Dodgy data in speech by Ofsted National Director. Requires Improvement?

Janet Downs's picture
When Ofsted inspects schools, it’s to be hoped they use wide-ranging and reliable evidence. Some inspectors stand accused of making decisions based only on statistics. Sean Harford, Ofsted’s National Director for Schools Policy since July 2014, admitted as much in his reply to criticism of Ofsted by Tom Sherrington, aka HeadGuruTeacher.

It’s disconcerting, therefore, to read a speech by Harford to the South West Regional Conference on Most Able Students which contains dodgy data.

Gloucestershire, Harford said, was ‘below the national average for all key stages in 2014 and with yawning attainment gaps, particularly at KS4.’

But this isn’t true. The national average for state primary schools for the proportion reaching Level 4 in Reading, Writing and Maths in 2014 was 79%. Gloucestershire’s average was 81%.

At GCSE level, the national average for state pupils reaching the benchmark 5+ GCSEs (or equivalent) A*-C including Maths and English was 56.6%. Gloucestershire’s average was 60.8%.

Neither of these figures is ‘below the national average’.

The attainment gap between the proportion of disadvantaged Gloucestershire primary pupils gaining Level 4 and the national % for these pupils (67%) was -2 (ie 65% reached Level 4). At GCSE level, the gap (three year average) was wider: -4.1*. Whether this can be described as a ‘yawning attainment gap’ is debatable. Selective Lincolnshire, for example, had a gap of -4.6, in selective Kent it was -5, and Oxfordshire’s gap was -6.

Harford continued: ‘Bath and North East Somerset – below the national average for all key stages in 2014’

Again, this is not true. At KS2, the proportion gaining Level 4 in Reading, Writing and Maths in Bath and North East Somerset was 83%. At GCSE level, 61.9% of the area’s KS4 pupils reached the benchmark.

Neither of these figures is ‘below the national average’.

The attainment gap in Bath and North East Somerset at the end of KS4 was wide: -7.3. Harford is right to be concerned. But at KS2, there was no gap. The difference was +1 in the local authority’s favour.

That’s not to say Harford didn’t make good points about the importance of school leadership and good teaching. However, he pushed Teach First as ‘one part of the solution’ because it had ‘made such a difference in London’. But Ofsted’s London Challenge report didn’t mention Teach First. Analysis by the Institute for Government acknowledged Teach First had contributed to teacher supply but the ‘nascent’ scheme was just one part (along with Chartered London Teacher status and changes to inner London pay scale) of one of the three core elements of the London Challenge: investment in leadership and teaching. The other core elements comprised tailored support, planning and financing school improvement.

Harford said he was not in the South West to name-and-shame. But that’s what he did. He described Gloucestershire and Bath and North East Somerset as 'problem areas'. But the statistics he quoted were incorrect.

NOTES: All figures are from the Department of Education school performance tables 2014.

*The national three year average for disadvantaged pupils achieving the GCSE benchmark is 38.7%. The Gloucestershire average was 34.6%.

CORRECTION 21 March 2015. I was wrong. The data wasn’t ‘dodgy’. When Sean Harford said Gloucestershire and nearby local authority Bath and North East Somerset were ‘below the national average for all key stages in 2014’ I thought he was referring to all pupils. He has made it clear he was referring to pupils who were eligible for free schools meals (FSM) and he provided me with figures showing the proportion of FSM pupils in these two LAs was below the national average in 2014.

His figures were found using the Local Authority Interactive Tool (LAIT). This is password-protected. I used the publicly-available School Performance Tables. But the LAIT figures didn’t tally with the School Performance Tables. This was because LAIT uses figures for pupils eligible for free school meals in the academic year. School Performance Tables use figures for pupils eligible for free schools meals anytime in the last six years (FSM6). These are referred to in School Performance Tables as ‘disadvantaged’.

Unsurprisingly, the number of FSM6 pupils is larger than the number of FSM (one year only) pupils. That caused a mismatch and in one case, Bath and North East Somerset, the difference was such that LAIT figures showed the LA was performing badly at Key Stage Two for FSM (one year only) pupils while the School Performance Tables showed ‘disadvantaged’ pupils doing slightly better than the national average in Bath and North East Somerset. This is important when local authorities are taken to task for their performance and something I hope to return to at a later date.

