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.
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.