Ofsted chief's attack on "satisfactory" schools is unfair

Francis Gilbert's picture
Yet again we find teachers being attacked by the establishment. Last week, it was David Cameron saying there are too many "coasting" schools, and this week it's the chief inspector of Ofsted, Miriam Rosen, in Ofsted's annual report claiming that there are too many "satisfactory" schools. One wonders if Rosen -- or Ofsted inspector generally -- really understand the English language; surely "satisfactory" means precisely that. Apparently not, in the double-speak of the school inspectorate, "satisfactory" apparently means "unsatisfactory".

For experienced teachers like me, this contorted use of the language is all too familiar. The chief problem is that it does nothing to raise the morale of the profession (a key factor in raising standards) and it doesn't accurately describe the situation. The truth is that there is no such thing as a "coasting" or "satisfactory" school; within most schools you'll find brilliant teachers, "satisfactory" ones, and, possibly, those that are struggling. Labelling great swathes of schools in this way is very unfair and totally inaccurate.
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Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 24/11/2011 - 08:44

The dictionary definition of "satisfactory" is "satisfying all requirements". In Ofsted speak, however, it means "poor", "coasting", being "stuck steadfastly", "insufficiently challenging" and so on. And to Schools Minister Nick Gibb it means that such schools are "underperforming [and] making painfully slow improvements".

If "satisfactory" really does mean these negative words, then Ofsted should judge these schools as "inadequate". But it can't, because satisfactory schools are providing a satisfactory level of education. To judge them as "inadequate" would lay Ofsted open to ridicule.

It is unreasonable to expect teaching to be outstanding all the time. Most teachers throughout their teaching careers will teach some oustanding lessons, some good and some inadequate. But most will be satisfactory. If teaching were outstanding all of the time then it wouldn't be outstanding (ie "standing out") - it would be "average" (and there's another word with which to criticise teachers).

Guest's picture
Fri, 25/11/2011 - 13:34

Perhaps Fiona could shed some light on this in her position as Chair Of Governors at a school which is satisfactory. Why has Fiona and the management team been unable to improve the school, which is a wealthy area surrounded by houses worth well over £1 million. You would expect a school with the resources it has and the contacts its management team have to improve, so why not?

Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 26/11/2011 - 19:18

The recent turbulent history of William Ellis has been well documented in the media and online so I won't re- rehearse it here. The new head, the governors and staff are very ambitious for the school and working hard to address the issues raised by the last Ofsted inspection. The value of local property has no bearing on the school's resources and the school's intake is very mixed (39% of the boys are eligible for FSM). In fact both our revenue and capital budget are being cut due to the government's spending cuts. However in spite of all this, our GCSE results are above the national average this year, a third of the boys achieved the government's new E-Bac measure ( also above national average) so I don't accept that 'satisfactory' necessarily means failing.

Guest's picture
Sun, 27/11/2011 - 12:16

Thanks Fiona. It's reassuring,that unlike Janet and Francis, you agree with OFSTED and Cameron that a satisfactory grade and coasting schools are unacceptable.
I mentioned the fact that the house prices around William Ellis are in excess of £1m as you seemed to think that was relevant on another thread you started regarding Free Schools. It's clear you feel that house prices surrounding a school have no bearing on intake.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 27/11/2011 - 14:32

Guest - I think if you read Fiona's comment again you will see that she wrote: "I don't accept that 'satisfactory' necessarily means failing." Ofsted unfortunately has a weak grasp of the English language - it suggests that "satisfying the criteria" means "failing". But as I said above, if Ofsted really does think that "satisfactory" schools are really failing, then it should fail them. Instead it indulges in "Doublespeak": it says, "Satisfactory is bad, but bad doesn't mean failing because satisfactory schools have reached a satisfactory standard, so they can't be bad."

Fiona Millar's picture
Sun, 27/11/2011 - 15:29

Obviously the local community has a bearing on intake - my point was the value of property has no bearing on the financial resources the school can expect , which you suggested was the case. I don't think Francis and Janet were suggesting satisfactory schools should not seek to improve, simply that satisfactory doesn't necessarily mean failing.

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