Thanks to Sean Harford and Anita Patel at Ofsted and Jayne Middlemas, School Performance Data Unit at the DfE for explaining the figures.
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Helen Saunders's picture
Sun, 08/03/2015 - 13:07

It makes me angry to read this. Only a few weeks ago there was a splash in the local papers about how well Gloucestershire schools are doing - well above the national average, and the local authority were congratulated.
It is especially worrying that the wrong data has been used, given that we are shortly to hear whether a free school will be allowed to open in Stroud Gloucestershire, despite a surplus of school places, the high standards of existing schools, and formal objections from the town council, the county council and other local groups.

David Barry's picture
Sun, 08/03/2015 - 18:24

Helen is the Free School application you mention one for a Steiner School?

Helen Saunders's picture
Sun, 08/03/2015 - 18:41

Yes as it happens. But that's a whole other can of worms.

Guest's picture
Sun, 08/03/2015 - 18:53

Why not email Mr Harford and query his use of inaccurate data, and give him the right to reply / explain his use and understanding of the data. When all is said and done Ofsted are driven by data e.g. their specific reports on performance and RoL are data, data, data. It follows then that he should not be making such profound and fundamental errors in the use of data and least of all in the public domain where it has such massive potential to damage those involved.

It would appear that his address is:

Good luck!

Guest's picture
Wed, 11/03/2015 - 11:18

Janet - Have you considered contacting Mr Harford directly regarding the matter you have highlighted above?

Helen Saunders's picture
Sun, 08/03/2015 - 18:55

Thank you!

Guest's picture
Sun, 08/03/2015 - 19:26

I agree that there are some vexed questions around (1) Steiner's personal position on race and (2) the Steiner approach / educational philosophy.

It is true to say that there is an awful lot of material available via the internet that either praises and supports the Steiner education model or decries it; the link provided on here falls into the latter category. In the interests of balance might it be fair to offer a link to the an official Steiner site and then at least the scales are set for interested parties to explore matters further:

I've had a quick look around the site and noticed that it gives links to 4 official Steiner schools (i.e. not state sponsored) and these could also be a source of useful information.

Helen Saunders's picture
Sun, 08/03/2015 - 19:40

I appreciate your efforts to be even-handed, Guest, but unfortunately the link you give is to the organisation to which all the official Steiner schools belong . It is run by anthroposophists who make it their business to promote Steiner education without informing parents off the cultish belief system they are entering when they sign up their child. In fact they hide it.
You mention the sites decrying Steiner education, and those are full of stories from parents dismayed at the lack of information they were given before they signed up.
For parents who are ok with reincarnation, higher beings, and the prayers, chanting and nature worship that goes on in these schools, it may all seem ok. For others there are disastrous consequences.
The "educational philosophy" is in fact the imaginings of a self proclaimed clairvoyant whose legacy is the extremely wealthy worldwide belief system "anthroposophy" based at the Goetheanum in Switzerland. Many teachers are card- carrying members of the School of Spiritual Science
- but they neglect to inform parents of this.

Guest's picture
Mon, 09/03/2015 - 08:45

While I am not an apologist for Ofsted and least of all for the educational policies pursued by this government I would suggest that whether in the private or state sectors all Steiner schools are subject to formal Ofsted based or Ofsted inspections. By that I mean the 2-3 existing state versions (e.g. The Steiner Academy, Hereford) are subject to section 5 undertaken by Ofsted teams and the private schools undergo section 5 via the School Inspection Service that operates under direct licence from the SoS Educ and is monitored by Ofsted. Thus give or take some alleged freedoms from the national curriculum the handful of Steiner state funded schools are subject to the same rigour as all other state schools and as such if they fail to meet the requisite floor targets will be subject to the the same sanctions as those faced by others. For example, the Al Madina Muslim free school in Derby was transferred to another sponsor and the country's only Montessori free school in Crawley was closed.

