Policy Exchange report which advocates for-profit educational provision (Part Two) tackles “coasting” schools

Janet Downs's picture
There’s been great concern about “the quality of education on offer in the average English state school,” writes James O’Shaughnessy, author of Competition meets Collaboration. But what are “average English state schools”? O’Shaughnessy implies they’re ones judged “satisfactory”. But Ofsted found 70% of English state schools were “good or better” at their last inspection. It would be more accurate to say that the average English state school is good or better.

That’s not to say there aren’t schools causing concern. According to O’Shaughnessy, these are “coasting” schools which, he says, have “stubbornly” resisted efforts to improve their results since 1982. It’s unclear what evidence O’Shaughnessy uses to support this statement – Ofsted has only been in existence since 1992 and it wasn’t until 2006 that the 4-point scale (1 = Outstanding, 4 = inadequate) was introduced.

O’Shaughnessy says that “satisfactory” schools will have four years “to sort themselves out before being put into special measures”. But it can’t be assumed that schools previously judged “satisfactory” are still “satisfactory” – they may have improved just as those judged “outstanding” may have been downgraded. And it has to be said that there are increasing concerns about the accuracy of recent Ofsted inspections.

Nevertheless, O’Shaughnessy puts concerns about Ofsted’s judgements aside. Ofsted, he writes, estimates that there “could be up to 30% of schools” below par. He supports this by citing one interviewee who “thought” half of English schools were underperforming.

The report describes policies designed to help poorer pupils. He cites the National Challenge but doesn’t point out that City Challenge which formed the basis for National Challenge was more successful than sponsored academies in raising results. He mentions City Technology Colleges (CTCs) which were supposed to be representative of the full range of ability in their catchment. But only three of the fifteen original CTCs had more than 10% low attainers in their 2011 GCSE cohort. The Thomas Telford School, a CTC in Shropshire described as one of the top-performing comprehensives in the country, had 67% high attaining pupils in the 2011 GCSE cohort and only 1% low attainers. This intake is more like that of a grammar school.

O’Shaughnessy cites a 2010 poll which found that 25% of parents thought their child’s education was “satisfactory or worse”. But the poll didn’t define what was meant by “satisfactory” and it’s likely that parents would take “satisfactory” to mean “satisfying the criteria” not “unsatisfactory.” Parents were asked to rate the standard of education available to their children. The results were as follows:

Very good 40%

Fairly good 35%

Satisfactory 18%

Fairly poor 6%

Very poor 1%.

It’s likely that the report was written before the UK Statistics watchdog expressed concerns about citing the 2000 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests for the UK, so it's to his credit that O’Shaughnessy concedes that these results are disputed by citing FullFact. Unfortunately, he spoilt this by saying “it is still indisputably the case that according to the 2009 PISA evaluation England is at best a middling performer in English and Maths and just above average in Science.” PISA tested Reading – not English; England was “statistically significantly above” the average in Science and the Maths result was contradicted by the earlier Trends in Maths and Science Survey (TIMMS). The head of the Statistics watchdog drew attention to TIMMS and concluded that ‘it may be difficult to treat an apparent decline in secondary school pupils’ performance as “a statistically robust result”’.

O’Shaughnessy quoted from the LSE report by Machin and Vernoit but he missed the significance in the quote he gave which said that sponsored academies had improved the quality of their intake since becoming academies. This, of course, would have affected outcomes. He also ignored the warning given by Machin that evidence from sponsored academies couldn’t be used to justify the academy conversion programme.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of Schools, is quoted as saying that heads of successful schools are supporting other schools in clusters. But clusters don’t have to be confined to academies – they can take place within local authorities. In January, TES found that 97% of converter academies were not helping weaker schools, and it appears that Ofsted is becoming increasingly concerned that when heads of successful schools leave their own schools to concentrate on others then their own school suffers.

