89% of English schools are good or better but DfE tables don’t reflect that

Janet Downs's picture

Nearly nine in ten of schools in England are good or better according to latest Ofsted data*. 

Secondary schools are more likely to be Outstanding (23%) than primary schools (19%) but the proportion of secondary schools which are Good (56%) is lower than for primaries (68%).  Primary schools are also far less likely to be Inadequate (1%) than secondary schools (5%).

The improvement in school judgements shows the high quality of English schools particularly in the primary sector as judged by Ofsted.

The Government implies this improvement is down to policies since 2010.  A letter from my MP said ‘reforms since 2010 have had a transformational effect on education in this country’.  But the rise in Ofsted judgements of good or better is more to do with the way Ofsted undertakes inspections.  There is more emphasis on schools judged requires improvement or inadequate and less on those judged good. 

Outstanding schools are exempt from further inspection unless there’s a problem.  Ofsted inspections which upgrade schools to outstanding will obviously increase the number of such schools if the numbers upgraded exceed the small number downgraded and most existing outstanding schools are exempt from inspection.

The exemption from future inspections for outstanding schools means many have inspection judgements which are nearly a decade old.  There must come a time when these judgements are past their use-by date. 

Many outstanding schools were fast-tracked to academy status after the Academies Act was passed in 2010.  In theory, academies are new schools which haven’t been inspected.  In practice, however, many academies still carry their pre-conversion judgements.  Bourne Grammar School, for example, is outstanding.  But the date of inspection was 6 March 2008, over nine years ago

 If you want to read Bourne Grammar’s report, however, you won’t find it on Ofsted’s website.  Search for Bourne Grammar and you’ll learn the latest ‘report’ was 18 February 2012.  But that isn’t a report – it's the academy conversion letter.  To confuse things further the Department for Education (DfE) school performance table for Bourne Grammar says ‘No Ofsted assessment published’.

Bourne Grammar isn’t alone in having ‘No Ofsted assessment published’ in DfE performance tables.  I searched for Lincolnshire secondary academies on the DfE tables website.  Each one is listed as ‘No Ofsted assessment published’ despite several having been inspected post-conversion.

It appears, then, that DfE school performance tables are not aligned accurately with Ofsted data.  

But let’s return to the implication that post-2010 reforms are responsible for improvement in Ofsted judgements.  If that were the case, we’d expect the flagship academies programme to have had an overall positive effect.  But the heavily-academised secondary sector trails the less-academised primary sector in the proportion of schools which are good or better.  And the higher proportion of outstanding secondary schools is offset by a higher proportion of inadequate ones.

The truth is improvement in individual Ofsted judgements is down to changes in the way Ofsted inspects schools and, more importantly, to the efforts of each school, academy or non-academy.  This is despite, not because of, education policy since 2010.

*downloadable here.  

Search DfE school performance tables here.

 ADDENDUM 19 May 08.32.  the sentence in the original article, 'The improvement in school judgements shows the high quality of English schools particularly in the primary sector'  has been amended to make it clear I was referring to Ofsted judgements.  Not everyone has faith in Ofsted judgements.  And the greater the gap between inspection date and the present, the less reliable the judgement is likely to be (this particularly pertains to Outstanding judgements which are several years old).  But the Conservatives hold much store by Ofsted judgements even to the extent of claiming their reforms are responsible for the rise in judgement quality overall.  This is not true for reasons given above.  The test-heavy, test-result-reliant system they have created makes it more difficult for schools to provide a rich education experience for all children particurlarly at secondary level and in Year 6 of primary schools.  It's testament to teachers at the chalk face in England that most are still committed to this ideal.

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Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 17/05/2017 - 14:14

"The improvement in school judgements shows the high quality of English schools particularly in the primary sector."

It does not. The OfSTED inspection system is now so flawed as to be unfit for purpose. At best it judges the extent to which schools follow the instructions of the government, which is wedded to deeply damaging ideological approaches to teaching and learning. In fact the levels of understanding of our school students continue to fall as the stresses and psychological damage inflicted upon them for the benefit of the schools and their increasingly overpaid and educationally illiterate corporate leaders, continues to rise causing a mental health crisis in our schools.

I set out my concerns in relation to science education here.


Given the relatively high mean cognitive ability of English school students, by international standards our schools should be doing much better, as my analysis of the latest PISA round taking into account national IQs shows.

By substituting the national IQ data into my formula I obtained the predicted average PISA maths score of countries whose students have that average IQ. However the correlation is not 100 percent. Assuming that some national education systems are more effective than others the actual PISA scores are above (more effective education system) or below (less effective system) the predicted score. The underlying assumption is that had all the national education systems been equally effective then the actual PISA scores would have been the same as the predicted scores and would therefore lie on the regression line. For this to be true a large sample size is needed to allow for individual students being ill on the day/being distracted by a personal crisis, etc. The PISA system claims to provide appropriately large samples of students that are representative of the full national student population.

It is important to recognise that a given high national PISA score could be as much down to high performance of the less cognitively able students in the sample as by the average or the most able. In other words it is not possible to conclude from the national PISA scores that high/low attainers are more/less effectively taught in one country rather than another, although deeper digging into the data does reveal such patterns, which is another reason why the PISA tests and their analysis are such a rich resource for educationalists.

To compare the effectiveness of national education systems all that is left is to subtract the predicted score from the actual score to produce a residual.

Residual = Actual Score – Predicted Score

So for my IQ mediated PISA maths national education system league table in reverse order of the residuals see my article.


The corrected results show the East Asian countries that top the raw PISA league table come out quite poorly as any experienced educationalist would expect from the very poor pedagogic practices in those countries. However most significantly, the GERM countries, US and England, do exceptionally badly.

Results for the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) countries.

49th UK, 100, 492, 501.4, -9.4

53rd USA, 98, 470, 484.8, -14.8

The last figure, the residual, indicates the extent to which the US and UK fall below the regression line that indicates how national education systems fare when national IQ is taken into account.

If you think that my work produces such shocking conclusions that I must be wrong, all I can say is that numerous academics of international standing and reputation have studied my work and concluded that my methods are sound and the conclusions justified. I have circulated my article widely in academic circles and am yet to receive a critical response let alone a refutation.

When the actual teaching and learning practices of the genuinely high performing countries are examined there is a clear pattern that shows the effectiveness of the comprehensive school approaches to teaching and learning that I discuss on my website and in my book, 'Learning Matters'.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 19/05/2017 - 08:43

Roger - see my Addendum above.

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