In The Future, No Ofsted Grades Will Be Needed

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How long will Ofsted continue to grade schools and colleges?

What the English [education] system lacks are clear shared goals and a strategy to unify the system so that it works for all children (BELMAS, 2021)

I’ve researched and asked all the key questions on Ofsted for a number of years:

  1. Are Ofsted value for money? (and what the National Audit Office say!)
  2. Why is Ofsted’s complaints process stacked against you?
  3. How artificial intelligence is used to predict which schools to inspect – and why the formula remains a secret.
  4. How Ofsted’s research shows that 8 per cent of schools receive the wrong judgement!
  5. Why Ofsted have had to go back to some schools and reinspect.
  6. Why Think Tank research shows that Ofsted had no direct impact on school performance.
  7. Why Amanda Spielman denies that Ofsted drives headteacher attrition …
  8. Why measuring schools is unhelpful and why some believe they can judge a school in 30 seconds!
  9. Why grading a school widens inequality and fails to decrease it.
  10. and, Why Ofsted insist on grading schools (even during a pandemic)?

I could continue to pose countless questions and examples of evidence. Below, I provide another new contribution.

A system of self-improvement…

For those reading this post from England, many key voices interviewed (page 2) will be largely recognisable. Around 2010, a revolution in education policy took place which promised to raise education standards. School partnerships, capacity to improve and school-led infrastructure to name a few.

Part of this research published by BELMAS highlights “the challenges of responding rapidly to local need in a system which lacks a robust infrastructure.” Commissioned to investigate how high-performing education systems operate.

My focus here from this research is purely on school and college inspection.

One of the key recommendations in this report is to “revise the role of Ofsted to provide national validation of the processes of self-assessment and peer moderation in each locality.”

Developing a new Locality Model for English SchoolsThe profession has been calling for this model to be introduced for a number of years.

The challenge Ofsted and the Department for Education have is to provide a reliable evaluation of school quality for parents – after all, “it’s what parents want…” according to Ofsted’s own survey of 1,000 parents representing 12 million families.

Another challenge is how does Ofsted continue to work independently of government, and with reduced budgets.

Some schools can be allocated ‘teaching school’ status (only when their Ofsted grade meets criteria). This means thousands of amazing teachers and school leaders expertise are shunned by a “quasi-market approach to managing school improvement.”

No education system can be great if schools are ranked and filed. Some are labelled ‘Oustanding’ which mean others have to be labelled as ‘Requires Improvement.’ We know this status is closely linked to socio-economic factors which Ofsted (try to) evaluate have had little or no success. Even their new inspection framework (September 2019) regurgitates the same-old grading for schools working in challenging contexts.

This must be so frustrating for teachers who choose to work in these circumstances – all their hard work undermined.

Other standout pieces of research references are:

  1. Oversight of the academy system costs 44% more than that for the maintained system Bubb et al. (2019)
  2. An 8% reduction in school funding since 2010 Sibieta (2020)

Recommendations for the future…

BELMAS write, “One mechanism for such externality, in which England is considered to be a world leader (Matthews and Ehren, 2018: 48), is peer review, advocated by the OECD (2013: 468-70) as a priority for school improvement, especially in high-autonomy systems.”

The challenge is these reviews – where money exchanges hands – “are no less objective or rooted in evidence than Ofsted inspections.”

Schools across the Isle of Man (IoM, England) have continued to use this model for a number of years now, successfully – school self-review and evaluation. The debate is still alive and kicking as to whether Ofsted will operate on the island. The problem is, the IoM government rank and file their schools in their own league tables which undermines this self-improving system…

We know “a nationally agreed framework would support schools in their annual self-assessment” moving towards a broader view of school success. We know Ofsted’s current grade methodology is a weak predictor of long-term success for pupils. Thus, attending an ‘Outstanding’ school (rated by Ofsted) has little relation to students’ individual outcomes!

Who knew?!

Instead, moving away from progress measures to a range of academic results, higher education destinations, part and full-time employment, including apprenticeships and vocational pathways, mental health, wellbeing and non-cognitive attributes, rather than a narrow and binary system we currently use could be the future.

In conclusion, the research and its panel of educators suggest “a national agency such as Ofsted could validate the self-assessments, on a sampling basis. No grades would be needed.” With it, Ofsted would also be taking a broader lens for school success rather than what we currently use. Without the grades, the gamification of the system would eliminate stress, reduce attrition, improve collective efficacy, mental health for our pupils, reduce exclusions, improve behaviour and so much more…

This is something I would get behind and will continue to campaign for.

The recommendation to revise the role of Ofsted and remove the system’s bias against disadvantaged schools was strongly supported.

If a panel of educational experts make some very sensible recommendations, how far away are we from Ofsted and the Department for Education acting on the advice from our colleagues?

Until then, we will continue with a discrete marketisation of our schools which pitches one against the other in the hope that standards are improving, pushing parents and pupils one way or another in their search for a ‘Good’ school.

Download the full paper.

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