Schools boost Ofsted grades despite deteriorating performance, report finds

face masks

More than one in ten ‘good’ secondary schools were promoted to outstanding grades by Ofsted despite having a “significant deterioration” in academic performance, a new analysis has revealed.

Research by the Education Policy Institute, published today, found large numbers of schools are maintaining positive Ofsted grades despite “significant deterioration” in results.

The analysis of Ofsted inspection reports issued between 2005 and 2015 found almost two fifths of good-rated secondary schools that saw academic performance progress stall between inspections remained at the grade, while 11 per cent were promoted to ‘outstanding’.

There is no excuse not to treat schools fairly

The institute analysed the Ofsted inspection judgments of 1,221 primary schools and 228 secondary schools whose value-added progress decreased by an average of 15 percentiles per year, and concluded that Ofsted “may not have been as effective at consistent recognition of deterioration in academic performance as it has been in the regularity of school inspections”.

Ofsted said judgements are based on a wealth of evidence not just data, and insisted inspectors do not automatically mark down schools for a “sudden decline in a single performance measure”. A spokesperson said the watchdog plans to dispute some of the findings.

Bu the findings have prompted calls by union officials for the inspection regime to be overhauled.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said Ofsted needed to” address its apparent failure to spot the decline in academic performance in schools that have previously been rated good or outstanding”.

“There is no excuse not to treat schools fairly.”

James Bowen, director of middle leaders’ union NAHT Edge, argued that a “more intelligent and fair” inspection regime would “evaluate a wide range of aspects of a school”.

“Rather than awarding schools a catch-all grade, it would be more helpful for schools to have conversations with the inspection team about the various areas of strength and weakness, with clear priorities for improvement ahead of the next inspection. It shouldn’t just be about a grade, but about continuous improvement, for all schools.”

The research found that a third of the 64 primary schools whose performance deteriorated substantially after they were given an ‘outstanding’ were still re-rated as ‘outstanding’ at their next inspection.

They were only fractionally more likely to be down-graded than schools where no such academic deterioration took place, the report said.

David Laws
David Laws

At the same time, more than two-thirds of the 406 primary schools originally rated good, whose performance deteriorated substantially, were not down-graded at their next inspection. 64 per cent remained ‘good’ and 7 per cent had their ratings raised to outstanding.

Of the 47 good-rated secondary schools whose performance deteriorated, 38 per cent remained good at the next inspection and 11 per cent became outstanding.

And of those schools rated outstanding, good or as requiring improvement whose performance deteriorated substantially, 47 per cent of primary schools and 33 per cent of secondary schools saw their Ofsted judgments improve.

Jo Hutchinson, the report’s author, told Schools Week that Ofsted needed to focus more on progress measures in its inspections.

“My view is that the value-added progress measure is probably the single best measure you could use if you had to pick just one,” she said.

“Policy will shift more in that direction over the time, particularly with the introduction of progress 8 at secondary level, but I don’t think we can necessarily assume that will fix this problem.”

David Laws, executive director of the EPI and former schools minister, added it was important to “ensure that the Ofsted rating fully reflects the work that school leaders and teachers are doing”.

“Ofsted judgements do not always seem to pick up sharp declines in a school’s academic performance,” he said. “We need to understand why this is, and whether some schools are being rated fairly or not.”

An Ofsted spokesperson said: “As this report acknowledges, inspection judgements are based on a wealth of evidence not just data.

“Inspectors use their professional judgement to look at performance over time, the progress being made by pupils currently in a school and the effectiveness of leadership and management.

“That means we would not automatically mark down a school for a “sudden decline” in a single performance measure in a single year, as this report seems to suggest we should, if other evidence shows a school remains good or outstanding overall.”

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

One comment

  1. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to compare results from 2005 to 2015. Tests have changed; the way schools have been judged has changed; Ofsted’s goalposts have moved rapidly round the field.
    At the same time, the excessive emphasis on results in England has grown. This risks negative consequences including teaching to the test and narrowing the curriculum. A school’s results might not accurately reflect the quality of education on offer.