Here is the potential slippery slope for the Steiner state school. The Hereford academy Ofsted report in July 13 drew on a very healthy set of results in earlier years but the 2014 results saw a mighty plunge that would likely trigger a DFE (and potentially Ofsted) inspection to explore the fall off in any other state school. So the question here is was there a DFE visit and if so, what was the outcome? If not, why not?

Stepping aside from results, the state sector, irrespective of school category, must offer a broad and balanced curriculum as well as meet the British values and equality etc to prepare pupils for life in a diverse multicultural society. If this is not met then any school will find itself in difficulties.

Helen Saunders's picture
Mon, 09/03/2015 - 14:41

At first glance the Steiner curriculum (Richter and Rawson) may appear broad and balanced. However anyone with some knowledge of anthroposophy will detect it in mighty large portions within that document.
I really do doubt that anyone from the DfE has read it with an eye to recognising the bizarre belief system within. The School Inspection Service is populated with Steiner people who obviously not see problems where others would.
I am afraid the poor results at Hereford are among the least of the problems with Steiner education.

I could go on at length about this and indeed have done on my blog, but fortunately for everyone concerned I have just heard that the Stroud school has been turned down.
A victory at last for common sense.

Guest's picture
Mon, 09/03/2015 - 15:30

I, like many others will, welcome the news that an unwanted and unnecessary free school application has been rejected. This is particularly so when there are already 'good' schools in the locality and when there is no shortage of places.

However, and forgive me for this, but I am beginning to see glimmerings of both paranoia and the makings of personal baggage on the Steiner issue:

1. SIS - "is populated with Steiner people who obviously not see problems where others would." This simply cannot be corroborated and ignores the fact that the SIS does not exist exclusively to inspect private/fee paying Steiner schools:

"SIS was approved by the Secretary of State in 2006 and is staffed by a Chief Inspector, also approved by the Secretary of State, and a team of inspectors most of whom are former HMIs (Her Majesty's Inspectors), all of whom are approved by the DfE. Included within the team are a number of HMIs who have specialised in particular educational disciplines such as special needs, post 16 education, primary class specialists, school management, schools overseas, Early Years, and other specific areas.

SIS is monitored by Ofsted, on behalf of the DfE, and a report by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) on its performance is published annually."

2. The point I was making is that for the state funded Steiner academies undergo the same rigour of inspection as any other state funded school. With regard to the "mighty portions [of anthroposphy] with [the curriculum]" while this may be the case for the private Steiner schools I fail to see how this can be an accurate understanding for the state academies. Please see the following curriculum offers that would be the basis of an Ofsted inspection team (unless of course you are suggesting that the majority of Ofsted HMIs and AIs are closet Steiner supporters):

3. Returning to Hereford academy, the key point is that they are state funded and if results dip badly then this is a trigger for DFE and/or Ofsted to act via focused inspection or unannounced section 8 inspection respectively. As a through school the 2014 results have serious questions to be answered regarding KS2 and KS4.

Helen Saunders's picture
Mon, 09/03/2015 - 17:17

I do not know who you are, guest, I had thought David Barry but that is not so?
No personal baggage - ie I did not send my child to a Steiner school nor did I attend one myself. I worked in one briefly around 25 years ago but forgot about it until the internet.
I have however been learning about anthroposophy and the way it is used in Steiner schools for over 3 years now, and it is not pretty I assure you. Whilst not claiming expert knowledge, I have learned enough to understand how and why families have suffered disastrously from trusting Steiner schools to provide their child with a decent standard of education and a safe, happy environment.
Paranoia in what way? Please explain.
I stand by my claim that a Steiner curriculum needs to be read with some understanding of anthroposophy. Do you have any?
Read a blog post today by Jonny Scaramanga about the inspection of schools by the SIS and the BSI and much will become clear.
Of course I am aware of the problems at Hereford, but I and others around the world would not be blogging about Steiner education if that was the entirety of the problem.

Guest's picture
Mon, 09/03/2015 - 17:40

I am grateful for the link reporting SMW's substantial misgivings about BSI. This is a topic discussed several times on LSN and misgivings have been openly expressed so for SMW to be seen to be moving so strongly is indicative that there is a head of steam to either radically remodel BSI or (and better still) scrap it by not renewing its licence. He has set the precedence on this by not renewing the contracts with the 3 ISPs (CfBT, Serco and Tribal).

