Twenty years inspecting English schools – Ofsted 1992-2012
By Dr Adrian Elliott
Proposals for a new national inspection service for schools in England emerged from growing disquiet about state schools from the late 1960s onwards.
The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) was created by the Education (Schools) Act 1992. Some 20 years after its foundation, Ofsted’s role in the English education system remains both significant and highly controversial.
• Ofsted was set up following a period of sustained criticism of English state education. Government policy after 1992 was to ensure all schools were inspected regularly by a rigorous and transparent process. Reports were to be written to a common format accessible to parents and judgements on schools consistent.
• By the late 1990s all English schools had been inspected in a process which was now a major part of English school life whilst the high profile and controversial views of the chief inspector, Chris Woodhead, fuelled a continuing debate over standards.
• After Woodhead’s departure, Ofsted adopted a more collaborative approach to schools and encouraged them to evaluate their own performance. Ofsted’s responsibilities had increased but its role in the failure to protect a murdered London baby led to renewed demands for more effective inspection.
• The coalition government elected in 2010 is simplifying and toughening inspection. Arguments continue over Ofsted’s accuracy and fairness, particularly towards schools in deprived areas, and its effectiveness in improving schools.
• Debate also continues over:
(i) how wide the inspection remit should be;
(ii) where responsibility for improvement after inspection should lie; and
(iii) whether three companies should have a monopoly of provision.