Could Ofsted be about to wipe the grading slate clean?


Ofsted is buzzing with rumours that the grading system for schools is about be scrapped and replaced with pass-or-fail inspections.

Iain Veitch, a headteacher and Ofsted inspector, told delegates at the Schools North East governance conference about gossip surrounding the proposed new inspection framework, which comes into effect next year.

Amanda Spielman (pictured), the chief inspector of schools, said before her appointment in 2016 that she was uncomfortable about some of the effects on the school system of the ‘outstanding’ grade used by inspectors, and said Ofsted under her watch would have “discussions” about scrapping it.

But there is now speculation that all four of the grades used by Ofsted, ‘outstanding’, ‘good’, ‘requires improvement’ and ‘inadequate’, might all be on borrowed time.

Iain Veitch

Instead, an inspection might simply find, according to Veitch, that “you’re good enough or you’re not good enough”.

He also discussed rumours swirling around the inspectorate of changes to safeguarding.

Checks on the safety and wellbeing of pupils could be removed from normal inspections and instead carried out at every school during a special annual safeguarding inspection.

But these proposals are just circulating as “rumours around the edge at the moment, because the thing isn’t written yet”.

However there is a concrete “movement” within Ofsted to discount the poor results of small groups of pupils which can unfairly skew school performance data – so called “outlier” pupils.

Those with results in the bottom one-to-three per cent can “significantly skew your results”, particularly for primary schools, he told delegates.

“There is now a movement to say ‘isn’t it time we took the outliers out, and actually look at what the bulk of children did?’” he said. This he claimed would allow a “fair picture” of the school.

But an “ideological battle” is being waged about whether pupils with top results should also be discounted.

“You can imagine what kind of miseries are saying that,” he joked. “We’re saying no – leave the top alone because they’ve done a brilliant job and they deserve it.”

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  1. James Glasse

    OFSTED needs to become a health service rather than a police force and it should be held accountable for its findings by being forced to implement them itself in collaboration with the staff at the schools needing improvement. Otherwise it should be scrapped as at present schools that it deems to be failing rapidly do so as its findings become a self fulfilling prophecy. OFSTED needs to be accountable and should engaged in managing failing schools out of the difficulties they face in collaboration with the staff at the schools.

    • Mark Watson

      Completely disagree. The whole point about Ofsted is its independence. If it judged a school as failing and was then made responsible for turning it around, how much confidence could you have that the next inspection would be fair as there would be a significant incentive to show how it had succeeded in improving the school.

  2. Mark Watson

    Lord knows I’m no blind defender of Ofsted, but all I ever see and hear from people within schools is unbridled negativity. Perhaps its unsurprising – no workforce likes those who hold them to account.
    So unsurprisingly there’s likely to be three cheers from teachers etc. at any mention of reducing Ofsted’s importance and impact.
    But how about considering people who aren’t employed within education – you know, the vast majority of the population who send their kids to schools?
    You know what, we quite like having some form of metric with which to compare schools with one another. We know it’s not perfect, and mistakes will be made, but knowing which schools are at the top of their game as opposed to those which are just about acceptable is actually useful.
    In YouGov’s 2017 survey of parents 67% agreed or strongly agreed that Ofsted was a valuable source of information (compared with 10% who disagreed/strongly disagreed).

  3. James Glasse

    I met an ex OFSTED inspector recently who had been fired by OFSTED because as she put it, she was deemed to be ‘too kind.’ Perhaps she thought the school that she was inspecting really was a good school and a kind place that was giving the children in its care a decent education.

    It seems that as it stands an OFSTED inspector can write a report without being held personally accountable for or having to implement any of it. The story usually goes like this…inspector writes report…school found to be inadequate…local press picks up the story…school closes…teachers lose their jobs and Inspector Jobsworth gets a promotion or a bonus. Now what happens to the children from the closed schools – they enroll at another local school (if there is one) and what impact does this have on class size – 70 in a class? The question is how does this impact on society? I personally know more burned out teachers than I can count on both hands and both feet – across the country you could fill the 02 and Wembley stadiums with them. And then there is the teacher recruitment and retention crisis…

    • Mark Watson

      I’ve never met anyone who was fired and thought it was justified. Funny that.
      And I’m sorry, without wanting to be Mr Pedantic but very, very, very few schools are closed down in this country. Almost every single school that is judged RI or Inadequate carries on employing staff and teaching children.
      Painting an Ofsted Inspector as some kind of flippant agent of doom and destruction might play well to the gallery but it’s hardly accurate.

    • Mark Watson

      BTW, did you mean to insinuate that an Ofsted inspector is incentivised (with a promotion or bonus) to rate a school as Inadequate as opposed to any other grading?
      I don’t know if that’s the case, but if it is it would be absolutely unacceptable.
      In my naivety I can’t imagine that’s the case though, and I would have thought it more likely that there is a pull towards grading higher.

  4. James Glasse

    The German experience is interesting – One of the most striking differences between schooling in the UK and Germany is the level of monitoring. In Germany there is no OFSTED equivalent. While national curricula and tests have been introduced since 2000, results are not published, there are no league tables and accordingly schools are not constantly worried about their reputation. The German system is much less target driven. One of the key lessons of the German experience has been to ensure that monitoring is not excessive and does not inhibit the teachers’ creativity. Hasn’t done the economy any harm either.

