My journey into understanding why Ofsted is as it is has taken me deeply into the history of inspection in education and has also taken me beyond education into past and present cultures and process of inspection and regulation across many disciplines.
This posts attempts to summarise a key emerging theme which is the difference between process-led and purpose-led inspection
Process-led inspection occurs when regulators establish processes and procedures and the following of these processes becomes the main function of inspection.
The culture which surrounds this is one where inspectors believe (often correctly) that by following those processes to the letter they can exhonerate themselves from any blame associated with problems arising at the organisations they inspect.
There is an expectation that inspection processes will identify problems and that the methods for resolving those problems will be as clearly defined at the processes which have been followed have been.
In reality, the processes and consequences which have been laid down quickly age and were probably never appropriate for all circumstances in the first place so there is a poor fit between the outcomes of inspection and the organisations to which those processes are applied.
Purpose-led inspection occurs when the purposes for which regulators exist are clearly defined and the processes employed evolve to fit those purposes.
Questions asked and observation strategies may start from a standard process but will rapidly deviate from this so that the inspector can analyse and understand the situation being inspected.
Rather judging the behaviour of the organisation being inspected according to abstract criteria, it is judged according to whether or not its behaviour is in accordance with its journey forward given where it currently is and its contexts.
Consequences of negative judgements fit the purpose of the identifying and resolving these issues effectively and efficiently.
It’s a human sign that there will be individual inspectors who will gravitate towards process-led inspection. Politicians may either implicitly or explicitly demand it. But it is essential that the directors of a regulatory body work exceptionally hard to ensure that that body is and remains purpose led and that the procedures it employs will support inspectors in delivering on that purpose.
The extent to which Ofsted has failed in this respect is extreme and the consequences of this failure have been devastating for staff in English education. The duty for measuring the extent of this failure lies with Ofsted who have to justify, on balance, any deviation from its obligation the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act (2006). I see no evidence that they are even aware of this duty.
To be continued….