Becoming an academy doesn’t always work, O’Shaughnessy concedes. He lists academies that failed to meet the Government’s benchmark of 35% of eligible pupils securing 5+ A*-C GCSEs (or equivalent) including Maths and English. This number of “failing” academies is much larger when equivalent exams (1) are removed. Skegness Academy, Lincolnshire, for example, would fall from 45% achieving the benchmark in 2011 to 1%, while at Steiner Academy, Hereford, the results plummet from 75% reaching the benchmark to 0%.

O’Shaughnessy suggests one answer: a negotiated solution transferring the underperforming academy to another chain. He gives as an example the Emmanuel Schools Foundation Academies which joined ULT. He doesn’t, however, say that ULT was once banned from taking on more academies because of poor performance. And his implied smooth transition is contradicted by John Burn OBE, ex-principal of one of the Emmanuel academies, who told the Education Select Committee that “The negotiations by both parties were conducted in secret. An announcement was made as a fait accompli that control of the schools [Emmanuel Academies] had passed to another charity [ULT]. Everything was done behind closed doors without the knowledge of the school Principals, the governors, the parents or the local communities which these schools serve. There was no consultation either with the staff or with parents.”

Not very democratic, it would seem. But then O’Shaughnessy isn’t a fan of the involvement of democratically-elected politicians serving on school governing body – he describes it as interference.

(1) Data for the results of sponsored academies in 2011 when equivalent exams are stripped out is available here.  Download document DEP2012-0657.
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Richard's picture
Sun, 21/10/2012 - 17:45

Blimey, the resident troll Ricky Tarr-sehole hasn't been here yet.

Adrian Elliott's picture
Mon, 22/10/2012 - 07:42

There have been regular polls over the years revealing overall satisfaction levels amongst parents with children in state schools which are much higher than those of users of nearly all large scale public or private services. And so they should be of course.

Its interesting though that the poll he quotes shows 15% of parents at independent primary schools thought their child's education was satisfactory or worse which, by his standards, is hardly a full-hearted endorsement

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 22/10/2012 - 09:33

These 'think tank' reports are like a cancer filling up the air with rancid stuff which blocks up the space where healthy growth should take place.

It would help if these people who write about inspection knew anything at all about inspection of schools in practice or about best practice in inspection and regulation in general.

Satisfactory means no cause for concern. It is a category used for a wide variety of things many of which are excellent but are not easily graded or observed by an external inspector - but the inspector can see that there is nothing wrong.

SATISFACTORY MEANS NO CAUSE FOR CONCERN. This is absolutely fundamental to inspection and regulation. It does not mean that action needs to be taken. It means that no action needs to be taken. This is not rocket science.

It's a tribute to the toxic nature of the bubble that these 'think tankites and SPADs' live in that they can spout this excrement and actually believe it's meaningful.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 22/10/2012 - 10:12

Rebecca - unfortunately the chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has abolished the "satisfactory" rating which, when it was first introduced in 2006 meant just that, ie the school was satisfying the criteria. This definition of satisfactory has changed over the last 2-3 years to "unsatisfactory" which is unfair to all those schools deemed to be satisfactory. Even Ms Birbalsingh (aka Miss Snuffy) complained about this redefinition in her book.


That's not to say that schools judged satisfactory should just sit back complacently - they should take on board what Ofsted said they needed to do to improve. However, it now seems that schools judged satisfactory at their last inspection, which could be some time ago, are now deemed to be offering a "mediocre", poor quality education.

According the author of this Policy Exchange report, these schools have "stubbornly" refused to improve over thirty years which, considering Ofsted didn't exist then, is hard to prove or disprove so it is likely that this statement will become one of the zombie statistics so beloved of certain sections of the media. I don't suppose it'll be long before a government minister uses this statement citing Policy Exchange as the source.


Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 22/10/2012 - 10:58

SATISFACTORY MEANS NO CAUSE FOR CONCERN. This is absolutely fundamental to inspection and regulation.

That, presumably, is why the classification has been changed.

It would indeed be absurd to have a category labelled "satisfactory" that is below the standard that the government has identified as the minimum standard acceptable.

What is the minimum standard acceptable is the standard identified by OFSTED as "good".

There is no reason why a government shouldn't set a new (and higher) minimum standard of performance from time to time.

