4,696 schools need to improve, says Chief HMI, but 4,000+ of these would be “Sound” if they were private schools inspected by the ISI

Janet Downs's picture
The number of schools judged Good or Outstanding is now 78% but there are still too many schools requiring improvement, said Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools.

640 schools were judged “Inadequate” under the tougher Ofsted regime introduced last year. This includes one of the first-wave free schools set up among much hype about free schools being trail blazers which would raise standards overall. 4056 schools were judged to “require improvement” including three of those first-wave free schools.

However, "Requires improvement" used to be "Satisfactory" - satisfying the criteria. Willshaw argues that "Satisfactory" isn't good enough and he may be right. In that case the same criteria should apply to private schools.

Ofsted has retained "Satisfactory" for the private schools it judges to be grade 3. "Requires improvement" is only used after an emergency inspection reveals a private school isn't meeting statutory requirements. Even then it is not applied as a blanket judgement but only applies to those areas which don’t comply with the regulations governing private schools.

Independent schools inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) describe their grade 3 schools as Sound.

If grade 3 state schools were inspected by the ISI then they would be Sound. In other words, those 4,000 state schools requiring improvement would be offering a "sound" education.

So, let's have a level playing field. Either Grade 3 schools require improvement or they are sound. Which is it, Mr Wilshaw? This anomaly allowing schools in different sectors to be judged by different criteria is unfair.

UPDATE 12.43pm 10 September 2013

It appears that the new Ofsted revised handbook allows Ofsted inspectors to make allowances for different types of schools.  Inspectors are required to discover the ethos of these schools as Michael Gove made clear in the Commons yesterday:

'Ofsted has, in its new revised handbook, taken account of the fact that more parents are exercising choice in a way that inevitably compels Ofsted to review its guidance, and explicitly it says:

“Certain types of schools (such as faith, Steiner and Montessori schools) exist as maintained or independent schools. When inspecting such…provisions, inspectors should familiarise themselves with the background information to these types of schools”'.

This raises the question of conistency of inspections.  Would, say, a Steiner school, be able to claim exemption from teaching reading before the age of 7 when this is required of other state schools?  Would, say, a school run by a religious sect be able to avoid teaching about other faiths when other state schools would be penalised if they failed to do so?

It appears that Ofsted inspections are already inconsistent because of the different language used in inspections of Ofsted-inspected state schools, private schools inspected by Ofsted and schools inspected by ISI.  The new guidance is likely to make it more difficult to decide whether Ofsted judgements adhere to the stame standards.

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