School loses appeal to gag Ofsted from publishing critical report

A school has lost an appeal to gag Ofsted from publishing a critical report after claiming falling from ‘good’ to ‘inadequate’ in three years “cannot be justified on any rational basis”.

The secondary school, inspected in October last year, was granted an anonymity order in January to prevent publication of the report. However, this was just while it pursued an appeal of an earlier decision to refuse an interim injunction.

The appeal was thrown out last week by the Court of Appeal, which also refused the school permission to apply for judicial review.

The report has not yet been published. An Ofsted spokesperson said the matter was still “subject to ongoing proceedings” so it “would not be appropriate to comment further at this time”.

The judgment refers to the school as a state-funded secondary in the north of England that was rated ‘good’ in 2016.

The new Ofsted report was described as one of “contrasts”. While acknowledging good behaviour in lessons, it also said a “large minority of pupils do not feel safe in school”.

According to the judgment, the unpublished report added: “They do not feel protected from bullying. They do not believe that there is an adult they could talk to if they were worried about anything.”

It also said leaders and governors “do not know that the weaknesses exist” and that pupils were concerned about the use of “homophobic and racist language” around the school. When staff heard such language it was “not always challenged”.

The school’s lawyer said that dropping from ‘good’ to ‘inadequate’ in three years “cannot be justified on any rational basis”, claiming that Ofsted failed “to maintain a dialogue” with school leaders.

The lawyer also argued positive comments on classroom behaviour were “incompatible” with the suggestion that a “large minority of pupils do not feel safe”.

“Unexplained inconsistencies and unjustified comments” could be attributed to the inspection team’s “reliance on the unsubstantiated views of a minority of pupils”.

But in the judgment Lord Justice Lindblom said “dissatisfaction with the findings and conclusions of the inspection report does not, of itself, amount to a demonstration of irrationality”. He said there was “no proper basis” that the inspectors failed to maintain a “proper dialogue”. There was “nothing to stop” the school communicating its criticism of the report and publicising the measures it had taken since.

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  1. Dr Richard House

    A key question in this case is – how, precisely, did Ofsted collect their “evidence” about safety and bullying in this school? I know from another recent school inspection that the inspectors took children aside in what must have felt like an intimidating way, and asked young children “Do you feel safe here?”. Anyone (academics, research psychologists etc.) with even a modicum of knowledge about research methodology and children knows that this is a methodologically invalid approach to obtaining such “evidence”, as these “suggestions” can so easily generate precisely the data the inspectors are expecting to find (the latter is called “confirmation bias” in the research methodology literature – see refs below). It is outrageous that in England’s antediluvian disciplinary accountability regime, these outrageously flawed practices can determine a school’s reputation, and in extremis, even its very existence. More generally, the politically correct safe-guarding “industry” and the untold damage it has caused also have a great deal to answer for – for example, see law professor Lauren Devine’s vital recent book on this question – “The Limits of State Power and Private Rights: Exploring Child Protection and Safeguarding Referrals and Assessments” (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2018). As professor of education and expert on school evaluation Saville Kushner has recently written, “Ofsted inspectors are not given the freedom to engage with a school context and its particularities, and their methods are ipso facto invalid. A classroom today is not the same world as that classroom yesterday or tomorrow; a classroom ‘here’ cannot be like a classroom ‘there’. What Ofsted methodology fails to account for is the paradox that all classrooms are recognisable and familiar across the world, but that two classrooms on the same corridor in a school are worlds apart. ” More schools need to find the courage to stand up to Ofsted in the courts – or they will continue to violate our schooling system.
    References on “conformation bias”:
    Fforde, A. (2017). Confirmation bias: methodological causes and a palliative response. Quality and Quantity , 51: 2319–35.
    Gilbert, D.T. (1991). How mental systems believe. American Psychologist, 46: 107–119.
    Klayman, J. (1995). Varieties of confirmation bias. In J. Busemeyer & R. Hastie (eds), The Psychology of Learning and Motivation: Decision Making from a Cognitive Perspective v.32: Advances in Research and Theory (pp. 385–418). New York: Academic Press.
    Heshmat, S. (2015) What is confirmation bias? Psychology Today, 23 April; available at (accessed April 2020).
    Jones, M. & Sugden, R. (2001). Positive confirmation bias in the acquisition of information. Theory and Decision, 50: 59–99.
    Nickerson, R.S. (1998). Confirmation bias: a ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises. Review of General Psychology, 2 (2): 175–220

  2. Sally Jackson

    And yet there are plenty of schools that manage to get an outstanding rating with a hidden bullying and drug culture. I agree there needs to be a better way of finding such things out and that needs to be the focus.