It happens in all policy areas and under all governments.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 22/10/2012 - 11:55

I know you don't know much about education Ricky but it is fundamental that you come to understand that 'satisfactory' is/was the designation given to teaching about which an inspector has no cause for concern at all but which does not fit the very narrow bands which denote the Ofsted categories.

When Ofsted was set up people were concerned that teachers would be forced to used teaching methods which were not necessarily the best or the most appropriate for their students but which were easily inspectable by somebody who came into a classroom for just a short period of time with perhaps limited relevant experience to the subject or the type of cohort.

The government responded in two ways. First it said that the HMIs who set up Ofsted were academics of education and understood the width of good practice, so if mistakes were made they could be rectified through internal complaints system. Secondly, the definition of outstanding provision was deliberately short and open to allow a wide variety of excellent practice to be given that classification.

But in reality the complaints system could only be used effectively by schools with very strong heads so teachers did revert to a narrow range of very explicit methodologies. This was particularly problematic for schools with challenging cohorts because they have traditionally used sophisticated teaching strategies to engage and motivate students which do not fit these categories. Over time the inspectors became less and less credible and qualified and less able to recognise anything but the standard stuff people tended to show them so instead of using outstanding as a classification for the variety of teaching which was difficult to grade they used 'satisfactory'. Which was not great but was okay as it did not lead to punishment or interference.

Nobody was surprised when the 'outstanding' criteria were changed (in 2008 I think) to be highly prescriptive because inspectors had long since been underqualified to use it as it had been intended.

When Michael Gove came into power he had massive support for increasing diversity in education. This support was due to the suffocation of diversity by Ofsted. While he could have dealt with this problem in just a few weeks by obligating Ofsted to the regulators code and giving state schools the balance of rights which go with it that public schools and private schools already have he has instead run a massive propaganda campaign to pretend that the issue with diversity was that in order to be diverse we had to be free schools or academies. Clearly he actually believes what he says which makes the situation even more excruciating has his ignorance is so plain to see. The vast gulf between his picture of reality and reality itself combined with the obvious bullying of schools to do whatever he says has covered state education in a fire blanket of suffocating silence. Nobody is heard because the people who used to listen have been fired and replaced with people who are deaf.

Please excuse me while I vomit at yours and his ignorance of what the heck you are talking about and your complete lack of insight into what Gove is actually doing.

agov's picture
Mon, 22/10/2012 - 11:59

Nor is there any reason to distort normal language in order to do so.

Not that Ofsted does standards of performance so much as implementing a political agenda, currently one of finding fault in order to facilitate public assets being given away to private eco-businesses.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 22/10/2012 - 13:16

I know you don’t know much about education Ricky but it is fundamental that you come to understand that ‘satisfactory’ is/was the designation given to teaching about which an inspector has no cause for concern at all but which does not fit the very narrow bands which denote the Ofsted categories.

I think that statement shows it's you who knows little about what she's talking about.

"Satisfactory" was NOT some vague default position, as you claim. It was (from September 2005) a grade, with criteria, grade descriptors and whathaveyou. It was the third grade in a scale of four.

Prior to September 2005, it was the fourth grade in a scale of seven.

The coalition government decided that all schools should be required to perform at least at the level that Ofsted then judged "good". It therefore made perfect sense for OFSTED to scrap the term "satisfactory" for a grade that no longer would be.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 22/10/2012 - 15:47

Seems you could be right, agov. In the Policy Exchange report, Part Three, O’Shaughnessy admits that the new Ofsted regime will create “a wave of underperformance” which will need addressing. A cynic might say that’s precisely what the new Ofsted regime was established to do – raise the number of “failing” schools.

The author says academy chains will struggle to cope with the tsunami. The answer, he writes, is private sector involvement in three possible ways:

1Selling schools to private companies who then become responsible for operating the school which would continue to be state funded.
2Private companies providing “additional capacity” and operating “parallel to and in competition with existing state-funded provision”.
3“Owners” of state schools ie LAs, trusts (diocese, academy) “procuring” services from private sector Education Management Organisations (EMOs).

