School leaders say Ofsted requires improvement

Three-quarters of school and college leaders believe Ofsted’s new approach to inspections is an improvement on previous frameworks, according to an ASCL survey.
However, dissatisfaction with inspections remains high in general with 89 per cent of respondents saying the current inspection system fails to consistently, fairly and accurately judge the performance of schools and colleges.

The new inspection framework was introduced in September 2019 and focuses more on the quality of the curriculum and less on data from exams and tests.

Despite the majority of respondents supporting this move, there is significant disquiet over the perception that Ofsted is favouring a specific curriculum model of a two-year Key Stage 4 during which pupils study for GCSEs, and that schools which successfully run a three-year programme will be downgraded.

Ofsted denies this is the case. However, Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, speaking at the association’s annual conference in Birmingham, will today call on Ofsted to provide greater clarity, reassurance and consistency.

He will say: “The great shame is that this one topic risks overshadowing the generally positive reception of the new framework.

So our message to Ofsted is this. You have to grasp this issue, and provide schools with greater clarity, reassurance and consistency. We have to know exactly where we stand.”

Graded judgements

Our survey of 793 leaders in state-funded schools and colleges in England, found that one way inspections could be improved is to reform the system of four graded judgements under which schools are rated as either: 1. Outstanding; 2. Good; 3. Requires improvement; 4. Inadequate.

We asked whether graded judgements should be scrapped and replaced with narrative judgements; reformed in some other way; or retained in their current form.
Scrapped and replaced with narrative judgements 61.29% 486
Reformed in some other way 28.75% 228
Retained in their current form  9.96% 79
TOTAL   793

In his speech today, Mr Barton will say:

Our member survey also reveals that deep misgivings remain about the inspection system in general, aside from the new framework. In summary, they are these:

Graded judgements are crude and stigmatising. Labelling a school as ‘inadequate’ is not smart. It is counter-productive.

Ofsted inspections remain inconsistent. Many leaders feel it is the luck of the draw. The verdict feels as if it depends more on the inspection team than the framework.

Nowhere near enough recognition is given to the context of schools and colleges which are doing great work in relentlessly challenging circumstances.

And, finally, the tone of inspections too often feels combative rather than supportive. As one of our survey respondents puts it: “what we need is ‘less big brother is watching you; more big brother wants to help you.’

So, these findings give us a clear objective over the coming year. Because if we could improve these areas of inspection, it would be a great deal better for our schools, our colleges, our children and, we would argue, for Ofsted too.

Read the full results of the survey here.