Behind the negative headlines, what did Ofsted 2012 actually say?

Janet Downs's picture
“More than two million taught in under-performing schools” said the Telegraph. A damning picture – but is this all Ofsted wrote?

Ofsted’s annual report said that 2,293,026 children were in schools judged “not good enough” but this can only be upheld by applying the new definition of “satisfactory” (“requires improvement”) retrospectively. Schools judged “satisfactory” before the new meaning was introduced would have been just that. Such schools may have improved since then – this will not be known until their next inspection. It is, therefore, unsound to say that over two million pupils are in poor schools. That accusation can only really be levelled at the 3% judged inadequate.

So, beyond the negative headlines, this is what Ofsted 2012 said (my comments in brackets):

1 70% of schools are good or better; 70% have teaching which is at least good.

2 The London Challenge was a great success. (It’s a pity that its lessons are being ignored.)

3 Standards are rising steadily.

4 The UK is outperformed in reading and Maths by international competitors. (Ofsted only used PISA 2009 figures – one page comprises a pictogram showing England’s relative performance in reading while TIMSS and PIRLS which “may paint different pictures of UK performance” are not taken into account. The report was published before the EIU report – perhaps Ofsted would have been pleasantly surprised about the UK’s high ranking. Or maybe EIU would have been relegated to a footnote.)

5 When inadequate schools improve it is thanks to support from other schools, local authorities and academy sponsors or chains. Other causes (mentioned later) were changes in leadership, support from other heads and monitoring teaching.

6 Some schools achieve well despite challenging circumstances and “some” of these are “succeeding despite poor local political leadership.” (This last comment is disputed eg Leicester has been targeted for enforced conversion of some primaries but the city claims it has already improved schools.)

7 Sponsor-led academies can make a positive difference and perform better than their predecessor schools. (As sponsored academies were established from low-performing schools this should only be expected. But it isn’t a magic bullet. At their last inspection 8% of sponsored academies were judged inadequate compared with 2% of maintained secondary schools and 1% of academy converters.)

8 Converter academies have “yet to make the most of their freedoms.” (UK schools already had a considerable amount of freedom. See faqs above and EIU report).

9 There are too many “satisfactory” schools: 31% are “not good enough”. “Some” are inadequate. (3%).

10 More needs to be done to reduce attainment gaps.

11 There’s a marked inequality of access to a school judged good or better. (See comment about retrospective application of new definition of “satisfactory” which raises the number of “not good enough” schools. Ofsted uses this retrospective application to damn LAs before conceding that LAs need only react when a school is judged “inadequate”. But this doesn’t apply to academies – local authorities complain that their hands are tied. Nevertheless, Ofsted recognised that LAs play an important role in arranging support for inadequate schools although this was often “too little, too late” because LAs should have spotted problems earlier.)

12 Reforming school structures can lead to school improvement. (PWC 2008 found that when schools improve they use similar methods regardless of structure – see faqs above. Ofsted has previously listed the qualities of good and outstanding schools – academy status wasn’t one of them. Henry Stewart’s research found that sponsored academies did no better than non-academy schools in similar circumstances – see faqs above.)

There was much that was positive in the 2012 Ofsted report but this was overshadowed by media concentration on the negative. Ofsted’s comments reveal a bias towards academy status when the evidence linking academy status to raised standards is weak. And Ofsted’s use of PISA 2009 alone to judge the performance of English students using PISA 2009 is unsound.

If I were to judge the report I would give it “Satisfactory” with good and some outstanding features. Except that there isn’t a “satisfactory” category any more, is there?

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Michael Dix's picture
Wed, 28/11/2012 - 21:59

The reported comments from the chief inspector tended to focus on the difference in the number of good or better schools in socially similar local authorities.

What I find unacceptable is that if you use the interactive charts they have published you find that there is a huge difference between the judgments of primary schools in the least deprived and the most deprived areas. The gap is a massive 24%.

This data will be based on inspections when the focus was hugely on both attainment and progress and it is well documented that there is an attainment gap for those from more socially deprived areas. However, the message has always been that inspections are not solely based on data, otherwise we could all save the government a lot of money by scrapping Ofsted and carrying out judgments based on RaiseOnline.

No, these judgments also reflect the quality of teaching and leadership and that is where I have a real issue. Why should teaching and leadership be so much poorer in schools in challenging areas? I can only come up with four solutions.

1. That inspectors have focused purely on the data, as they claim not to have done, The rest of the inspection process is a complete waste of time.

2. Schools in more challenging circumstances fail to attract good teachers and leaders. If this is the case, why haven't successive governments done something about it? I suppose that the scheme to fast track the most promising trainee teachers into challenging schools is an attempt to rectify this but what is government doing to attract the best leaders to these schools?

3. There is still the remnants of a culture of low expectations from children from troubled backgrounds - the 'what do you expect' attitude. But surely schools that have served these children have had 20 years of inspections and LA support.

4. It is easier to be a good teacher and leader in a school where the majority of children arrive with few worries, are fed and dressed appropriately, have been supported at home, have been surrounded by books and stories at home from an early age, are engaged and enthusiastic even before the teacher enters the classroom, where they know hard work and effort are likely to improve their life chances. As opposed to one where the staff have to spend much time daily getting the children into the right frame of mind so that they can start to learn, where they have little faith that education will make a difference to their lives because ir hasn't done that for their parents or grandparents.

I generalise of course, and there are of course Ofsted judged outstanding schools, teachers and leaders in deprived areas and inadequate ones in affluent areas. But is it easier to be judged a good teacher in a school where children come in ready to learn by default than in one where every day is a struggle?

Add new comment

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