Outsourcing companies must be rubbing their hands in glee at the thought of all this "procurement" (a rather sleazy word, I've always thought).


See faqs above for information about whether market forces increase results and efficiency – the evidence is “fragmentary” and “inconclusive”.

agov's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 09:36



Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 22/10/2012 - 15:10

I'm talking about what actually happens Ricky.
Not about what the people who work 'on' (but have never worked in) education rather than 'in' education think happens. It strikes me as rather bizarre that in all this comparative analysis of countries which excel in education our people who work 'on' rather than 'in' education have failed to notice that they are the group who do not exist in the countries which excel but hey ho that's an aside at the minute.

It would make perfect sense for Ofsted to follow the regulatory code.
Then there would only be two grades. Unsatisfactory and not unsatisfactory (pass or fail if you like). That clarifies things for everyone and requires inspectors to use the more effective and less counterproductive methods of improving organisations the regulatory code, Hampton and established best practice in inspection and regulation recommend.

Shame Gove decided to do precisely the opposite of what has been established to be good practice. It rather startles me that in the vast investigation into Ofsted he carried out he failed to come to understand any of the key issues. Well it would have startled me if I hadn't actually experienced what was going on.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 22/10/2012 - 15:31


You are becoming a bit of an obsessive on this Hampton angle. Okay, you've made your point on that one. I don't particularly disagree with you. But those in charge do. They've made their decisions. One of the reasons, I suspect, is that Ofsted grading is about more than regulation. It's about promoting improvement and also telling parents which schools are the best ones. And about accountability for public money. So a lot of (sometimes conflicting) things for the inspection regime to do. Ain't perfect but.........

All that aside..... the pass/fail thing you mention is (sort of) there. The government says all schools should be Good or better. If less than Good, that's a fail.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 22/10/2012 - 16:11

Having read on - O'Shaughnessy dismisses the first option above as a "dead end" because it would be difficult to reconcile the need to give shareholders a return and the educational need of the child. This is exactly what Sweden's Secretary of State for Education told BBC Radio 4's The Report.

O'Shaughnessy says the second option would be slow and cumbersome but would have the advantage of offering choice and if that meant schools declined then so be it. And bringing in additional private sector provision might be "risky" although this could be offset by the need for more school places in the future.

He favours the third solution and praises the Hackney Learning Trust. He also mentions such firms as EdisonLearning and Kunskapsskolan. The former has faced allegations of corruption:


And the latter is one of the firms which will be the subject of an inquiry by the Swedish Government concerned about the motivation of these firms. And Per Leden of Kunkskapskolan told the Economist: “We do not mind being compared to McDonald's...If we're religious about anything, it's standardisation. We tell our teachers it is more important to do things the same way than to do them well.”

So, identikit teachers all doing the same thing - that's real education.


Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 22/10/2012 - 17:49

"But those in charge do. They’ve made their decisions."
The documents you advised me to look at clearly show that under the last government Ofsted were being heavily directed to get in line with the regulators code. In 2009 they were finally put under it by law for public an private schools and advised to use it for state schools.

During the enquiry, according to my flies on the wall, it was not discussed. This fits with my experience at the WEF after the enquirey finished when I raised it with Graham Stuart in public. He clearly had not considered the issues despite having chaired the enquiry and he said that the Ofsted directorate should invite me in to discuss my points. The Ofsted director present publicly agreed but when I followed that up in private his tone was completely different - this is not up for discussion. He was of the opinion that state schools should not be under Hampton but his comments were do deeply ignorant I could only presume that he had no experience in education or in inspection and regulation and when I checked that out I was right. He as part of the malignant group of people who 'do' education without understanding the consequences of their actions.

So in reality we went straight from Ofsted being directed to get under the regulators code through an enquiry where it wasn't discussed as being one of the options to it having been discussed and decided against without it ever actually being discussed and decided against - because, of course, it wouldn't have been decided against by anybody with relevant experience - unless it was part of a somebody's plan to use Ofsted as a tool to bully schools into, say, becoming academies which, surprise, surprise, isn't good practice and wouldn't be allowed.

