“The government has signalled it no longer trusts the validity of Ofsted”

The Government’s announcement on coasting schools has far reaching consequences. The government should be very concerned (but won’t be) that this will further discourage (if such a thing were possible) headteachers taking on schools with socially disadvantaged intakes.

For the first three years, at least, threshold targets for secondary schools (60 per cent of pupils achieving 5 A* to C grades), and for primary schools, (85 per cent of pupils achieving level 4 in English and maths) will become the new floor target and will reinforce the importance of hitting targets rather than focussing on pupil progress.

And yet the “coasting” measure adopted by the government will not identify the schools in greatest danger of coasting – those with socially advantaged pupil intakes who achieve outwardly good GCSE and A level grades, but not anything like good enough when the quality of their intake is taken into account.

Schools with disadvantaged pupil intakes, however, who find it harder, starting from a low base, to demonstrate the requisite level of progress, will find themselves burdened by multiple, and contradictory, accountability measures.

It will be quite possible for Ofsted judgements, and the “coasting” data, not to correspond. It is in these schools where the curriculum will be narrowed to focus on test preparation – to the grave detriment of their pupils who need a broad, balanced and exciting curriculum to awake them to the joy, and importance, of learning.

For Ofsted, the coasting announcement is a disaster. The government has signalled it no longer trusts the quality and validity of Ofsted judgements and, as a result, is looking to school data (on a rolling average of three years) as the indicator of school quality

Ofsted could try to justify the £142 million a year it receives in taxpayers’ money by re-engineering its focus on safeguarding, for example. The Achilles heel for Ofsted, if it tries to go down this route, is its high profile failures to identify and report upon widespread and serious safeguarding failures in Birmingham and Haringey, Rotherham and so on…..

Given that I am a noted, and trenchant critic of Ofsted, the agency’s demise gives me no satisfaction. Because schools need to be judged on more than their data.

The quality of teaching and learning, the strength of school leadership, the provision of a broad and balanced curriculum and the necessity to keep children and young people safe, are all vital aspects of schools which must be assessed.

It is Ofsted’s nemesis that it has failed to provide good quality inspections of these vital areas of school provision. The correlation between Ofsted’s “outstanding” and “good” judgements of schools, and their privileged intakes, has become too marked to ignore. As a government advisor said to me recently: “Ofsted tells you which schools educate middle class children adequately.”

The major flaw in the coasting schools announcement, however, is that it will not redress this problem. Too many schools serving middle class communities will continue to evade scrutiny, and to be held accountable, for coasting.

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  1. Ben Gibbs

    Leaving Ofsted with safeguarding would be even more of a disaster. If there’s one area we *don’t* want inconsistency in, that’s it, surely. And not just because they’ve done harm by missing things in the past. They’ve also worried communities unecessarily. The Additional Inspectors who downgraded Ely College (see front page) from Good to Inadequate in February, judged it 4 on safeguarding because one of them saw a registered adult learner go to a staff toilet unaccompanied. That was their reason. I’ve visited two schools this week – just a visitor off the street with an appointment – and was invited to visit toilets unaccompanied in each. It didn’t make them unsafe, and it didn’t make Ely unsafe. The reason for the story is to highlight that Ofsted have got it wrong by over-policing (after which people lost their jobs), as well as under-policing.