    • Mark Watson

      Why Germany?
      It’s not top of anyone’s rankings in terms of top education rankings. I’m sure if you looked at other countries you’d find some with stronger inspection regimes and some with lesser regimes and there wouldn’t be a direct correlation.
      I know nothing about the education systems in Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada, Finland and Ireland (the top 5 PISA ranked countries) but if someone was to confirm that none of them has an Ofsted equivalent then you might be on to something …

  5. Michael

    Why does the school and education sector have a problem with external audit? Why do they have a problem with accountability? Pass or fail reduces Ofsted to the level of MOT test centres. It reduces public information. Indeed perhaps that is the aim. OFSTED is far from perfect and the framework has many flaws, mainly because it is used to monitor politically flavour of the year issues. This could create a vacuum. There is a good chance it will be filled by “Education Adviser” or a revised mums net. Technology and Social Media has increased accountability everywhere. If Ofsteds role is seen to be reduced or marginalised I am sure Social Media scrutiny will increase with far less fairness, validity or reliability. Beware what you wish for!!

  6. James Glasse

    I am interested in the opinions on this thread and really appreciate that everyone who has commented wants the best for our education system and the children in its care. I also appreciate that we are probably raising more questions than we are answers. I so understand that people need an objective measure of a school’s success or lack of it and safeguarding and health and safety are of course vital and should be a given. That said, I feel that in the last five years or so the obsession with data has meant that many good teachers have left either as a result of burn out or because they simply feel that whatever they do will not and cannot be enough under the present criteria. When I look back to the great teachers of my youth I remember kind, honest, compassionate people who were very secure in their subject knowledge but most importantly cared about their pupils and had the time to get to know us as human beings. What we loved about them was their humanity. In those kinder times the environment encouraged such people to flourish. These were often quite ordinary people who expected (and had) a work, life balance without being measured to an inch of their lives (or in several cases these days beyond). I worry that our obsession with data is dehumanising us and making us cruel and not just within education. It is also unsustainable as good teachers leave because they are doomed to failure because they are expected to be ‘outstanding’ when this is quite patently a fiction and is subjective anyway. This is a problem across society but especially in the public services – medicine and policing spring to mind. The MOT analogy is a good one. Surely the measure has to be the ordinary reasonable teacher in the same way as it should be for any other job. The trouble is that in parts of the country the ordinary reasonable teacher is being expected to do an extraordinary job without the resources, help or support to do it. As far as Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada, Finland and Ireland are concerned, let’s take a look at what they are doing and how they are doing it and maybe copy their homework! I suspect that aside from the inspection regimes, investment, class size and teaching hours versus continuous professional development may be a part of the mix.

    • Mark Watson

      Actually I don’t think the pass/fail idea can be likened to an MOT test. If I take my car to get it tested it does get a simple pass or fail rating, but I then get a breakdown of all the individual component parts of the test.
      If it’s failed I know whether it’s because one of the headlights has blown (a minor, easily fixed problem – aka ‘Requires Improvement’) or there are dozens of highly important problems that are going to be a nightmare to have fixed – aka Inadequate, Special Measures.

    • Mark Watson

      Where I do agree with you is that a lot of this is indeed driven by society’s obsession with data (and that this is wider than just education), but I think that’s a product of our age and that we as society are no longer willing to be passive consumers.
      I imagine (correct me if I’m wrong) that 50 years ago parent sent their children to the school there were expected to go to, and people went to the hospital they were told to. Continuing the MOT line, people also had to take their cars to approved dealerships for servicing.
      Nowadays we don’t just accept what we’re told to do and we have choices. When my wife and I had our son we decided which hospital to go to – as part of that we looked at inspection reports and went to both potential hospitals.
      When I want to get my car serviced I now have freedom to go wherever I want and in order to make my mind up I consider a wide range of factors.
      Unless you want to go back to a time when people had to send their children to the school that was chosen for them, then as Michael says above we will use anything and everything to base our decision on.

  7. James Glasse

    In answer to Mark Watson – According to John Hart as reported in the Guardian (9 August 2017) ‘Teachers in Finland are given a great deal of responsibility and are allowed unfettered flexibility in what and how they teach. Performance isn’t observed and graded. Instead, annual development discussions with school leaders provide feedback on a teacher’s own assessment of their strengths and weaknesses. Detailed plans are not expected either. The notion that a teacher should provide evidence to prove what they’ve done is ludicrous. Each teacher marks work when it benefits them or the student, but not for anyone else’s sake.
    While most six-year-olds in the UK are subject to national tests, those in Finland haven’t even started formal schooling yet. When they do, the teacher’s judgment alone is trusted in assessing students. No one, either within or outside the school, demands that it’s done their way and to their timetable. And no one uses the data to construct league tables or put pressure on schools.’

    • Mark Watson

      So that’s how they do it in Finland, but that’s just one example.
      As I said, if there is shown to be a correlation between successful education and a different type of inspection regime then I’d be all for it.
      I don’t know what happens in Singapore and Hong Kong, but my wholly uneducated guess is that they’re probably a bit more detail-obsessed than the Finns.
      I know that in Ireland they produce Whole School Evaluations with five ratings going from Weak to Very Good, so that seems pretty analogous to here.
      What we need (as the users of schools and therefore the Ofsted outputs) is proper research and review rather then supporters of one side of the argument putting up specific examples of one or two countries which support their theory.