The Education Policy Institute has released a major piece of research based on Ofsted inspection outcomes and school performance and demographic data.
The report, School Inspection in England: Is There Room to Improve, offers insight into how prior attainment and disadvantage of pupils can affect a school’s Ofsted grading, and raises questions about the watchdog’s effectiveness in judging school performance.
Here are the key findings and conclusions…
(Click on the graphs to expand)
1. Schools with lower FSM numbers are more likely to be outstanding
The research found a “systematic negative correlation” between school intakes with more disadvantaged children or more children with low prior attainment and favourable Ofsted judgements.
For example, secondary schools with less than 5 per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals were found to be more than three times as likely to be rated outstanding as those with at least 23 per cent FSM (48 per cent vs 14 per cent).
Those secondary schools with the highest number of FSM pupils were also much more likely to be rated inadequate than those with the fewest (15 per cent vs 1 per cent).
2. Less-deprived schools are more likely to improve their Ofsted rating
The EPI’s report found that schools with the fewest pupils who were eligible for free school meals were most likely to improve from ‘good’ to ‘outstanding’.
The least deprived primary and junior schools were also twice as likely as their most deprived counterparts to cross the threshold, and for secondary schools the least deprived were three times as likely as schools in all other FSM bands to do so.
3. Ofsted’s based on value-added progress would cut disparities
Based on performance in value-added progress, the EPI has said it would expect 13 per cent of schools with the lowest rates of disadvantage to be rated outstanding. In reality, the figure is 25 per cent.
Based on the same measure, the institute said it would also expect almost half as many primary schools with the fewest low-prior-attainers to be rated outstanding (14 per cent instead of 27 per cent). In secondary schools, the expectation is that 30 per cent would be outstanding, not 47 per cent.
At the same time, it is expected that there would be approximately twice as many outstanding judgements than there are among the most disadvantaged schools on the basis of pupil progress alone.
These discrepancies have led to concerns that inspection outcomes in disadvantaged areas could be having a negative impact on supply of good school leaders.
David Laws, the EPI’s executive director, said: “If we are under-rating outstanding schools in disadvantaged areas we might also be missing out on using some of our best “system leaders” to help in other challenging schools.”
4. Deterioration in academic performance is not always reflected in inspection outcomes
The research found that schools which had previously received favourable Ofsted judgments often kept hold of them despite a decline in pupil progress.
The institute analysed the Ofsted inspection judgments of 1,221 primary schools and 228 secondary schools whose value-added progress decreased by an average of 15 percentiles per year, and concluded that Ofsted “may not have been as effective at consistent recognition of deterioration in academic performance as it has been in the regularity of school inspections”.
For instance, half of the “good” secondary schools whose performance was deemed to have deteriorated substantially was not down-graded at their next inspection, the analysis found. A total of 64 per cent remained good and seven per cent were promoted to outstanding.
An Ofsted spokesperson said the watchdog had only just had sight of the report and “would dispute many points of detail”, pledging to issue a full response at a joint event it will host with the think tank on Friday.
“We should never make excuses for schools that are underperforming, even in challenging circumstances,” she said. “Doing so will merely reinforce low expectations and do a grave injustice to those many headteachers who are showing what can be done.
“Inspectors do look beyond raw attainment when making their judgements. Indeed, under Sir Michael Wilshaw we have increasingly focused on the progress children make from their different starting points.
“As a result, inspectors do mark down coasting schools in leafy suburbs where we see pupils not making as much progress as they should. Similarly we do recognise schools in more deprived areas where children are making good progress”
The watchdog also pointed out that since 2012, schools rated outstanding have only been re-inspected if data shows a “significant” deterioration in, or if there were “other causes of concern, such as parental complaints or safeguarding issues”.