Harris boss warns new Ofsted chief inspector against scrapping ‘outstanding’ grade


A leading academy chain boss has urged incoming Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman to keep the Ofsted outstanding grade – warning the rating is an “important motivator” for schools.

Spielman, due to take over the Ofsted hot seat in January, has already signalled intentions to consider scrapping the top inspection rating because she was “quite uncomfortable” about “some of the effects I see it having in the system”.

But Dan Moynihan, chief executive of the Harris Federation, in an exclusive interview with Schools Week published today, has waded into the debate – urging Spielman to keep the outstanding grade.

Moynihan – the country’s highest paid academy boss on a £400,000 salary – has also hit back at criticism over the trust’s alleged high staff turnover rate and has said grammar schools could be “very destructive towards non-selective comprehensives”.

If people can’t do a good enough job, they’re not standing in front of our kids

He said: “Outstanding is an important motivator… and Amanda Spielman wants to get rid of it! That’s wrong. We are disappointed if we don’t get good.”

Harris – which, according to its website, runs 41 schools – topped the Education Policy Institute’s highest performing schools group table at key stage 2.

Every single one of its schools that has been inspected since joining the chain has been rated either good or outstanding by Ofsted.

Moynihan said the trust’s success was down to rigorous data tracking, systems for behaviour, systems for data, excellent teaching and good governance.

“There’s nothing we do that a good local authority couldn’t do.”

He also opened up about the trust parachuting centrally employed “consultants” into its schools – which has been a source of contention for some of the chain’s critics.

He said the trust uses subject experts to create resources and lesson plans for teachers, and will be dispatched to schools to take over teaching where a class is struggling or if someone is on long-term sick – negating the need for supply teachers.

Another bone of contention has been the trust’s apparent high turnover rates. The Guardian reported last year that more than 1,000 teaches had left the schools at the trust in just three years.

But Moynihan said: “We will invest in staff to get them to improve, but we want results to go up at the end of the first year [after a takeover]. Those are real children’s results; they are affected by that.

“In the end, if people can’t or won’t do a good enough job, they are not going to stand in front of our kids.”

He has also waded into the grammar school row, adding: “There is no doubt the evidence shows that historically grammar schools have not improved social mobility, and I don’t know what exactly will be proposed.

Read: Schools Week profiles Harris' Dan Moynihan
Read: Schools Week profiles Harris’ Dan Moynihan

“But you can see how grammar schools will be very destructive towards non-selective comprehensives. That could be a real problem.”

He said Harris would be against introducing grammar schools into its own trust, but said: “Tactically we might have to. Otherwise we would be losing the top 20 per cent of pupils in our schools. What do we do? End up as secondary mods?

“There might be things you can do to ameliorate the problems. But I can’t think of any.”

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  1. It is not just the ‘outstanding’ category that should be abolished it is all of them. They are produced by OfSTED to drive competition between schools for the most able pupils. This process in itself lowers standards.

    The ‘outstanding’ category is damaging to all the pupils in the school. Even the most able students who get ‘good’ exam results may miss out on good developmental teaching if GCSE grades are all important and teachers are under pressure to achieve them at all costs.

    For lower ability students these pressures will be even greater especially around the C/D border. The greater the pressure, the worse the teaching is likely to be in terms of inspirational deep learning.

    My advice to parents is to look for a school graded ‘good’ that concentrates on the best interests of individual students and has an emphasis on personal and cognitive development.

    • “My advice to parents is to look for a school graded ‘good’ that concentrates on the best interests of individual students and has an emphasis on personal and cognitive development.”

      And what is the likelihood of finding such a school under the control of a Multi Academy Trust (MAT)? You only have to read this article to form a judgement on that. The fact is that the Academisation paradigm is fundamentally corrupting in itself. It is driven by the neo-liberal myth that competition and markets always raise standards and drive down costs.

      Not in public services they don’t, as can be shown in any number of examples of which the Global Education Reform Movement (the ideological driver of Academisation) is just one.

      Marketisation, competition and privatisation in public services is generally associated with ever greater costs and demands on the taxpayer and lower standards, as is being slowly but certainly revealed through the experience of Academisation and Free Schools in the English education system.

      Examples of artificially imposed market paradigm failure abound, from our railways, through successive government outsourcing scandals of which the current unjustified cutting of benefits to claimants is just the latest example, to the privatised energy supply industry which involves consumers paying not just for the technical costs of being connected to the grid, but also for the costs of operating the market including thinking up and promoting hundreds of misleading tariff offers, advertising and the commissions and profits of so-called ‘price comparison websites’.

      So my advice to parents is to exercise great care when judging the claims for excellence of ‘outstanding schools’, especially if they are part of MATs. If you are lucky to still have access to a good, local LA maintained school, run by a principled head that understands how children learn, then give it your fullest consideration.

      Schools cannot be judged on the aggregated exam results of their pupils. This too may seem contrary to common sense, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

  2. There should be just two Ofsted grades: Value for Money and Not Value for Money. NVMs should be supported until they provide value for money.
    The Outstanding grade is misleading for two reasons. Every head knows (if they’re honest) that if inspectors had come on a different day the outcome might not have been Outstanding but Good. Outstanding schools are exempt from further inspection unless problems are flagged up. But after time these become out-of-date. A school judged Outstanding over five years ago may no longer be so. Complacency can set in.

  3. ‘…we want results to go up at the end of the first year [after a takeover].’ This excessive focus on results is damaging and can have negative consequences such as teaching-to-the-test, ‘gaming’, cheating and giving less attention to other important areas. Not just my opinion – but comments by OECD in 2011 about the disproportionate emphasis on GCSE results in England.