David Blackburn

Mumsnet versus Ofsted – a prelude to the post-bureaucratic age

Mumsnet versus Ofsted – a prelude to the post-bureaucratic age
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Ofsted is bracing itself for the public lynching it roundly deserves. The Guardian reports that the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee, local authority service heads and head teachers are united in condemnation of the ‘wasteful’ bureaucratic giant in the wake of its annus horribilis.

What is Ofsted doing wrong? The highly respected former Chief Inspector of Ofsted, Sir Mike Tomlinson, is clear – the scope of its remit and working practices are to blame. He tells the Guardian:

‘The question needs to be asked and answered as to whether Ofsted has the appropriate skills and experience to carry out its agenda. Inspection systems that rely too heavily on data and tick-box systems is not what we need. I worry we are heading that way.’

At best, some of Ofsted’s procedures are rather curious – schools often fail progress reports because their fences are not high enough. That is a preposterous criterion, but other practices are outright dangerous. Its insistence on forcing social workers to pass inspections via box ticking rather than concentrate on childcare had tragic consequences for baby Peter, and his death was not an isolated incident.


Is such a monolithic regulator practical? Almost certainly not – informal groups such as Mumsnet prove that regulation and care need not be the exclusive preserve of bureaucrats. It is a vindication of Cameron’s belief that society can replace cumbersome, incompetent and occasionally inhuman state agencies.