There is no reference in the article about SIS and as such no corroboration about the Steiner assertions.

However, and this is crucial, it demonstrates that the operation of Steiner schools in the state sector can expect no favours from the inspection regime and as such if they don't shape up and deliver then they will fail and face the same as others who have failed before them:

I stand by the position that students at Steiner state schools studying EBacc GCSE syllabi will not be immersed in anthroposophy No matter how influential you think the Steiner organisation is, it does not extend into AQA, Edexcel, OCR, WJEC.

Frankly, I have no desire, interst or enthusiasm to be drawn into Steiner educational practice outside of the English state sector.

David Barry's picture
Mon, 09/03/2015 - 18:14

Helen: As it happens I am not Guest. I do actually only post under my own name. I am sure Guest has his own reasons for preferring a pseudonym. For what its worth:

1.I disapprove of state funded religious schools. I grew up partly in Northern Ireland.

2. I accept that state funded church schools are a long standing part of the system here (which includes an established Church), but I see no reason for promoting MORE. In fact I think its cracked. Is one Northern Ireland not enough? So I object to Free Schools being put forward by any religious group.

3. I do know something of Anthroposophy and can see why it presents a particular problem. It embodies a set of esoteric teachings which are only made available to people when they are deemed ready for them. Consequently parents will often send their children to a Steiner school with out having been notified of the belief system into which their children are going to be inducted, indirectly. Part of the belief system is that Anthroposophy is not a religion but a "spiritual science." Consequently a Steiner person will deny, in good faith, that a Steiner School is a religious school. But of course in any usual sense of the word "religious" it is.

Helen Saunders's picture
Mon, 09/03/2015 - 18:51

David - thanks for the clarification. I suppose "Guest" could be more than one person anyway.
One worrying aspect of the free school application in Stroud is that it was not turned down because it was unnecessary in terms of school places, otherwise the initiative group would not have been invited to an interview in January.
As Tristram Hunt has pointed out, free schools are appearing in the middle of nowhere where they are not needed. The government clearly plans to continue in this way, according to the announcement today of 500 more free schools after the election.

Guest's picture
Mon, 09/03/2015 - 20:31

Gosh, now who should make this comment me or the other person. Not sure my shadow character has the skeletal structure to operate the keyboard :-D

Who cares why the application was turned down? Just be happy that it was.

I seem to recall that when Gove unveiled free schools and started driving the programme the justifications were along the lines of:

1. Formed by parents, teachers, companies, charities to meet a need for 'good' schools offering better choice and performance
2. In localities where there was either insufficient places and/or insufficient access to existing 'good' schools

The coalition placed no explicit limitation in relation to setting up in localities where there was already a surplus of places. That said, one might argue that this was implicit at (2) above. At its heart was the neo-liberal marketisation using the implied message that every child and parent has the right to access to an Ofsted graded 'good' school, and the competition created by Free Schools would provide the competitive stimulus to drive up standards or see weaker schools die.

That as I recall was the theory back in 2010, and as we have seen in the most recent announcements and LSN commentaries, has simply not proven to be the case.

From what I can see the only real difference between Cameron and Miliband is that the latter will refocus more sharply on free schools only being considered in areas where there is a shortage of school places per se.

David Barry's picture
Tue, 10/03/2015 - 10:57

Well Guest on this basis of this last post I have no objection if people think you are me!

I thought this bit:

"1. Formed by parents, teachers, companies, charities to meet a need for ‘good’ schools offering better choice and performance
2. In localities where there was either insufficient places and/or insufficient access to existing ‘good’ schools

The coalition placed no explicit limitation in relation to setting up in localities where there was already a surplus of places. That said, one might argue that this was implicit at (2) above. At its heart was the neo-liberal marketisation using the implied message that every child and parent has the right to access to an Ofsted graded ‘good’ school, and the competition created by Free Schools would provide the competitive stimulus to drive up standards or see weaker schools die."

Was a very clear, and short, summary of the logic behind the Free School project.

