Spielman says deprived schools’ lower grades offset by leadership praise

Amanda Spielman has claimed Ofsted recognises the ‘relative strength’ of schools in poorer areas by rating their leadership more highly – after admitting schools in more affluent areas are awarded better grades.

The chief inspector said Ofsted has looked at the judgment profiles for schools with various levels of disadvantaged intakes, finding that overall judgments are on average lower for the most disadvantaged schools.

She conceded this was the case despite such schools having “generally a harder job to do”.

But Spielman claimed: “Nevertheless compared with more advantaged schools, disadvantaged schools are quite a lot more likely to have Ofsted rate their leadership and management more highly than their overall effectiveness.

“That shows how their relative strength is recognised in more difficult circumstances.

“I think these profiles make clear we are not simply loading the consequences of demographics into our judgements.”

Ofsted has said previously its new inspection framework – focusing more on curriculum rather than test results – would “reward schools in challenging circumstances”.

But in 2019, the inspectorate admitted schools with more pupils from deprived backgrounds are still less likely to be judged ‘good’ under the new inspection framework than those with more affluent pupils.

Spielman’s comments came during the Northern Powerhouse Partnership’s Education Summit yesterday which focused on the importance of context in understanding education outcomes.

‘Deep and difficult’ tension when judging schools

Under Ofsted’s current inspection framework, schools are given a final judgement based on ‘overall effectiveness’, while Ofsted also provides judgements across four key areas; ‘the quality of education’, behaviour and attitudes’ , ‘personal development’ and ‘leadership and management’.

The chief inspector warned there is a “deep and difficult tension between judging schools in terms of the experience children get and how well schools are doing with the hand they’ve been dealt”.

“In effect one is absolute and the other is relative,” she added.

The chief inspector said that parents are interested in overall judgements as they want “the absolute comparison”, and would not have lower expectations “just because they live say in a northern coastal town.”

However in contrast she believes that decisions about school interventions should be based on schools’ “relative performance”, which is reflected within the ‘leadership and management judgement’.

“School interventions can and should be about how well schools are doing with the hand they’ve been dealt”, she added.






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  1. Ofsted has “admitted schools with more pupils from deprived backgrounds are still less likely to be judged ‘good’” despite parents/teachers/pupils in poorer areas not wanting lower standards.

    Why grade at all?

    One day, a future Ofsted HMCI with some gusto will do-away with grading schools on the basis that the grades merely mirror social inequality.

    Grading schools and colleges tell us nothing about the quality of education and its impacts on long-term outcomes for pupils.

  2. Terry Pearson

    So, there we have it. Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector confirms that grades awarded during inspections are dubious. Overall effectiveness is deemed by the inspectorate to be an ‘absolute’ grade and leadership is deemed to be a ‘relative’ grade. Consequently, not only are ‘disadvantaged’ schools awarded lower overall effectiveness grades but ‘advantaged’ schools are awarded lower leadership grades!

    This should not be surprising to many working in education. For a period of almost 30 years Ofsted has not be able to validate the reliability of the grades it awards. Even the inspectorate’s latest attempt to do so was substantively flawed. See the document on the following link for more details. It has attracted more than 1,000 reads worldwide.

  3. Victor Merrylaw

    Basically, the Ofsted system is a complete farce. They pretend they analyse schools in an unbiased manner, assume the school SATs data etc isnt fraudulent and listen to local inspectors clouded comments. HMI/ Ofsted inspectors shoukd only hold their positions for say 3 years, before returning to schools so that they actually have some inkling of day to day teaching and managing once again. Once an HMI/ Ofsted type, they hype up their previous experiences, blow their own trumpets and act like educn demi-gods. It.s dire.

  4. James Mook

    This makes little sense. If leadership is good why is the quality of education not good? What is the difference?
    “The experience students get ” is “absolute” and often judged lower than the leadership of the school. What is the confounding factor?
    Is the message ultimately: “If you want a better standard of education for your child, move to a ‘better’ part of town?”

  5. Mangal Singh

    All said and done, even after their own analysis of grades across the strata of different schools, Ofsted are still refusing to recognise that the judgment of Overall Effectiveness is deeply flawed, particularly if you are working in schools in deprived areas. We continue to hope and pray for a system rooted in genuine school improvement, free of political machinations, with levers of support and not sticks to beat you with.