Issue 131 - 2024 Summer term
What are your thoughts about single-phrase Ofsted judgements? Here, ASCL members have their say.

Single-phrase judgements

A fool’s errand
It’s impossible to summarise an institution as complex as a school into a single word or phrase. Every single school has areas of strength, and areas that it is working on. Every single school has students and staff who are thriving, and some who are struggling. We have good days; we have bad days. Taking a snapshot of an institution in a small time window, and then attempting to boil down its unmeasurable complexity into one or two words is a fool's errand. The sooner this madness stops, the better. 
 
Chris Hildrew
Headteacher
Churchill Academy & Sixth Form

Labelled for years to come
It’s not just that to reduce all the work and achievements of perhaps 200 people and 1,500 children to one or two words is farcical, or that the margin of error between teams means consistency of awarding the single grades is highly questionable, when the methodology is subjective and based on the spot check that may or may not be typical, and certainly won’t show the breadth of the school’s work across the full year.
 
But worst of all, it’s the consequences of the single-phrase judgement. It will be published and repeated with almost no-one looking at the detail, little that there is in today’s bland and brief reports. The school will be labelled with a single-phrase for years to come. The choice of those words will determine school leaders’ jobs and future career, local house prices, the popularity of the school and its ability to recruit students and staff, so that if the school does need to improve, it makes that so much harder to achieve.
 
Add in the attritional damage to the mental health of those put under enormous strain, waiting for ‘the call’ week after week, not knowing where they will be personally and professionally this time next week. Living on edge each week until Wednesday lunch time, then reverting to a more normal version of themselves for the last few days of the week, is inhumane.
 
Why? So that politicians can quote a percentage of schools that meet a threshold (a threshold they set themselves) for party political purposes, and so civil servants who are too far removed from the reality of schools in a locality (having stripped away the middle tier of local authorities who had boots on the ground), can decide the future of schools from the convenience of a spreadsheet. That’s not good enough justification.
 
Paul Haigh
Headteacher
King Ecgbert School

Crude and clumsy
I’m completely in support of monitoring of standards in schools but completely opposed to a single-phrase judgement being placed on schools. I have worked in schools of different categories ranging from ‘good’ to ‘special measures’ and can honestly say the single-phrase judgement is not a fair representation of what went on in those schools. It is a crude, clumsy 'measure' and one I think is way too simplistic for such a complex organisation. It feels like the main benefit is for the government to be able to count up and measure improvement using the categories.
 
Ofsted should be a process to aid school improvement but, at present, the stakes are so high that people focus on playing the game. This is not how to improve our schools.
 
Karen Slater
Headteacher
Hall Green Secondary School

Put simply, they need to go
At a recent Ofsted Roadshow I attended, one of the discussion’s questions was around what more Ofsted can do to raise the achievement of students. Raising the achievement of students is the job of leaders, of teachers, of support staff (rightly pointed out by one of the delegates); it is not the job of Ofsted.
 
However, my point, which I believe to be a vital and an overlooked one, is that to attract great teachers to the schools who are possibly most in need, a judgement that says a school is ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’ is highly likely to be overlooked.
 
If ‘outstanding’ schools cannot recruit, what possible chance do the others have? Take away the single-phrase judgement that pitches schools against one another, and give those schools most in need the chance to appoint great teachers and leaders who can make a difference, free from the stigma of a single-phrase label.
 
Jo Capon
Headteacher
Newlands Girls’ School

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