Ofsted Outcomes Are Weak Predictors

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Are Ofsted grades weak predictors of students’ achievement and wellbeing?

A research paper, this time published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (2020), yet again condemns England’s school inspection service, Ofsted.

The methodology

The researchers analysed data from 4,391 individuals. School performance at age 11 and GCSE grades at age 16 were accessed from the National Pupil Database, evaluating those who completed measures of wellbeing and school engagement at age 16.

The paper describes the Ofsted self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Once an inspection has been conducted, a school is awarded an overall effectiveness rating that informs parents and the government of the quality of education that pupils attending the school receive.”

The school, depending on if it is a positive result, displays a badge on their website and on the front of their school gates.

“In particular, for those schools that are deemed to be ‘Outstanding’, this rating can act as a marketing tool, driving up interest from parents, students, potential teachers (Waterreus, 2003) and even house prices (Black, 1999; Gibbons & Machin, 2008; Leech & Campos, 2003).”

“In contrast, schools that are judged to be underperforming suffer reputational damage and special measures are taken to improve the school, including the dismissal of senior managers and teaching staff.”

Worse, the school struggles to recruit, wasting further taxpayers cash to replace the good teachers it already had.

I have written about this before; 8 hallmarks of turning around a failing school.

The facts

  1. In 2017/18, £44 million was spent on 6,079 school inspections
  2. An average of £7,200 is spent per school inspection!
  3. Ofsted ratings are the third most important factor to parents when choosing a school, after location and suitability to the child’s needs (2015)
  4. Another report found Ofsted ratings were the third most important factor to parents when choosing a school, after location and suitability to the child’s needs
  5. Ratings of school quality tend to inform and dominate parents’ perceptions of educational excellence, but they are not strongly associated with students’ educational achievement or their enjoyment
  6. One study of more than 10,000 pupils (social-emotional outcomes) found that school quality was only weakly associated with pupil happiness and wellbeing
  7. Each school ‘quality category’ contains students who achieved a wide mix of grades at GCSE

The researchers write, “Although parents and students evidently want to know if going to a better Ofsted-rated school means higher examination results or greater student well-being, we could not find a single published study looking at the association between school-level Ofsted ratings and individual-level outcomes.”

It may be worth reading that sentence again. Yet, to be fair and unbiased, there are other studies that report “small-to-moderate associations between school quality and pupil outcomes.”


The research found that Ofsted ratings of secondary school quality accounted for 4% of the variance in students’ educational achievement at age 16, which was further reduced to 1% of the variance after we accounted for prior school performance at age 11 and family socioeconomic status.

Furthermore, Ofsted ratings were weak predictors of school engagement and student well-being, with an average correlation of .03

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The research findings suggest that differences in school quality (Ofsted ratings) have little relation to students’ individual outcomes.

Students attending ‘Inadequate’-rated schools reported similar levels of happiness, attitudes to school, homework, student-teacher relations and ambition as those attending ‘Outstanding’-rated schools.

This will be disappointing news to millions of parents, the taxpayer and school leaders who work so hard in Outstanding schools. Parents who are looking to make an informed choice for their children’s secondary school may be ill-advised to draw conclusions about individual student outcomes based on government school inspection reports.

My doctoral hypothesis (potential bias, so correct me if you think I’m wrong): Ofsted, whilst it hopes to improve social equality and inclusion, it is my belief that their policies perpetuate inequality across England.

You can download the research paper here.

Can anyone signpost me to research which suggests that Ofsted has improved school standards, whether this is pupil outcomes or quality of teaching? I’d be keen to hear from you.

6 thoughts on “Ofsted Outcomes Are Weak Predictors

  1. Research shows that Ofsted’s inspection outcome is trusted by almost 90% of Schools. Is this not an outstanding result for Ofsted’s reputation? The Agency may not have done distinctively well to make every school happy. But a 90/100 public trust score is magnificent and should be respected.

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