"One of the reasons, I suspect, is that Ofsted grading is about more than regulation. It’s about promoting improvement and also telling parents which schools are the best ones."
The regulators code and Hampton understand that. The investigations of 2004-2006 found that trying to force organisations up defined scales was seriously counter productive for healthy diversity and innovation (which very clearly applies to state education - that's the whole point here) and that improvement was much more effectively achieved by making it statutory pass/fail criteria that organisations should be engaged in appropriate cycles of improvement, appropriate systems of internal and external communication and so on and that excellence should be accredited by specialists who really know what they are talking about rather than by the regulator.

"And about accountability for public money."
The regulator's code is properly concerned with value for money - unlike the current regime.

"So a lot of (sometimes conflicting) things for the inspection regime to do. Ain’t perfect but………"
It's an atrocity and an embarassment and its hugely damaging to schools.

"All that aside….. the pass/fail thing you mention is (sort of) there. The government says all schools should be Good or better. If less than Good, that’s a fail."
It's not there because Ofsted is not accountable for anything it does. It does what it likes when it likes. It says it's doing something to government but schools have no right whatsoever to hold it to account for not doing what it says its doing.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 22/10/2012 - 18:34

"O’Shaughnessy admits that the new Ofsted regime will create"

It really is seriously damaging schools Janet. This is not a statistical mirage.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 22/10/2012 - 19:09

Let's be clear about this Ricky.

At some stage somebody has decided to create the impression that obligating Ofsted to the regulators code has been consulted and rejected. This is not actually true. Nor would it ever be true because the benefits to education of having an intelligent regulators would be so great (perhaps even great enough to conceal the damaged caused by the free schools and academies messes). However it would be in the interests of various people to present it as being true.

One of the problems Gove has that he though he was clearing out all the 'Mandarins' at the beginning of this government. But in fact he was clearing out all the people with ability and leaving in place the people who told him what he wanted to hear so that they would be able to do whatever it was they wanted to do. i.e. the Mandarins. He now has a lot of Mandarins to get rid of if he actually wants to do anything worthwhile and there are plenty of them at the top of Ofsted. To do that he needs the help of expert regulators such as those who have helped me to get my head round the issues.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 07:56

As early as 2008, Sutton Trust found that the definitions of school performance have been subject to change under New Labour. The Trust’s report on academies (downloadable below) quoted Sammons 2008: “[d]ifferent uses of the term standards, and the growing numbers of indicators, targets and different bases for judgments can cause confusion because schools classed as ‘failing’ in some measures may do well in others.”

This “confusion” has been made worse since 2008. Ofsted changed its inspection criteria in 2009 and it’s now been changed again. It’s not so much “moving the goalposts” as the goalposts whizzing around the field of play carried by demented gnomes.


Sammons, P. 2008. „Zero tolerance of failure and New Labour approaches to school improvement in England‟, Oxford Review of Education

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 08:35

This “confusion” has been made worse since 2008. Ofsted changed its inspection criteria in 2009 and it’s now been changed again.

This government has reduced the 'confusion' and the hassle-factor by simplifying the process, reducing the number of things inspected from 27 to 4.

This radical simplification, accompanied by abolishing the vast, compulsory self-evaluation form heads found onerous was just what schools said they wanted - an end to the nit-picking, box-ticking bureaucratic approach used by Labour.

The things Ofsted measures today - achievement, the quality of teaching, behaviour & safety, leadership.... are the sensible things to inspect.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 08:42

The main effect of the reduction in the areas inspected had been to remove context from judgements.

In theory this sounds sensible and like a simple and easy way forward.

In practice it it hell and doesn't make any sense at all.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 09:33

But it’s not just four key areas, is it Ricky? The framework for school inspections 2012 (downloadable below) says:

“inspectors must also consider:
the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils at the school
the extent to which the education provided by the school meets the needs of the range of pupils at the school, and in particular the needs of disabled pupils and those who have special educational needs.”

