Knowledge, Authority and Judgement: The Changing Practices of School Inspection in England


  • Jacqueline Baxter Open University
  • John Clarke Open University



Knowledge, Evidence, Expertise, Authority, Judgement, Evaluation criteria, Discourses, Practices


School Inspection involves the construction and mobilisation of particular conceptions of knowledge, judgement and expertise. These constructions change over time and between different inspection regimes. In this paper we explore some of the shifting criteria and practices of inspection that have been visible in the recent development of school inspection in England as organised through the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted). At stake in these processes are the shifting relationships between different types of knowledge (not least data and observation); the types of expertise and authority understood to be embodied in the inspector; and the forms of judgement that are exercised in inspection. In the work of Ofsted, these changing constructions and mobilisations of knowledge are also linked to the changing practices and criteria used in the evaluation of school performance: most dramatically the reclassification of the evaluation grade of ‘satisfactory’ to ‘requires improvement’. The paper explores the political and governmental pressures that drive changes in the construction and mobilisation of knowledge in school inspection and consider what new problems may arise as a consequence of such changes.


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Author Biographies

Jacqueline Baxter, Open University

Jacqueline Baxter is Lecturer in Social Policy and Qualification Director in Social Policy and Criminology at the Open University in the Department of Social Policy and Criminology. Jacqueline joined The Open University in 2003, moving to a full-time post in 2005. She moved to The Faculty of Social Science as researcher on the Governing by Inspection project, taking up a full time role as Lecturer in Social Policy early in 2013. Her current research examines the changing role of school governors in England in areas of high socio economic deprivation, comparing this to the roles and functions of Charter School Boards in the United States.

John Clarke, Open University

John Clarke is professor emeritus in the Faculty of Social Sciences, the Open University, where he contributed to many social policy courses at all levels from his appointment in 1980. He is Visiting Professor, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Central European University. His work is centred on ways in which welfare states have been transformed since the late twentieth century, with a particular interest in how the relationships between welfare, state and nation have been reconstructed, and on understandings of what the ‘social’ in social policy means, and how its meanings are constructed and contested, particularly in relation to dominant political and managerial conceptions of the public and the public interest.