The only addition I would make was the suggestion in some quarters that bodies like OfSted would eventually wither away, or at least be replaced by variants of the "Good Schools Guide" and voluntary participation by Free Schools in schemes like the Independent Schools Inspectorate...

Guest's picture
Tue, 10/03/2015 - 12:33

One thing is certain, schools need to be accountable but whether that is through Ofsted or son of Ofsted who knows. The latter is made more unlikely all the time League Tables as we know love and/or loathe them exist. The issue with free schools and/or academies being given approval to fall under ISI is that this, like BSI and SIS, is licenced by the SoS Educ and monitored by Ofsted. Indeed, SMW has only recently won the battle to bring the non-association Independent Schools under Ofsted, and I suspect that he'd like nothing more than to bring the entire private sector into the Ofsted fold. This may perhaps be achieved through the introduction of HMIs into the ISI process: light blue touch paper and ... :-)

Helen Saunders's picture
Wed, 11/03/2015 - 08:41

Andy Lewis of Quackometer wrote this about the inspection of Steiner schools

“The School Inspection Service was set up under the last Labour Government to inspect Steiner Schools and to take into account their different inspection needs. However, as we can see in the last inspection of Ringwood, one of the inspectors is a director of another Steiner School. Other SIS inspectors appear to often have connections within the Steiner world. The report describes how Ringwood “follows closely the principles of Steiner Waldorf education and achieves its aims well.” The SIS criteria for accessing whether a Steiner school is a good Steiner school were developed by the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship. And so the question of whether a Steiner education is a good education for children is not answered. One might speculate that Steiner Schools wanted unique inspection regimes, designed by themselves, so that precisely that question would not be asked.”

And the British Humanist Association mentioned inspection among their long list of concerns in a briefing last year;

“Since 2008, groups of independent schools have been able to decide that instead of being inspected by Ofsted, they would rather be inspected by an independent inspectorate which is in turn inspected by Ofsted.26 This way they can ensure that the inspectors are more sensitive to their particular pedagogies.”

Guest's picture
Wed, 11/03/2015 - 11:11

Wow, if I were a Steinerist I could feel ever so slightly persecuted :-)

Basic facts:

1. State funder Steiner schools will be subject to full Ofsted inspection processes
2. What the private sector do must be compliant with existing legislation
3. SMW as HMCI has expressed concerns about BSI and this will undoubtedly lead to him raising the matter with the SoS Educ about their performance and licencing but BSI don't inspect private sector Steiner school
4. SIS does not (repeat) not exist solely to inspect Steiner schools. Follow the website and you'll find they also inspect Cognita and Montessori schools. SIS inspectors include "a number of HMIs who have specialised in particular educational disciplines such as special needs, post 16 education, primary class specialists, school management, schools overseas, Early Years, and other specific areas." I would suggest that if this is the case it is unreasonable to imply that a criterion for recruiting former HMIs is that they be followers of or sympathisers with anthroposophy.

If people have sufficient grounds for complaint (including evidence) then the options are straightforward:

1. Use the SIS complaints adjudicator
2. Submit a complaint to Ofsted about SIS

But returning to the state sector, it is hardly reasonable, balanced or fair to persistently attack Steiner style schools and imply criticism of the Ofsted approach to the inspection of such schools when there is no evidence of malpractice either in the schools or the Ofsted inspection teams (where any inspection has taken place).

It only serves to muddy the waters when fears/concerns about Steiner private schools are conflated and merged with their state school equivalents that are subject to the full Ofsted rigour.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 11/03/2015 - 11:32

Guest - I've been told there were some Twitter comments in which Harford said he would get his team to check the data and he would issue an apology to the councils if the data were incorrect.

I'm not on Twitter, so can't check. However, there doesn't appear to be any apology. How long does it take to check school performance tables? It took me a few minutes.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 11/03/2015 - 11:43

More negativity from Ofsted (or maybe the DfE - it's hard to tell now Ofsted's on GovUK). Apparently, secondary pupils in Swindon have just 50% chance of a 'good secondary education'.

