How fair is OFSTED? Gove's comments about lunchboxes diverts attention from the real question.

Janet Downs's picture
The UK Press Association published a press release which was widely reported in newspapers last week. The article quoted Mr Gove: "There are areas of Ofsted inspections, such as community cohesion or regulations governing what students bring in in their lunchboxes at lunchtime, which are entirely peripheral.”

I have looked through the May 2010 OFSTED report for a local school and found no grade which cites the content of packed lunches. Perhaps Mr Gove is referring to the outcome entitled “The extent to which pupils adopt healthy lifestyles.” I think it would be a very officious OFSTED inspector indeed who interpreted this outcome as a requirement to root out chocolate bars and crisps in food provided, not by the school, but by parents.

Mr Gove’s comment about pack-up surveillance diverts attention from the real question: What is OFSTED for? Mr Gove would say “to identify failing schools”. “Failing” here means judging a school on its GCSE and SAT results without looking at the context in which the school functions. A school with an intake skewed to the bottom end may well ‘fail’ even though it provides good teaching.

That was the case in the school above. The OFSTED report awarded the school a majority of grades, including the quality of teaching, which were Satisfactory of above. Over 90% of parents who returned questionnaires said they thought their child was making good progress. However, OFSTED judged the school to be “Inadequate”. Why? Because the previous year’s SAT results had been lower than the national average. If the teaching was judged satisfactory, then the low SAT results clearly point to circumstances outside the teacher’s control. What makes this judgement particularly unfair is that only twelve children took SATs that year. The school was damned on the results of twelve children.

OFSTED, then, judges a school a failure based on its examination results even when teaching is satisfactory. The real area for discussion is the unfairness of this, not the alleged policing of lunch boxes. However, making jokes about the latter avoids discussion of the former. And Mr Gove wouldn’t want that, would he? How else is he going to achieve a large number of ‘failing’ schools which he can then force to become Academies?
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