Do those who wish to keep Ofsted’s four-point grading system, actually know the damage they are creating?
This was a post I was going to publish at the weekend, but I cannot sit on it any longer! Ofsted has finally published its response to “Retaining the current grading system in education“, providing some – being the keyword here – arguments and evidence in response to the discussion about [Ofsted using] the four-point grading system.
I continue to think deeply about the best balance for everybody. Politicians, parents, pupils and of course, our teachers. Here, Ofsted set out their reasons for keeping their grading system and this is my summary of the 13-page document for the busy classroom teacher/leader.
“It’s what parents want…”
Firstly, since Ofsted was established in 1992, for years we have been told grading schools is ‘what parents want’. Only last month, Ofsted published its annual parents’ survey. One-third does not believe Ofsted provides a reliable measure of a school’s quality.
Disadvantages for grading …
Ofsted admits that even the ‘Outstanding’ grade is not helpful:
“The current grading system has consequences that are seen by some to lead to an enormous amount of pressure on schools and headteachers. People feel that the high-stakes nature of accountability can have negative consequences in terms of provider behaviours (such as gaming league tables), health and well-being of staff and disincentivising collaboration with other providers. This is not just the case for providers in the bottom categories: some people argue that there is also a great deal of pressure on providers to maintain outstanding grades.”
Equally, they admit that some outstanding schools have not been inspected for over 10 years!
- Can you imagine being a school leader in this type of school with no external validation?
- Can you imagine being a parent with a child in a school where no external safeguarding checks have been tested?
Instead, often admit that they rely on “those providers’ effectiveness is stable and that we pick up decline standards through exam results…” Machine learning anyone? Ofsted also admits that they “Do not pretend that these objections exist.” In the current climate of social media, personally, they will never go away and we can observe that Ofsted is now fighting a totally different epoch of feedback. Teacher’s voice is prevalent online …
I wonder how many people they have spoken to, and if they have spoken to a balanced range of voices? “On balance, the arguments for change do not yet counterbalance the arguments for keeping the current system.”
Ofsted argues that reforming the current grading system would lead to increased gaming. I find that hard to believe with fewer options. E.g. Effective / Not Yet Effective. How can fewer choices lead to worse decisions? The research suggests otherwise …
With 12 million families in England, Ofsted only seeks the advice of 1,000 parents. For a government agency, it’s barely research at masters level, and wouldn’t even be given any credibility according to the National Audit Office.
I will just leave the following image below, (page 6).
Advantages for grading …
“Reducing grades to a ‘below/above the line’ judgement would reduce the amount of quickly accessible information available to parents.” If one in ten parents only read the front page of an Ofsted report and with 19 percent of parents reading a full inspection report – the same as in 2018 – what figure are we left with from those that are bothered about the advantages of grading schools?
Ofsted writes “It is important that parents and learners have clear information about schools and other providers that can guide their choices, and that they make use of and act on that data.”
Sadly, this is not true, with only 19 percent of parents reading the full Ofsted report and four in 10 parents without sufficient awareness about Ofsted. Worse? Parents in secondary schools are less likely to know Ofsted rating, with 11 percent with no idea … Interestingly, many parents find out about the Ofsted report/rating by the secondary school itself.
- What if our school leaders stop telling parents?
- What if we stop publishing offered banners on our website?
Ofsted argues that attainment data does not provide sufficient data to parents. as you dig deeper into the documents, each claim becomes even more frightening. For decades, Ofsted’s focus on data has driven schools and school leaders to collate reams of data. If Ofsted never asked for this information, I suspect school leaders would collect much less. It is no coincidence that they no longer wish to ask schools for their data, alongside the Department for Education’s annual name and shame list of failing schools – this data fixation fuels off-rolling, narrowing of the curriculum and academic versus creative subjects, particularly students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
This decision is a complete disconnect from the reality taking place in our schools and the key factors that are driving them. However, there is one key question has not yet been answered. If Ofsted recognises that schools are working in different contexts, when will they begin evaluate schools with different inspection metrics? Until this key question is answered, we will never achieve anything collectively.
