2 BIG Problems for Ofsted To Fix!


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What can we do to improve school inspections and reporting?

Poverty and race are enormous issues for the UK, no more apparent in Ofsted reports, ranking schools inadvertently by demographics …

In my bid to learn how Ofsted communicates with the general public – and how this influences policy – you can see some of the things that I have been researching using network analysis with Twitter.

Part of this learning curve is accessing all sorts of research publications. I have been overwhelmed with the published body of knowledge, challenging Ofsted policy. Regular readers will know my history with the inspectorate, and my views are recently explained in this podcast (30m) for new readers.

Two pieces of research published this week caught my eye, summarised below.

The (white) ears of Ofsted: a raciolinguistic perspective on the listening practices of the schools inspectorate

Now open access, this research by Ian Cushing and Julia Snell unpick ‘raciolinguistic genealogy‘ to examine how inspectors listen to teachers’ and students’ spoken language. This paper considers the historical role of Ofsted as “institutional language police in England”. It is fascinating!

Rather than write an eloquent summary, I have just listed a series of bullet points that caught my eye:

  1. The data is in the form of historical inspection reports from the mid-1800s onwards, a large corpus of contemporary post-2000 inspection reports,
  2. In discussions of the standard language ideology within education, little attention has been given to race.
  3. 92 per cent of Ofsted inspectors are White (Ofsted 2020) and earn an annual salary of around £70,000
  4. How the inspectorate police the speech of teachers and students, especially in its aural judgements of how closely classroom talk is perceived to resemble ‘Standard English’.
  5. Searches revealed how the inspectorate commend teachers who enact aggressive listening practices, a discursive pattern that works to normalise and legitimise the policing of speech
  6. One 2015 report described the good practice of teachers in which they would ‘paraphrase speaking in standard English when pupils lapse into the local dialect’
  7. In a 2019 report, Ofsted instructed management that they ‘must ensure that all staff have the knowledge, skills and understanding they need to model the correct use of standard English
  8. The research suggests that the inspectorate does not just report on what it sees, but what it hears.
  9. For schools, this potentially contributes to a damaging inspection report, which carries material consequences in terms of local reputation, parental trust, funding, recruitment, performativity measures such as school rankings, and in some cases, the threat of closure and/or takeover.
  10. The research concludes the inspectorate’s aural perceptions of language means not only that they exacerbate class and racial inequalities, but also that they fail to focus on the issues that do matter re. classroom talk.

I know it all too well…

In summary, it’s a matter of 1) if you believe all pupils must speak ‘standard English’ 2) if there is scope to use slang and/or other accents in the classroom 3) if ‘how a pupil speaks’ influences inspector bias.

30 Years of Ofsted

In yet another forensic analysis by FFT education datalab, Ofsted outcomes are evaluated over time from 2005/6 – half of Ofsted’s lifetime. I need to get better at looking at state-funded school inspection outcomes, published every month.

“The most recent file of data published by OFSTED contains data on almost 22,000 currently open schools” (FFT).

The team evaluated inspection history using the following categories, plus failing schools and their inspection history linked to the predecessor schools – same pupils after all!

  • Never good
  • Mostly less than good
  • Mostly good
  • Always good
  • Always outstanding
  • New (never been inspected)
  • Merged schools

38% always good

Here is the first interesting piece of information.

Of all the schools open in January 2022, 38% of schools were found to have always been judged good or better since 2005/06. What are the reasons? Good teaching? Changing framework? Pupil demographics? Great leadership? Probably all of this and more, but I suspect there is one significant difference which has never been researched by Ofsted themselves: What difference does parental affluence make to inspection?

Ofsted School inspection histories

It gets worse…

2% (n= 369) have never been judged to be good or better! Imagine choosing to work in these schools – always labelled inadequate? Many schools who have only ever had one full inspection since 2005!!

By region? If a teacher works in the West Midlands, their school is least likely to be judged good or better. It’s also tougher for secondary schools in the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber.

What about disadvantaged pupils (free school meals)? Well, it will come as no surprise that there is a CLEAR social gradient between school inspection histories and school-level disadvantage (again). This message cannot be any clearer for politicians and parents. Good quality teaching is a ‘poverty thing’ not a school thing…

Poverty, poverty, poverty …

I return to the point I made several years ago. Why should a school leader choose to work in a challenging school if it could result in the end of a teaching career? The odds are stacked against you being judged fairly. Yes, choose to work in a challenging school to make a difference, and yes one or two schools buck the trend, but we all know what happens when Ofsted fails a school and the impending attrition rates start to churn over …

Levelling up requires investments in these areas. We may then see this skewed diagram start to shift. However, I’m not confident government and/or Ofsted policy can fix this in the short term (and if Ofsted grading is a reliable measure of the quality of education). Here’s the latest Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI) that measures the proportion of all children aged 0 to 15 living in income deprived families. Take a look at where the darker areas (most deprived) are and how they correlate with inspection findings…

Meanwhile, Ofsted continues to defend the obvious.

Schools with the least disadvantaged intakes tend to be more likely to have always been judged good or better … (FFT, 2022)


5 thoughts on “2 BIG Problems for Ofsted To Fix!

  1. When I pointed this very thing out to an Educational Consultant I was told that since 2017 schools are not now judged this way. Some of this clearly shows it’s not a level playing field. But, as a Black Country lad, I have always known that my accent has been a hindrance to climbing the promotional ladder.

  2. Hi

    I’m assuming there’s an error on the table. Should there be an extra column showing the areas/ levels of deprivation?
    Also in the text it says “38% of schools were found to have always been judged good or better” but on the table that figure is 32%. Not sure if I’m missing something somewhere.

    1. Fair point. It should say in the subtext: “Of all the schools open in January 2022, 38% of schools were found to have always been judged good or better since 2005/06. ” Re. IDACI – this is my addition to the data, not what FFT have published in the graphic. The IDACI chart would make an interesting comparison.

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