There are 12 secondaries in Swindon. Only one is a Community school under the stewardship of the LA. It requires improvement. Nine are converter academies (three require improvement), one is a sponsored academy (requires improvement and one is a UTC which hasn't yet been inspected). No Swindon secondary is Outstanding or Inadequate.

Ofsted has inspected Swindon's school improvement services. Their findings were mixed. One criticism was that Swindon didn't use its formal powers of intervention quickly enough. But the NAO recently found informal support was more effective than formal intervention. And as all but one of Swindon's secondaries are academies, it's difficult to know what the council can do apart from bringing concerns to the DfE or the Regional Commissioner.

agov's picture
Wed, 11/03/2015 - 14:25

I'm beginning to miss Liz Truss. She may not be god's finest gift to the intelligentsia but at least she seemed to be starting to understand the malign influence of Ofsted.

This lack of goodness in Swindon, or anywhere else, is on the basis of Ofsted's (or at least Wilshaw's) definitional approach to 'good', not necessarily from what actually is good. It's like the Bell Curve is some unknown foreign thing that a plain speaking, say it as it is, bluff English gentleman providing a wonderful service of self-sacrificing public duty would never be allowing himself to have any doings with.

The civil service (when I was there and probably now) did performance management on a similar 4 categories as Ofsted. The claim was that otherwise most people would just tick the middle 'satisfactory' box so it wouldn't be correct (because obviously 'average' couldn't possibly be true).

Promotion therefore tended to be dependent upon getting a tick in the top 2 boxes rather than the bottom 2. What could possibly go wrong?

What actually happened is that sensible managers who wanted a good employee to be promoted happily ticked in the upper two boxes. Imbeciles who thought the most important thing was to strictly apply the rules did otherwise. Even if only the most minor thing had not quite been complied with, and no matter how much they thought the employee should be promoted, they ticked in the bottom two. Conversely, no matter how useless they might consider staff to be, if they strictly met the criteria the tick went in the top two.

The bad drive out the good. All these failed civil service projects don't keep occurring by chance. Why would Ofsted data, speeches, inspections and assessments not be dodgy?

Guest's picture
Wed, 11/03/2015 - 14:50

I just googled 'Swindon Secondary Schools report' and came up with this Ofsted letter dated Dec 14, published Mar 15:

"Areas for improvement
The local authority should:
set out the roles and responsibilities of different stakeholder groups involved in
school improvement so that they work cohesively together

increase accountability by implementing the proposed Education Improvement
Strategy Board and setting out the incremental improvement necessary to
improve educational provision in Swindon, especially for disadvantaged and the
most able pupils

check rigorously the quality and effectiveness of the support brokered to
maintained schools so that improvement is more consistent and the proportion of
good or outstanding maintained schools exceeds the national average

ensure that concerns about standards and leadership in academies are referred
promptly and directly to the Regional Commissioner for Schools so that standards
rise at the end of Key Stage 4 and all secondary pupils have access to education
that is at least good.

The inspection team recommends that the local authority’s progress in tackling areas
for improvement is evaluated by a further inspection. "

In overall terms the report already covered all the points Janet raised; including liaison with the Regional Commissioner for Schools. So it doesn't hold the LA responsible for non-maintained schools but does highlight its role in alerting the appropriate body over concerns. I wouldn't call than dodgy data ... the same cannot be said for Mr Harford.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 11/03/2015 - 16:04

Guest - you're both right and wrong. How can that be? you ask. It's because we live in a topsy-turvy world where schools are encouraged to become academies free from LA 'control' while at the same time LAs are slated if academies in their areas aren't good or better. So you're right in saying LAs can't be accountable for what goes on in academies because academies are independent. But you're wrong because Ofsted complains if LAs haven't held academies to account.

Someone, it may have been Ofsted or it may have been the DfE using the Ofsted section of GovUK to send out press releases under Ofsted's heading, has spun the situation in Swindon (half the secondaries require improvement but none are inadequate) to say Swindon's secondary pupils only have 50% chance of going to a 'good' school.