We do need Ofsted!
The report continues with various statistics and justification, quashing teachers trust in the current system, particularly through social media. The range of anonymised messages that I receive through my Twitter audience, the feedback I receive at keynotes and visiting schools all over the country suggests otherwise. Many people, particularly at a distance, believe that I wish to see the abolishment of Ofsted, however, this is incorrect.
We do need Ofsted.
We do need schools to be held to account. Schools should be checked for safeguarding every year, although currently, Ofsted does not have that capacity, yet the most obvious solution to reduce teacher attrition and improve teacher mental health, ultimately saving the taxpayer millions of cash, is to reform the Ofsted judgements once and for all. This would help Ofsted move to a more productive model of efficiency, providing value for money and shifting our high-stakes accountability system to a peer-to-peer review. We just need to look at the Isle of Man who has been doing this for years!
The report continues with quotations from the ‘Teacher Attitude Survey‘, again using data from only 1,000 teachers from a body of 451,000 qualified teachers working in our state schools. However, it fails to mention that 76 percent of all teachers believe Ofsted is a stressful experience!
Worthy of a mention, “40 percent of teachers stated a preference for an above/below the line system, with a significant minority (24%) disagreeing. I’d love to know if those that disagreed have ever seen an Ofsted inspection end another colleague’s career. On closer inspection, more experienced teachers are less likely to agree with keeping the grades – phronesis my dear reader, phronesis.
Towards the end of the report, Ofsted suggests that there is a clear relationship between progress 8 scores and schools inspection grades. By then I had started to lose the will to live. At a deeper level, the Education Act of 2005 needs to be tackled first. This is something for the Education Select Committee to tackle before any other public bodies adopt the system. The four-point grading system “demonstrates how Ofsted is seen as an exemplar of best practice inspection.”
The report concludes with Ofsted own evaluation, followed by another two paragraphs to justify the unintended consequences of change. I think whoever has written this summary, has either ‘not lived in a school’ or fails to understand the implications of grading on the workforce.
We must change the narrative …
We will need to be patient folks before common sense prevails … To every teacher and school leader reading this post, stand up for believing in change and to be brave to challenge the narrative, particularly with parents and Ofsted inspectors when they visit your school. Every school requires improvement. And the vast majority of schools are doing an incredible job. There are of course some illegal schools and school with serious weaknesses – that can be tackled with the right intervention. Only then, Ofsted may demonstrate value for money to the taxpayer.
Below I have included three images for consideration.
- The first image is asking schools to stop publishing good or outstanding banners on the school gates. What school would publish a “We are a requires improvement school” on a laminated banner?
- Instead, what if we all published images of our staff, former pupils and current pupils with soundbites about their experiences? This would be a much more beneficial narrative for everybody – plus the cash we would save!
- The third and final image is my body expressing its feelings after a brutal Ofsted inspection in February 2017. This was the tenth inspection of my career, through many frameworks, all in challenging secondary schools in London. Although I am contemplating getting back into the classroom, this came at a time when I had asked to go part-time – with an incoming MAT takeover believing in the rhetoric written on the report which not only ended my head teacher’s position but threatened my own. From this point forward, I will refuse to work in a challenging school until it changes.
An abdication of responsibility …
This is one of the greatest abdications of responsibility by Ofsted in recent times. Not only have they demonstrated that they are ‘research poor’, but to continue claiming grading schools is ‘what parents want’ for the last 25+ years is beyond contempt. For several years, I’ve hoped that those in Ofsted’s leadership had the gusto to dramatically reform the way in which we report on schools. I even set out my hopes for Amanda Spielman when she was appointed in 2016. She has failed to visit sufficient challenging schools to understand the damage grading schools is having on the teaching profession.
This is an abdication of responsibility, at the highest level. In conclusion, I think those that wish to keep the grades are either not working in schools, or if they are, I suspect are sitting on top of a nice, cushy Ofsted rating! You can download the report here.