This brings the “number of things inspected” up to six. And there are, of course, sub-headings to be judged such as this under “spiritual, moral, social and cultural development”:

“interest in exploring, understanding of, and respect for cultural diversity and the extent to which they understand, accept, respect and celebrate diversity, as shown by their attitudes towards different religious, ethnic and socio-economic groups in the local, national and global communities.”

That sounds rather like the much-derided “social cohesion” in the previous Ofsted framework.



Having looked at an inspection report from 2001 (example downloadable below), I was struck by how detailed it was. Each subject was listed separately and I felt the inspectors really knew the school.


It would have been difficult back in 2001 for inspectors to produce “identikit” inspection reports:


So, it's not simply a case of "reducing the number of things inspected" - it's more a case of categorising things under main headings which gives the appearance of a reduction. The "things Ofsted measures today" are actually things Ofsted has always inspected (refer to example of 2001 linked above) and, yes, they are "sensible". They always have been.

agov's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 09:44

"This government has reduced the ‘confusion’ and the hassle-factor by simplifying the process, reducing the number of things inspected from 27 to 4."

The number of things inspected has not been reduced, they are just included under fewer labels.

Nor has the confusion and hassle-factor been reduced. In fact it is now worse. Inspectors are now even more free to fixate on whatever they happen to care or think they know about, then they can slag off the school under whichever of the 4 labels is most convenient.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 09:59

agov - they can also cut-and-paste from one report to another - it's so time-saving and efficient.


Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 12:00

Under the last government I attended many consultations on education policy. The purpose of those consultations was to connect policy with the reality of its implications on the ground so that policy could be reformed to make it more and more fit for purpose in action.

My purpose in attending was to raise concerns about specific things I'd seen happening so that policy makers were aware of issues and lessons could be learned. I found myself having profoundly intelligent conversations which left me with a greater awareness of my wider context and of what could and couldn't be done and why. Sometimes I could see the influence my comments had on thinking and policy.

Now there is a vast gulf between policy on Ofsted and what the people in the bubble think it does and reality. The gulf is so wide it's virtually unbridgable and that situation is deeply toxic. The mechanisms which were there to help the two parts of society connect have gone. I'm very grateful that we've got this forum where we can continue to try to bridge that gap. But it's difficult because here we have only words and words devoid of all human context often fail to convey reality

agov's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 11:18

It certainly is time-saving.

Much like deciding on what the report will say before the tiresome business of actually visiting the school.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 08:23

Under the new inspection regime, "satisfactory" has been removed from the criteria and replaced with "requires improvement". This new criteria is being retrospectively applied to any school judged "satisfactory" in the past when "satisfactory" meant just that - satisfying the criteria, no real cause for concern but could get better. Ofsted would list areas on which a school could concentrate to improve.

No real cause for concern has been retrospectively redifined as "mediocre" and "failing".

In 2000 teaching was graded on a 7-point scale:

Excellent, Very good, Good, Satisfactory, Unsatisfactory, Poor, Very Poor.

These were descriptors of the teaching and were not necessarily applied to the whole school. For example, an Ofsted report (downloadable below) from 2001 uses none of the above terms in its overall judgement of the school. Instead, inspectors' judgement on "How good the school is" wrote:

"This is a very effective school."

"Effective" is not one of the judgement criteria. Nevertheless, it clearly expresses the quality of education supplied in this particular school in 2001. The terms, "good" and "very good" were used later to describe teaching and leadership/management.


Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 08:28

One of the most significant changes was that when this government came into power they and inspectors suddenly started to use words like satisfactory, good and so on as being words which meant what it appeared they meant rather than using them cautiously as had been done before. So it's not just the changes we can track which have confused things, it's the changes in the perception of what things mean which have occurred as people have left and new people have come in.

