own study into short inspections, the inspectorate itself highlighted that the study had a number of limitations. An NUT critique of the can be found here.
  • A review by right-wing think tank Policy Exchange found a significant deficit of expertise in inspectors.2 This supports the NUT's survey findings, that one in four inspectors were not perceived by teachers to have the right experience to make accurate judgements.3
  • Likewise, a YouGov poll of teachers found that only 15 per cent believed that Ofsted inspections make a positive contribution to school improvement; just 9 per cent believed they capture a rounded picture of all the school's work; only 12 per cent agreed that they are a reliable measure of school performance; and a mere 7 per cent of teachers concluded that inspections supported school improvement.4
  • The link between inspection outcomes and pupils attainment remains problematic. Progress 8 is used by inspectors to judge the effectiveness of secondary schools and, although inspectors are reminded to take outliers into account when considering the Progress 8 score, it is unclear to what extent this is actually being done.
  • Rebecca Allen of Education Datalab has criticised the Government’s approach of using school performance measures to rank schools serving very different types of communities.5
  • Allen argues that there is a relationship between the level of school disadvantage and the turnover rate of its teachers; and that schools with lower ability intakes struggle to recruit specialist teachers for shortage subjects as well as often struggling to appoint head teachers.
  • Research by Education Policy Institute (EPI) demonstrates how the school inspection system in England penalises those schools serving the most disadvantaged communities. The report concludes that the evidence, “suggests that the inspection system may not be fully equitable to schools with challenging intakes. We have found that the least disadvantaged schools are most likely to be judged ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, and that notable proportions of ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ schools are not down-graded following a substantial deterioration in their academic performance. 6
  • Think tank DEMOS found that fear of the inspection regime is creating a toxic culture in schools and is failing to achieve its stated goal of improving education.7 The system is built on control and assumes a lack of trust.8 Yet international evidence shows that trust within a school – between senior leadership, teachers, students and parents – improves educational outcomes.9
  • Pressure from the NUT has led to the DfE and Ofsted recognising that they must take steps to reduce teacher workload. Ofsted has published a mythbuster document to clarify what it does and does not expect to see in schools so as to help teachers avoid unnecessary workload. In addition, the DfE and Ofsted have published an education-union-endorsed poster and pamphlet to support schools in taking workload reduction seriously.
  • Mock Ofsted inspections, or ‘Mocksteds’, contribute to the high workload pressures faced by teachers. Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, has said that ‘Mocksteds’ are “an unacceptable waste of staff time and scarce pupil funding.10
  • The NUT is calling for an independent review of current accountability arrangements, including the inspection system in England
  • Teachers understand the need for accountability, but school evaluation is at its most effective when school communities understand its purpose and relevance.  Overwhelming evidence from research11 and practice demonstrates that evaluation by schools themselves must be at the centre of school inspection and support.
  • Effective evaluation should equip teachers with the know-how to evaluate the quality of learning in their classrooms so that they do not have to rely on an external view.12 Head teachers and teachers should be at the forefront of evaluating their school, with the inspectors' role being to scrutinise the self-evaluation rather than make judgements themselves without sufficient time and evidence.
  • Ofsted should urgently look to reform the school inspection system, working with teachers and school leaders to develop and implement a system based on peer support and mutual respect.

1 John Macbeath (1999), Schools Must Speak for Themselves: The Case for School Self-Evaluation, London: Routledge.

2 Harriet Waldegrave and Jonathan Simons (2014), Watching the Watchmen: The future of school inspections in England, London: Policy Exchange. Available at:

3 NUT, NUT School Inspection Survey Report.

4 NUT commissioned YouGov poll of 826 teachers carried out in December 2013. NUT (January 2014). Teachers' New Year Message [online].

5 Rebecca Allen (18th May 2015), ‘We cannot compare the effectiveness of schools with different types of intakes’, [blog post].
Available at:

6 Jo Hutchinson (2016), School Inspection in England, Is There Room to Improve?, London: Education Policy Institute

7 James Park (2013), Detoxifying School Accountability: The Case for Multi-Perspective Inspection. London: DEMOS. Available at:

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 UK Government (10th March 2017), ‘New HMCI vows to make sure Ofsted is regarded as a force for good’ [online].
Available at:

11 Macbeath, Schools Must Speak for Themselves.

12 Ibid.