Ofsted’s chief inspector has denied it is “unfair” that deprived schools are more likely to receive lower grades than those in more affluent areas.

Amanda Spielman appeared at the Festival of Education yesterday and was quizzed over the controversial issue.

She had previously stated the problem was offset as poorer schools often out-performed their richer counterparts in the ‘leadership and management’ judgements.

However this has been dismissed by many within the sector, with Stephen Tierney, former chair of the Headteachers’ Roundtable, stating the overall judgement was “ultimately what schools live and die by”.

special school OfstedAddressing the issue yesterday, Spielman stated she didn’t “accept that it is unfair because the premise buried in that is that schools are equally good everywhere despite the circumstances in which they operate”.

The chief inspector explained Ofsted has to be consistent with its assessments and “can’t tell a parent a school is pretty good considering the town it’s in, but we’d be expecting more from that judgement if the school was in London”.

“It’s not a perfect parallel but it’s a little bit like the distinction between an effort grade and an attainment grade”, she added – with the leadership judgement being “the best assessment of the quality of the team”.

Spielman said she struggled with the idea standards in a “posher neighbourhood” would be higher than elsewhere and there was a distinction in Ofsted’s reporting between judgements on what schools can control and those outside of its control.

Pledges a distant memory?

Elsewhere, Spielman was quizzed on progress made under the government’s plans to increase Ofsted’s inspection powers.

In 2019, the Conservatives pledged to extend section 5 inspections for secondary schools and large primaries from two to three days. “No notice” inspections would also be trialled.

While indicating Covid disruption had contributed to delays, she admitted she “can’t remember” the last time Ofsted discussed the promises with government.

The pledge to remove the inspection exemption from outstanding schools however was fulfilled in October. Spielman said this is the “biggest single thing” Ofsted will be picking up when inspections resume in October.

OfstedWarnings against ‘militant activism’ for schools

During her keynote speech, Spielman also warned that “teachers should not be policed by “self-appointed moral guardians” or be forced to change the way they teach in the face of “militant activism”.

While she explained activism which broadens debate is welcome, the “newer phenomenon” of a “particularly confrontational brand of activism” is “problematic” for schools.

She stated it was “completely unacceptable” that situations arose where pupils and teachers suffered abuse and violence “for being who they are: for being the wrong religion, or race, or ethnicity”.

“Let’s not have teachers policed by self-appointed ‘moral guardians’ who refuse to tolerate an alternative viewpoint. Or harried on social media into apologising for what they’ve said, or into changing the way they teach, in the face of militant activism.”

Spielman was later asked whether Ofsted should cap schools’ grades when there is a lack of diverse leadership.

Alluding to her earlier speech, she explained with “every hot topic, one of the first things that happens is that people say we should make that a limiting judgement in inspection”.

But if such things were constantly added, inspections would become a “tick list of hot topics” rather than a “holistic assessment”, she said.

She explained Ofsted does not “have a role to monitor the diversity of schools’ staffing”.