Ofsted’s ‘big miss’ over single-phrase judgements was ‘shortsighted’

Ofsted’s failure to ask for feedback on single-phrase judgements in its ‘Big Listen’ consultation was “shortsighted and undermines public messages about the inspectorate’s willingness to change,” the Association of School and College Leaders says in its formal response today.
Commenting on ASCL’s submission, General Secretary Pepe Di’Iasio said: “It is a big miss that the Big Listen failed to recognise the importance of asking a direct question about this issue. Single-phrase judgements don’t work well for staff, parents or children. They cause sky-high stress and anxiety, damaging staff wellbeing and morale, and driving people out of the profession. They’re unhelpful to parents because they reduce everything a school does to a blunt label. And negative judgements stigmatise schools making it harder to secure improvement for children. Reform is long overdue and cannot come soon enough.”

Our response, submitted ahead of the consultation deadline on Friday night, says: “Although we welcome the Big Listen, we were very disappointed that the consultation did not include a transparent reflection on single-phrase judgements. Ofsted will know that this has been a core suggestion of ASCL’s and many other organisations for some time, and was recently included in the Education Select Committee’s recommendations for Ofsted’s work with schools.

“We understand that it is not within Ofsted’s control to enact that reform, but not to include it as part of the Big Listen was shortsighted and undermines public messages about the inspectorate’s willingness to change

And it goes on: “We strongly urge Ofsted to make the case for the removal of graded judgements. It is the single biggest reform that would alleviate anxiety in the system and begin to rebuild trust.”

Our response advocates a new approach to inspection under which schools would be inspected against a ‘report card’ comprising a set of agreed national standards. This should have a strong focus on the provision for pupils with special educational needs and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

If a school failed to meet one or more of these standards during inspection, “early and intelligent intervention” could be put in place to help the school meet the standard before the inspection report is published. Safeguarding would be checked separately through an annual audit as this “is too important to only be inspected every four years.”

The response also highlights concerns that inspections too often place too much emphasis on the voices of a small group of pupils. “While pupil voice is undeniably an important part of inspection activity, it must always be triangulated with other evidence,” it says.