Spielman: It’s not unfair deprived schools get lower grades

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”.


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  1. Janet Downs

    Spielman’s attitude towards schools which score more highly for leadership and management but ‘fail’ in the assessment stakes deters teachers from applying to work in these schools. The message is that no matter how well you work you aren’t going to get better than ‘requires improvement’. This is especially hard in selective areas.

    • Janet Downs

      Correction: the first sentence should have read: Spielman’s attitude towards schools which score more highly for leadership and management than neighbouring good or better schools but ‘fail’ in the assessment stakes…. Sorry

  2. Patricia Kavanagh

    It would be more helpful and professional given Ms Spielman’s position for her to be specific about what issues she is referring to and what constitutes miitant activism. For example if it is not Ofsted’s role to monitor school’s diversity staffing then isn’t it slightly imbalanced for Ofsted to take a position in whether teachers can discuss matters with their children (as ultimately it affects them) that raises their awareness of imbalance? Teachers are working in the scientific backdrop of governments sponsored reports saying overall there is no institutionalised racism in British society and then reputable experiences researchers and academics in the field of diversity and equality themselves countering this position. Do we go with the politicians or the academics? Spielman comes from a privileged background and see the world through that lens it doesnt make her ay less professional in her approach but certainly not to feel and more likely not to understand the full perspectives in these debates. Using broad terms is also not helpful. We live in an age where we are becoming more aware of the causal factors in climate change/crisis and discriminatory attitudes. So Spielman does not help in an age where children will access contrary positions ergo is out of touch.