Spielman: 'We're the arbiter of quality, whether you like it or not'

Ofsted’s grading system is “proven” and works, the chief inspector of schools has insisted, defying leaders’ demands for a shake-up.

Amanda Spielman told the Wellington College Festival of Education today that Ofsted remains “the arbiter of quality in state education”, despite being “rarely loved”, and pointed to parents’ knowledge of the inspectorate’s brand as proof her organisation is doing its job.

The four-point grading scale may not always find favour with schools, but it is proven, and it works

It has been almost exactly a year since Spielman confirmed, at the same event, that the four Ofsted judgments are here to stay, much to the disappointment of leaders and teachers, who say they put unnecessary pressure on the education system.

Today, the chief inspector struck a defiant tone as she said the system “may not always find favour with schools, but it is proven, and it works”.

“By that I mean it is readily understood by parents, it’s workable (even allowing for the individuality of our inspectors) and it’s seen as a best-practice model for inspectorates.

“The police and fire inspectorate, the probation inspectorate and the Care Quality Commission are three of the inspectorates who assign the same grades as we do: outstanding, good, requires improvement and inadequate.”

She pointed to Ofsted’s latest parent survey, which found that nine in ten parents know the grade of their child’s school, college or nursery.

“That’s quite a statistic,” she said.

“As the education inspectorate we’re rarely loved; I’m not sure that any inspectorate is. It is our role to judge and to publish those judgments for all to see. There are those in the education world – and I’m sure in this room – who don’t like it: but we remain the arbiter of quality in state education.”

Spielman also used her speech to repeat her calls for greater powers to hold ‘outstanding’-rated schools to account if they decline.

Ofsted recently revealed that almost a third of previously ‘outstanding’ schools inspected since last September have dropped to ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’.

Spielman told delegates that it was “undeniably problematic – for us, for parents and for the schools themselves” that current legislation doesn’t allow Ofsted to inspect outstanding schools routinely.

“Without some regular scrutiny, it’s impossible to say whether an outstanding school is still hitting the same heights.

“And we know that when we do go back into outstanding schools, we often find that they are doing less well – even allowing for the fact that we are not visiting a random sample of outstanding schools.”

She added that, as Ofsted begins to operate under its new inspection framework, “it’s only fair that we are able to test all schools against the same benchmark”. Discussions with government are ongoing, she said.