This is another blog about the invalidity and unreliability of Ofsted.
I will start off with our own Ofsted experience in September 2014; an inspection which has definitely led me to question the validity of Ofsted more than ever before. This blog has been 6 months in draft and following on from Sean Harford’s announcement at the ASCL conference (March 2015) about peer-to-peer inspections, it is now time to press the ‘publish’ button. Read @LeadingLearner‘s summary, Inspection’s Nearly Over! It’s Official.
In a nutshell and in my opinion, we were determined by our year 11 results, despite our sixth form, leadership and management, behaviour and safety being judged good. Our 5 *A-C (English and maths) is 3% below the national average (state schools only and above independent schools). The criteria for ‘good’ achievement states ‘from each different starting point, the proportions of pupils making expected progress and the proportions exceeding expected progress in English and in mathematics are close to or above national figures.’
If achievement was, in the light of national results, judged to be ‘Good’, then so would teaching and learning and the school overall. Being one of the first schools to be inspected with no lesson observation grades was an interesting experience; I think it is a positive development but it did mean that the chances of the achievement and teaching and learning judgement being different are even more remote. Something worthy to note; in December 2011 when our school was last inspected, we have very similar results (in line with very similar national average results) and yet, was judged Outstanding overall!
Our overall judgement is Requires Improvement, although I argue that it is not quite an RI school. Far from it, but this depends how a school is measured. There was no issue at the time of the inspection, but we then wrote a letter of complaint (in the absence of an appeal procedure) only when national results had fallen by 4 points and ours had stayed the same. This was to challenge the decision. Our Ofsted response was thus;
“I am sorry that the emergence of national data gave you cause for complaint and I hope that this response has served to explain matters.”
From a personal and recent perspective, I urge Ofsted to review how schools are judged during the first half term of the autumn, prior to Raise Online being published. It is very significant that Ofsted liked what they saw in our classrooms. However, our headline results determined our overall teaching and learning grade. If our results had been higher, then our grade for teaching and learning would have too. Therefore, if outcomes require improvement, then teaching and learning over time cannot be better, which makes one wonder, what significance no grading of lesson observations actually has on the outcome of an inspection?
[School] was inspected in September 2014. We appealed the outcome using the complaints procedure, when the national data was published which showed a significant fall in GCSE examination results. Without the fall we would not have appealed. The appeal was unsuccessful, stating that ‘due regard was paid to the information that was available to them (the inspectors) at that time’ and as the 2014 national results data was not available it was not taken into account. Although we were disappointed, this it is not the main point of sharing this blog.
The outcome letter stated we had complained about the composition of the inspection team. We made absolutely no reference to this in our appeal letter stating that;
“We would like to emphasise that we had absolutely no concerns about the team, they were an excellent group to work with, and we are only raising these issues following the recent publication of national examination results.”
The high level of experience of the team did come up in our conversations with the panel who handled our complaint, but we did not raise it as a concern in any sense. For the record we were not asked whether we were concerned about it, and there was no check at the end of the telephone call as to whether we wished to add this to what we had stated in our letter of complaint. We requested that this was removed from the outcome letter, but this was refused by [the Principal Officer for the Inspection Quality and Complaints Administration] as detailed below.
“I am sorry that you are disappointed by this decision but it would not be appropriate now to remove this from the complaint response.”
(12th December 2014)
I am very surprised about this, not least because if we had raised it as a concern it would have been entirely inconsistent with our feedback to the lead inspector at the time and in the form we completed later. We would not like the HMI who led the inspection, to think we had complained about something we could easily have mentioned at the time of the inspection and was given ample opportunity to do this. The Lead HMI was included in our response to the investigating officer.
If OfSTED keeps files for each school, we would like our letter to be included alongside the various communications about the appeal, so that our side of the story is at least captured for any future reference. We would be grateful if OfSTED could confirm this will be the case.
We are still awaiting a reply.
Paragraph 57 of the new inspection framework (January 2015 revision) makes matters worse, stating;
“Inspectors should note that the introduction of an early entry policy and changes in GCSE examination structure have had an impact on the 2014 Key Stage 4 results. The changes should be taken into account when considering results alongside those of previous years, as neither direct comparisons nor production of three-year trends are possible.”
Of course, our school 2014 results were compared to national 2013, because 2014 was not available at the time. This is seriously exasperating.
How many other schools have suffered the same outcomes as us?
The School inspection handbook (Ofsted ref. 120101), paragraph 4, states that “inspectors must use all the available evidence to develop an initial picture of the school’s academic performance. This includes data available to the inspectors at the time of the inspection.”
The evidence recorded before and during the inspection shows that due regard was paid to the information that was available to them at that time. In other words if we had been inspected later and the 2014 national results had been available, it could (not would) have been a different outcome. We had a strong case, albeit not a bulletproof one.
Having taken advice from a senior inspector and professional associations, neither are surprised, and in the case of the inspections specialist, we are one of many cases in this position. The word ‘lottery’ was used in the reply.
I thought it was time to share this blog on behalf of other schools with similar experiences. I think I’m safe to say, that after 6 months of silence, the Grim Reaper is back!
We must have a reliable Ofsted. Can we sort this out sooner, rather than later please …