Is OFSTED fit for purpose?

OFSTED, the Government’s Office for Standards in Education, has been criticised in recent months for putting an unnecessary amount of stress on teachers and senior leadership teams. The simplistic grades such as ‘Good’ or ‘Requires Improvement’ are increasingly being seen as unhelpful to parents. Many are crying out for a more valuable service that supports decision-making concerning their child’s education. With this in mind, we should consider whether OFSTED is fit for purpose. Should the single-word judgements used by OFSTED to grade schools be abolished in favour of a more holistic approach?

Caversham Primary

In the recent evaluation of Caversham Primary, which had undergone its third assessment within six months, OFSTED labelled the school’s performance as ‘Good’. This followed a downgrade from ‘Outstanding’ to ‘Inadequate’ in January, prompted by inspectors identifying shortcomings in training and record-keeping of safeguarding under the ‘leadership and management’ category. Notably, during that prior evaluation, positive remarks were made about pastoral support, teaching quality, behaviour, and attendance.

Given the predominant focus on the overall grade, it’s unsurprising that the finer points within the report become overshadowed. The prevailing perception is that the labels ‘Inadequate’ or ‘Requires Improvement’ extend to the entirety of the school environment.  This is, of course, completely untrue as the pastoral care, teaching quality, behaviour and attendance at Caversham were all good. 

Equity in Grading

An exceptional educational establishment situated in a disadvantaged neighbourhood could greatly contrast with one located in an affluent suburb. As such, these institutions should not be subjected to identical benchmarks; factors like the community served by the school and the unique challenges faced by its leadership should be paramount.  While a regulatory body to oversee safeguarding and standards in schools remains crucial, reports must be crafted with a central emphasis on context.

Current OFSTED reports prove laborious and dense, laden with educational jargon, and fall short of addressing the real queries raised by families. Condensing evaluations into single words (especially when nearly three-quarters of all UK state schools are designated ‘Good’, making the term quite rather ubiquitous) fails to equip parents with the requisite insights to make reasoned determinations. The positive ethos and caring approach of a school should be seen as a central defining characteristic.

Our judgment

We consider many of the state schools with whom we work ‘outstanding’ due to their culture of positivity, innovation, and a genuine, heartfelt concern for students and their progress. Nonetheless, Ofsted rates them as ‘Good’. Conversely, schools that appear less than impressive may be awarded an ‘Outstanding‘ label.  We pay attention to genuinely facilitative school leadership and note where leadership structures seem geared toward meeting external criteria to the possible detriment of particular student needs. 

We advise parents to use current OFSTED reports to verify a school’s commitment to child safety, while also seeking additional resources for insights on essential aspects such as ethos, community engagement, pastoral support, and extracurricular opportunities. Prospective parents should attend open house events and, once a shortlist is compiled, visit schools on typical operational days as well. Engaging with students and current parents and inquiring about aspects pertinent to your child’s welfare is equally vital. While policies and paperwork are necessary, they alone cannot cultivate a child’s love and enthusiasm for school.  This is won by outstanding leadership, inspirational teaching, effective discipline and nurturing pastoral care. 

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