But just because a school requires improvement, doesn't mean they are stuck there. Two RI academies have been monitored. Dorcan Academy (Jan 2014) found the had made a 'very good start in addressing the areas for improvement identified'. Monitoring of Kingsdown School (a converter academy) in December found the head had communicated 'a clear determination to bring about the necessary improvements at the school to enable it to become a good school as quickly as possible.' Inspectors found the academy's governance was being 'effectively' supported by Swindon LA (despite it being an academy).

Could the negative spin be anything to do with the fact that two new secondary free schools have just been given the go-ahead in Swindon?

Guest's picture
Wed, 11/03/2015 - 16:27

I appreciate that you are speculating that the twitter-sphere was humming with Ofsted comments, as you say there is no evidence at this stage as to whether this was DFE (spinning) or Ofsted but on the basis that Ofsted have placed its full letter in the public domain - hence I found it - this makes its much less likely that they would misconstrue their own report.

I am unaware that Ofsted has been complaining about LAs not holding academies to account. I say this because as the Swindon report makes clear Ofsted expects LAs to liaise with Regional Commissioners. The only other thing that LAs are expected to do is offer assistance to academies causing concern. No LAs can't do more than offer but if they have done both - offered support and/or alerted the RCS - then they are in the clear. This cannot reasonably be construed as Ofsted complaining about LAs not holding academies to account.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 11/03/2015 - 16:43

Guest - sorry if I've confused you. The Ofsted twittering was about the dodgy data in Harford's speech not Swindon. Harford's speech was negative. So was the press release about Swindon which was linked in blue in my previous comment. It said:

'Inspectors found the council’s school improvement support in schools was disjointed. Not all stakeholders understood their role and responsibilities for helping schools to get better. As a result, pupils’ GCSE attainment was low and thousands of secondary school children were attending schools that were less than good.'

This implies that Swindon Borough Council is responsible for the low attainment at GCSE (53.1% reaching the benchmark against the average for state schools of 56.6% in 2014) and the secondary schools that are 'less than good' (despite all but one being academies).

I had also read the full report on Swindon's school improvement service. It, too, was linked in blue in my previous comment.

This raises the question (which I posed earlier) about who produced the press release. Ostensibly it's from Ofsted but Ofsted is now on the GovUK website. Ofsted is supposed to retain editorial control but how can we be sure when, as you say, the press release seems at odds with Ofsted's full report?

Barry Wise's picture
Thu, 12/03/2015 - 09:30


I think you may be doing Sean Harford an injustice by accusing him of using 'dodgy data'.

Reading his speech, it seems to me that his remarks about Gloucestershire were made in the context of a discussion about the performance of disadvantaged students and relate specifically to that category. If you look at the performance tables for KS2 and KS4 for disadvantaged students, you will find that Harford's remarks are accurate.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 12/03/2015 - 12:41

Barry - I know Harford was discussing the performance of disadvantaged pupils in relation to advantaged pupils but the quotes about Gloucestershire and Bath and East Somerset implied these counties were poor across the board. The relevant part of the speech says:

'But, although we are seeing some green shoots, a number of problem areas stubbornly remain:'

'Gloucestershire – below the national average for all key stages in 2014 and with yawning attainment gaps, particularly at KS4'

'Bath and North East Somerset – below the national average for all key stages in 2014'

Re Gloucestershire: the comment about being 'below the national average...' appeared before the comment about 'yawning attainment gaps'. This implies Gloucestershire is both performing below national average at KS2 and KS4 AND there's also a 'yawning' attainment gap. But as I pointed out above, other counties have a wider 'yawning' gap.

Re Bath and North East Somerset - the bald statement 'below the national average...' implies 'for all key stages' coming as it did immediately after the ambiguous comment re Gloucestershire. And although the gap was indeed wide at GCSE level (far wider than Gloucestershire's 'yawning' gap), there was no gap at KS2. The LA performed slightly higher than average (+1) on this measure.

SLJ's picture
Thu, 12/03/2015 - 10:57

We complained to ofsted about an independent steiner school. Ofsted told us that they did not have the authority to investigate our complaint as the school was independent. Ofsted explained that ofsted do inspect independent steiner schools, however they are not measured in the same way as state schools and exceptions are made in line with the steiner curriculum. We were also advised that steiner schools are often carried out by inspectors that are familiar with anthroposophy and steiner curriculum.

