Ofsted’s decision to keep current rating system is abdication of responsibility

Janet Downs's picture

Ofsted’s decision to retain the four-grade rating system for school inspections - outstanding down to inadequate - is ‘one of the greatest abdications of responsibility by Ofsted in recent times’,  writes Ross Morrison McGill of @Teacher Toolkit.

Ofsted claims parents want the current grading system.  Yet Ofsted’s annual parents’ survey revealed that one-third of parents do not believe Ofsted’s judgement reliably reflects a school’s quality.  And Ofsted’s consultation with parents ‘never directly asked about the four-point grading system’.  Instead it relied on a ‘range of [other] evidence’.

Despite Ofsted admitting that the top grade of outstanding has negative consequences, Ofsted will keep the rating.  

Ofsted knows many outstanding schools haven’t been inspected for over a decade (and under other inspection standards).  Such schools are now exempt from future inspections. Ofsted relies on noticing a decline in standards through falling exam results.   

At the same time, Ofsted admits there’s a clear relationship between a school’s Progress 8 scores and inspection grades.   (But Progress 8 discriminates against schools which educate a large number of previously low attaining pupils and/or which work in the most difficult circumstances.  The current grading system actively discourages teachers from working in or leading such schools.)

All schools can improve, even those currently judged outstanding.  Most schools do an ‘incredible job’. The four-point grading system should be replaced by two: effective/not effective.


NOTE:  The above is a summary of the arguments made by @TeacherToolkit.  The full article is worth reading.  The comments in brackets are mine.

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agov's picture
Tue, 07/05/2019 - 11:36

Third attempt to post this -

"Ofsted relies on noticing a decline in standards through falling exam results."

It has done but the Ofsted draft Handbook says -

"If the risk assessment process raises concerns about the performance of an exempt school, it may be inspected under section 8 of the Act at any time after the completion of the risk assessment. The length of time since the last inspection will be a factor considered in the risk assessment."

And there was this -


Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 08/05/2019 - 08:37

agov - you're referring to the draft handbook 2019.  The DfE put it out for consultation and is still analysing the results.   The current Ofsted handbook does not mention length of time in deciding whether to inspect exempt outstanding schools.


Nairb1's picture
Fri, 10/05/2019 - 10:20

My local school hasn't been inspected since 2007. The only person still working at the school since that inspection is the school secretary. There have been two changes of headteacher in that time.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 10/05/2019 - 10:29

Nairb1 - the Ofsted inspection framework has also changed since 2007.  An inspection report from 2007 would not only be out-of-date but would have been judged under different criteria.  Many will also have become academies which are technically 'new' schools.  It's ludicrous.

agov's picture
Sat, 11/05/2019 - 12:59

My use of the word 'draft' had been intended to convey that I was referring to a draft. A rare day when Ofsted much changes what it proposes for the next version of its policies.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 11/05/2019 - 13:28

agov - sorry, I thought you were contradicting my sentence 'Ofsted relies on noticing a decline in standards through falling exam results' by inadvertently using guidance which hadn't come into force when you were actually telling me that Ofsted was proposing to take an extra factor (length of time since last inspection) in the future.  Let's hope this extra factor survives into the final version.

agov's picture
Wed, 15/05/2019 - 07:38

Seems to have been some tinkering for the final version, that may or may not be significant. -

"If the risk assessment process raises concerns about the performance of an exempt school, we may inspect it under section 8 of the Act at any time after the risk assessment. We will consider the length of time since the last inspection in the risk assessment."

