Stephen Spriggs, Managing Director of London Education Consultancy, William Clarence, shares his views on proposals for Ofsted-style inspections in private tutoring. Can it really work?

A Curse called Ofsted

Steve Spriggs
June 13th 2016

Stephen Spriggs shares his views on proposals for Ofsted-style inspections in private tutoring. Can it really work?

Are there words that strike fear into a teacher more than "Ofsted is visiting"? Cue sleepless nights producing a week's worth of lesson plans, a rainforest's worth of admin and cross your fingers that little Jonny who fires paper planes from the back of the class, is off with a cold. Then of course, careers hang in the balance and self-esteem is shot if the inspector that sat in your class for half an hour deems your teaching to be unsatisfactory.

In the past few days, it's been announced that Amanda Spielman is to take over from Sir Michael Wilshaw as Ofsted's new chief. Unlike Wilshaw, she has no teaching experience and I wonder how that will go down with the profession.

I run a tutoring company that doesn't require Ofsted inspection and I'm pleased about that. That doesn't mean we don't have great tutors. In fact, I believe they work to a higher standard without the spectre of the unsmiling inspectorate looming over them. A number of our tutors are qualified teachers who have left mainstream education for one reason or another. I've heard the horror stories: the daily fear of the next Ofsted visit and the amount of paperwork required to show any passing inspector there is evidence of box ticking here and box ticking there.

Our tutors are judged on their results across all stages of education, be it the 11 plus, GCSEs or whether they passed the entrance exam for their preferred school. We are judged ultimately on our success rate, nothing more and nothing less. We are accountable to the parents and most tutors are booked through word of mouth from families, which is a discerning and unforgiving form of recommendation. Tuition doesn't come cheap and if you're not much good, you simply won't get any work. It's survival of the fittest and I think it brings out the best in a tutor.

I do think self-regulation is important and the tuition industry may well become regulated in the future. I'm certainly not against that. It will ensure the quality of tutors and tutoring remain high. However, teaching is in the midst of a recruitment crisis with more people quitting the profession now than in the last 10 years. I wonder if it's the culture of fear that has developed around the dreaded Ofsted inspections that contributes to this. Yes, private tutors have to toe the line to an extent: our students sit the same exams as schoolkids up and down the country but we have the freedom to deliver a more personalised programme, which I think benefits our learners. It makes teaching more enjoyable, for pupils and tutors alike.

Of course it isn't without its pressures. However, as a former Economics tutor, I'd rather stay up late planning a lesson that will help get my charge through a forthcoming exam than plan something unproductive and unnecessary, just so it pleases Ofsted.

Although Amanda Spielman won't be coming into my company to pass comment on my tutors, I wish her well. Thankfully I feel we're doing well enough without Ofsted on our back!


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