Ofsted advised that we should complain to Department for Education, which we did. DfE advised that they were under no obligation to investigate and would not advise us if they would consider our complaint.

We do not really trust SIS to deal with our complaint as we do not feel they would investigate in an unbiased manner, due to their understanding of steiner curriculum and anthroposophy.

Feel very let down and unsupported. I dont think its fair that we have struggled so much to get anyone to help with our complaint. We raised concerns over 12 months ago and to our knowledge, nothing has been done.

The question is, will state funded steiner schools be inspected the same as state mainstream or independent steiner? We dont think its common knowledge that independent schools carry the badge of an ofsted report, but fail to mention it isnt inspected to the same high standards as state mainstream.

agov's picture
Thu, 12/03/2015 - 11:27

"they have done both – offered support and/or alerted the RCS – then they are in the clear"

Not quite what Ofsted says. This analysis from a LGA source -

shows that Ofsted's view is that LAs retain legal responsibility for performance in the area as a whole. It does suggest LAs should seek a constructive relationship with academies (to offer support and challenge) and contact the relevant bodies if required.

That leaves open the possibility that Ofsted can always say the LA has not done enough no matter what it actually does.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 12/03/2015 - 11:47

SLJ - The Steiner Academy in Hereford has a number of exemptions:

'It is not required to deliver the National Curriculum programmes of study.' (But this applies to all academies)

' It is exempted from the learning and development goals and the assessments linked to the Early Years Foundation Stage. This means the learning and development of these children is not reported on in this inspection report. It is not required to carry out the Year 1 phonics check or to carry out the Year 2 teacher assessments. It is also not required to teach the programmes linked to the end of Key Stage 2 assessments.'

'Although the academy does carry out the Key Stage 2 assessments, large numbers of parents have not permitted their children to take these and so data available about pupils’ achievements at the end of Key Stage 2 is based on teacher assessment.'

From Ofsted report 2013 downloadable here:

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 12/03/2015 - 12:48

agov - it appears LAs are in a double-bind. They are legally responsible for performance in their area but are actually limited in the action they can take re academies. They can offer support to academies but academies can reject it. The only course of action is to let the relevant body know (DfE? Regional Commissioner?).

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 21/03/2015 - 14:04

CORRECTION The data wasn't 'dodgy'. Read the Correction under the main article for a full explanation.

agov's picture
Sat, 21/03/2015 - 15:21

The data may not have been dodgy but perhaps the speech was. Did he say what he was talking about? Or should you have guessed?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 22/03/2015 - 09:45

agov - I believe the statement re Gloucestershire was ambiguous although not everyone agreed with me (see comment by Barry Wise above). Yes, the comments were made in the context of a speech about disadvantaged and/or FSM children but I thought Harford was widening the discussion to include results for all children. If someone makes a bald statement about a local authority being below the national average at all key stages, then it's reasonable to assume the speaker is talking about ALL children.

In this case, however, I was wrong.

Nevertheless, I still have concerns about the speech. For example, the terms 'disadvantaged' and FSM were used simultaneously yet the data hinged on a specific definition of FSM children ie those eligible for FSM in the academic year. I had no access to this data as it's password-protected. I could only use data from School Performance Tables which give figures for 'disadvantaged' children ie those eligible for FSM at any time in the previous 6 years (FSM6). The FSM6 data shows slightly better performance in Gloucestershire and considerably better performance in Bath and NE Somerset.

There are other concerns including the effect of small sample size: Bath and NE Somerset had just 160 FSM pupils, 319 FSM6 pupils. 35 of primary schools in the area had such a small number of FSM6 pupils (0-5 inclusive) that results were suppressed. Only 21 primaries had a number of 6 or above - data was suppressed for two of these. 6 of the 21 had just 7 or 6 pupils. Any slight variation in results would have a disproportionate effect of the proportion reaching (or not reaching) the KS2 benchmark.

I may return to this in a longer thread.

agov's picture
Mon, 23/03/2015 - 09:35

So, a badly worded speech relying on private data and small samples creating illusory outcomes. Sounds more like an attack from a dodgy politician than something of any worth.

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