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 15/05/2019 - 09:24

Thanks.  It remains to be seen whether length of time since the last inspection of an outstanding school will be sufficient on its own to trigger an inspection or whether other factors such as a drop in performance would take precedence.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 07/05/2019 - 12:38

I argue here that OfSTED is having a negative effect on national education standards. OfSTED, like HMI that preceded it, is the national inspector and regulator of schools. Before the 1988 Education Reform Act, HMI, which was independent of government, inspected schools and LEAs to ensure high standards of teaching and learning. Where problems were found HMI would act to ensure that appropriate action was taken to restore standards to the uniform high level that parents and public expect in all our schools. This would be done in co-operation with LEAs, which could ‘move on’ ineffective headteachers and provide additional support and advice to the school. LEAs employed large teams of experienced ‘inspector/advisors’ who were almost always experienced former teachers/heads of department. There was never any question of ‘closing schools’ or seeking to undermine the long term confidence of parents in them.

OfSTED, on the other hand, is completely different. It accepts the marketisation model that underpins the 1988 Act and is the ‘enforcer’ of government education policy. The ideological basis of the model is that a ‘free market’ in schools that forces them to compete with each other is the best way of raising standards. So the government published SATs and GCSE ‘performance data’ for schools to drive local School League Tables to encourage parents to choose the ‘best’ schools and avoid the ‘worst’. John Mountford and I have carried out some work on the relationship between SATs, Cognitive Ability Tests (CATs), FSM eligibility and GCSE results which is also reported here. This conclusively shows  up the flawed statistics underpinning 'Progress 8' used by OfSTED and the DfE that leads to the 'attainment gap' illusion.

 As a further ‘twist of the screw’ OfSTED introduced its four grade, inadequate to outstanding’ system of judging schools. The assumption was that failing schools must be a consequence of failing to apply market philosophy to their running, so the solution is to close such schools, so forcing parents to send their children to ‘better’ ones, or have the schools taken over by more ‘market aware’ Academies and Multi Academy Trusts (MATs)’

Janet argues that: All schools can improve, even those currently judged outstanding.  Most schools do an ‘incredible job’. The four-point grading system should be replaced by two: effective/not effective. But then what? Instead of requiring LEAs (if only) to fix the problems leading to ineffectiveness, OfSTED and the DfE once again resort to marketisation and league table driven school closures and forced take overs by Academy MATs, which are increasingly being revealed as the problem rather than the solution.

Unfortunately the crazy OfSTED school grading system was also adopted by the Care Quality Commission for its inspections of acute hospitals and maternity units. The ideological source of this thinking is the same. NHS Foundation Trusts were set up to compete with each other for patients, the assumption being that ‘inadequate’ ones would be allowed to ‘go out of business’.

The whole idea is plainly madness. When the ambulance turns up to extricate you from a car crash the ambulance driver might tell you, “Your nearest ‘inadequate’ A & E has gone out of business, but don’t worry, because there is an ‘outstanding’ one 30 miles away – sorry if you die in the ambulance on the way”.

The same logic, or lack of it, applies to schools. If a school or hospital is providing a sub-standard service it obviously must be fixed as a matter of urgency. The only acceptable grade is ‘good’. ‘Outstanding’ is not necessary either. The duty of outstanding hospitals and schools is to feed their good practice into the NHS/LEA (as was and must be resurrected). Failure to adopt this obvious culture leaves parents unable to have confidence in their nearest school and patients in their nearest hospital, which is completely unacceptable. These excellent and efficient systems created by the post 1945 Labour government worked well and were only changed because of government hatred of their socialist underpinning.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 08/05/2019 - 08:55

There is room for an independent inspectorate which would reassure parents, pupils and taxpayers that school are effective/not effective, good/working towards good, value for money/not value for money....    But it needs to be truly inedependent.  Ofsted isn't.  And it should change focus from judging schools to supporting them.

You're right that LAs should have an input in improving schools.  That's what the long-departed LA inspectors did.  In academies, that responsibility lies with the trustees who may actually be part of the problem.  LAs have no legal authority to intervene in struggling academies  Even in LA schools, the support may just take the form of brokering (eg linking the school with a successul school, or even linking the school with a MAT with a view to takeover).


Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 08/05/2019 - 08:58

I agree Janet.

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