Ofsted will keep its four-point grading system – for now

Ofsted will stick to its current four-point grading system in its new inspection framework – putting an end to rumours that it would opt for a simpler pass-or-fail system.

Instead, the status quo will remain in its 2019 framework, its chief inspector announced in a speech at the Festival of Education at Wellington College.

Options will be kept “under review” looking further ahead, Amanda Spielman said.

She is working with the Department for Education to “see the removal of the ‘outstanding’ exemption”, which currently allows education providers to go more than a decade without inspection.

We’ve concluded that it is right to maintain the current grading system in the new framework

Before her appointment in 2016, Ms Spielman (pictured) said she was uncomfortable about some of the effects on the education system of the ‘outstanding’ grade, and claimed Ofsted under her watch would have “discussions” about scrapping it.

Rumours have been flying around in recent months that all four of the grades used by Ofsted – ‘outstanding’, ‘good’, ‘requires improvement’ and ‘inadequate’ – might all be on borrowed time.

“I know that there are some who would like Ofsted to abandon grades altogether or to move to a pass/fail model,” Ms Spielman told the audience.

“For me, that is a decision which must squarely be decided on the basis of whether the current grading system meets our mission of being a force for improvement.

“We will keep this under regular review. But we’ve concluded, on balance, that it is right to maintain the current grading system in the new framework and that is the basis of the discussion I’m having with ministers now as we engage with them on the new framework as a whole.

“First, our teacher polling conducted by YouGov indicates that the profession prefers a four-point grading system to a pass/fail one.

“Many teachers have told us directly that a pass/fail would make the system even more high-stakes – it would de facto turn ‘requires improvement’ into a ‘fail’.

“Secondly, parents tell us that they want to keep the current grading system. They like the clarity of four grades in helping them to make informed choices.”

Ms Spielman said that when it comes to the ‘outstanding’ grade in particular, a number of education leaders have “persuasively lobbied me, and others, to keep it”.

I would like to see the removal of the ‘outstanding’ exemption

By losing ‘outstanding’, they said, “we’d send the wrong message about aspiration and excellence in the system”.

There have been strong demands for changes to Ofsted’s ‘outstanding’ exemption for years. They started when FE Week revealed in November 2016 that two colleges in England had both gone more than 10 years without a full inspection.

Our sister paper Schools Week then revealed in 2017 that more than 100 schools had similarly been left alone for over a decade – a number which has now risen to nearly 300.

The exemption was introduced by Michael Gove in 2011 as a way to devote more of inspectors’ time to failing institutions and “free” top-rated providers from the burden of Ofsted.

But Ms Spielman is on a mission to scrap it.

“If we are to keep the grading system, I have to be sure that people can have confidence in grades,” she said. “That is why I would like to see the removal of the ‘outstanding’ exemption.

“There is no doubt that the long gap since inspection has undermined parental confidence. From our perspective, it also means our inspectors are getting to see fewer examples of ‘outstanding’ practice.”

She was however “pleased to say” that Ofsted is “engaging constructively” with the DfE on this issue and “hopes to say more in the future”.