Amanda Spielman rules out changes to Ofsted's grading system

Ofsted will not scrap its current grading system for schools, following “persuasive” lobbying from headteachers.

The future of the four grades – ‘outstanding’, ‘good’, ‘requires improvement’ and ‘inadequate’ – has been the subject of intense speculation since chief inspector Amanda Spielman expressed her disquiet about the impact of the ‘outstanding’ rating on schools in 2016.

The watchdog was rumoured to be considering a move to a pass-fail system, but Spielman has now said that her organisation will not scrap the existing grades in its new inspection framework, due out next year.

“I know that there are some who would like Ofsted to abandon grades altogether or to move to a pass/fail model,” she said during a keynote speech to the Festival of Education at Wellington College. “For me, that is a decision which must squarely be decided on the basis of whether the current grading system meets our mission of being a force for improvement.

“We will keep this under regular review. But we’ve concluded, on balance, that it is right to maintain the current grading system in the new framework and that is the basis of the discussion I’m having with ministers now as we engage with them on the new framework as a whole.”

Polling of teachers by YouGov “indicates that the profession prefers a four-point grading system to a pass/fail one”.

“Many teachers have told us directly that a pass/fail would make the system even more high-stakes – it would de facto turn ‘requires improvement’ into a ‘fail’. That could risk deterring more teachers from working in challenging schools.”

The chief inspector has been “persuasively lobbied” by school leaders and others over the ‘outstanding’ grade in particular. They argued that scrapping it would “send the wrong message about aspiration and excellence in the system”.

Parents told the watchdog that they too preferred the current system.

“They like the clarity of four grades in helping them to make informed choices, and as a marker of how well their child’s school is performing,” said Spielman. “For these reasons I am not yet convinced of the case for change.”

But with the current system staying in place, Spielman wants to see the rule that currently exempts ‘outstanding’-rated schools from routine inspections scrapped, so people can “have confidence in grades”.

“I entirely understand why the exemption was brought in. My starting point is always that we should trust our best leaders and teachers to get on with the job. But there are now almost 300 schools that have gone a decade or more without inspection.”