But the crucial thing is that for years when people have complained Ofsted have said 'we've changed since that happened - it's fixed now' but it's only got worse because the actual issues have not been addressed. There's just been relentless change which has, in general, made things much worse because it's been chaotic and hasn't actually addressed the issues.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 08:32

"Under the new inspection regime, “satisfactory” has been removed from the criteria and replaced with “requires improvement”. This new criteria is being retrospectively applied to any school judged “satisfactory” in the past when “satisfactory” meant just that – satisfying the criteria, no real cause for concern but could get better. "

Under the regulators code the regulator has a duty to clearly define unsatisfactory practice. Where unsatisfactory practice is identified in accordance with the definitions action taken by the regulator must be proportionate to the nature of the issue identified. Random and chaotic bullying and disproportionate punishments are not allowed because they are clearly damaging to organisations. Why does Gove insist such regulatory behaviour is good for state schools?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 08:40

Under the regulators code the regulator has a duty to clearly define unsatisfactory practice.

Ofsted does define it - in very great detail. The standard that is satisfactory is defined by the grade descriptors in the "Good" column.

Are you arguing that government should never raise the bar? Never expect system-wide improvement?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 08:56

"Are you arguing that government should never raise the bar?"

Raising the bar is not a simple thing to do. I'm in favour of it being raised in coherent ways which schools can actually achieve. But what this government is doing is picking up the bar and clubbing some schools to death with it as an example to the others. That's not raising the bar, it's bullying.

Consider the fact that if you want to 'raise the bar' for kids it's hard to do - you actually need skilled teachers who know how to do that well in ways which lead to sustainable improvements. You might say, Ricky, that it would be great idea just to give teachers a metal bar to beat some of the kids with as this would spook the rest into working harder. You probably wouldn't say that if it was your child who was put in hospital through a beating despite them always having been completely dedicated and hard working, having done their very best and being a fundamentally decent kid who just produced a bad bit of work one day because they were ill that day or had been badly advised or whatever.

We have a coherent infrastructure for raising standards. It works very well for other regulators and it is clearly what state education desperately needs. Ofsted has been relentlessly clearing out the inspectors who are capable of working to the standards of our good regulators and has instead been promoting yes men who use metal bars to beat schools with when they are told to do so. In reality a lot of the 'clearing out' is by mutual agreement because good inspectors will not work in that way and choose to leave and work in jobs where they add value instead.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 10:51

There was a time, not too long ago, when "satisfactory" was linked with "sound progress" as this example of a 2009 Ofsted inspection shows:


So, "satisfactory" in 2009 meant pupils in the school were making "sound progress". In 2012, "satisfactory" has been redefined as "mediocre" and "underperforming". This new definition is being applied retrospectively to "prove" that "satisfactory" schools, far from being "sound", are now "failing".

Such sophistry.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 24/10/2012 - 09:28

Janet, it isn't sophistry. It's simply raising the bar as we've discussed higher up.

I can't understand why you find it so difficult to get your head around this concept.

Let's try an analogy.

Imagine a hospital takes records of the duration of patient waiting times for a hip operation and finds the longest waits are around seventeen weeks. If the target the hospital must meet is "maximum of 18 weeks", then the hospital's performance against this target will be judged satisfactory.

But if the NHS then sets a new target of 15 weeks, then it will be no longer satisfactory.

This isn't sophistry.

agov's picture
Wed, 24/10/2012 - 10:31

"then it will be no longer satisfactory"

But we know it will mean having a waiting to go the waiting list.

Imbeciles imposing arbitrary and ever-changing goals do not improve standards, they distort them.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 24/10/2012 - 11:15

Then under a proper system of inspection and regulation inspectors would discuss with management the context within which the failure had occurred and the actions agreed to remedy it which would relate to the failure identified.

Both the finding and the actions agreed would be published and remedial action would be monitored over time.

If the findings were part of a pattern of multiple long term failures by management and there was clear evidence established over time to indicate that management cannot actually deliver the agreed actions and evidence from outside the organisation to show that others working in the same circumstances can achieve them then action would be taken to change the management.

Were this not the case and the inspectorate body took inappropriately draconian action the organisation would have the legal right to challenge their regulator.

Instead in education we have the school being put on notice to improve or special measures which activates many consequences unrelated to the issue identified which are very damaging to the school. We have schools being forced to become academies where the above circumstances are clearly not proven and schools have no legal right whatsoever to challenge anything. Hence schools are being hit violently with the metal bar. It is not being properly raised.

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.