Does Ofsted’s one-word judgements ‘actually help parents’ … and raise standards?
This blog unpicks the complexities and implications of Ofsted’s single-word judgements, urging a reconsideration of this oversimplified approach.
A measure of school effectiveness?
Earlier this week, the Education Select Committee published its first inquiry into Ofsted’s work with schools.
Ofsted’s single-word judgements – ‘Outstanding’, ‘Good’, ‘Requires Improvement’, and ‘Inadequate’ – attempt to encapsulate a school’s overall effectiveness. This simplification, meant to provide clarity, often masks the nuanced realities of school life and achievement, providing a binary perception of success or failure.
Having worked in the English education system for 32 years, I have received all the Ofsted badges. From life as a teacher during lesson observations, as well as achieving all the badges in my life as a school leader.
My practice has refined over time with experience, but largely nothing is different to what I do today in the classroom from what I did in 1993 …
A challenging cycle for disadvantaged schools
Not everyone will agree, but having spent my life working in disadvantaged schools, I believe the Ofsted grading system widens inequality that is hard to break. (Elhren et al., 2023). I have also worked on the sharp end of the wedge and faced the mental health aftermath; many people tell me they are surprised and refreshed to read my current views (2023) on the overall grading system.
The weight of Ofsted judgements impacts not just schools’ reputations but also the morale of teachers and parental choices. The evidence is also clear for schools in challenging circumstances.
These labels do not account for the strides made in school improvement, while ‘Outstanding’ schools face pressure to maintain an almost unblemished image. This one-size-fits-all approach fails to capture the diverse contexts in which schools operate, potentially stigmatising those in deprived areas and adding to the stress and workload of school staff.
The Select Committee said, “The single-word judgement was one of the most strongly criticised issues in the evidence we received.”
Questions to consider
- How does a school’s current Ofsted rating influence priorities and practices?
- How do we demonstrate a school’s unique strengths beyond a single-word judgement?
- How can we support each other in a climate that often values labels over learning?
- What measures can we take to ensure a school’s narrative is understood, irrespective of our Ofsted rating?
- How might a more detailed and descriptive evaluation system better serve a school and its community?
- How do we foster a culture of improvement that transcends the pressure of Ofsted ratings?
- What role can we play in advocating for a more equitable approach to school inspections?
- How can we balance accountability with the wellbeing of the school community?
- What strategies can we employ to mitigate the stress associated with Ofsted inspections?
- How can we engage parents and the wider community in a dialogue about what truly defines a ‘good’ school?
Sir Michael Wilshaw, the former HMCI, said that the single-word judgement was “not giving parents an accurate picture of what is happening in the school” and meant that, if a school was judged as good, headteachers could “relax and not address the weaknesses that there are in that school.”
And here lies the problem.
Find me one head teacher who doesn’t want to improve their school, regardless of Ofsted existence?