Ofsted inspectors have received no training on secondary modern schools, despite them operating in some of the toughest conditions in the country.
Laurence Reilly, a headteacher who is also an Ofsted inspector, said HMIs had not been trained to recognise a “secondary modern” as a non-selective school sitting within a selective area.
His comments at the National Association of Secondary Moderns annual conference in London last weekend came after the association’s founder, Ian Widdows, called on Ofsted to recognise the “sometimes difficult context” in which teachers at secondary moderns worked.
Instead of acknowledging the often lower academic ability of pupils compared with those in grammar schools, Ofsted judged them both on the same criteria, delegates heard.
Sean Harford (pictured), director of education at Ofsted, responded by telling Schools Week the inspectorate “recognised the difficulties some secondary moderns face”, particularly the impact of local grammar schools on teacher recruitment.
It was not fair on pupils to judge schools according to different criteria
But all schools must be “fairly judged” on “the same inspection criteria”, he said.
Schools should provide the “very best education for all pupils, regardless of their background” and it was not fair on pupils to judge schools according to different criteria, he said.
He denied inspectors did not understand the context of schools.
“All our inspectors receive regular training to help to update their skills and knowledge in inspecting schools, taking full account of their context.”
Widdows told delegates at the annual conference, the association’s fourth, that he wrote to Harford in 2015 to express concerns about Ofsted’s understanding of secondary moderns.
He received a response from Robert Pike, Ofsted’s chief statistician, which said it stood by the judgments made of secondary moderns and grammar schools.
In that letter, Pike admitted it was “harder” for schools with lower-ability pupils to get the two top ratings from Ofsted. Across the country, secondary moderns were less likely than grammar schools to be rated “good” or “outstanding”.
He said it was “probably easier” for schools with advantaged intakes to be awarded good or outstanding. But he also said the higher ratings given to grammar schools might be because their teaching was “more effective”.
“You’ve got a circular argument here,” Widdows told Schools Week.
“They’re saying the reason they have higher-calibre teachers is because those schools are judged outstanding, and they are outstanding because of their higher-calibre teachers.
“The teachers in my school have to have so many different tools, strategies, competencies that they employ all the time, without thinking. I think they are incredibly high-calibre teachers.”
Ofsted inspectors are required to have a degree, qualified teacher status, as well as five years’ leadership experience at a senior level, according to a HMI job specification.
When Schools Week rang Ofsted about secondary modern schools, a spokesperson asked “whether secondary modern was still a label” applied to schools as it is not in use by the inspectorate as an official school type. However, the term is an admissions type designated within the government’s Edubase data on schools.