Politicians and media would ‘draw own conclusions’ if Ofsted grades scrapped – DfE

'The priority is to look for ways to improve the current system rather than developing an alternative to it'

'The priority is to look for ways to improve the current system rather than developing an alternative to it'

Scrapping single-phrase Ofsted judgments would lead to civil servants, politicians and the media “drawing their own conclusions” about education providers from the narrative in reports, the government has warned.

The Department for Education this week rejected calls from the Parliamentary education committee for the four overall effectiveness judgments to be scrapped.

MPs said in January that a more “nuanced” alternative to the “totemic” judgments should be developed as a “priority”, following the death of headteacher Ruth perry.

A coroner ruled in December that an Ofsted inspection at Caversham Primary School contributed to her suicide.

In its formal response to the committee, the DfE said that “the government will continue to listen to views and look at alternative systems, including the various approaches taken internationally”.

But they added “the government’s view is that there are significant benefits from having an Ofsted overall effectiveness grade”.

“In our view the priority is to look for ways to improve the current system rather than developing an alternative to it. This includes considering with Ofsted the presentation of its findings and grades, and opportunities to highlight some of the detail sitting under the summary.”

‘Consider the risks’ of scrapping grades

The DfE added that it was “important to consider the risks of a system without an overall effectiveness grade”.

Views and decisions about education providers and their performance “would continue to be made, and there would continue to be consequences to inspection”.

“The government’s view is that it is preferable to have those views, decisions and consequences linked directly to the independent inspectorate’s overall findings rather than the interpretations by civil servants, politicians and the media looking through the narrative of reports and drawing their own conclusions.”

Robin Walker MP
Robin Walker MP

The department said the overall effectiveness judgment was an “important feature” of reports, with “strong parental awareness”.

It also “enables us to look across inspection outcomes around the country and observe overall changes in the national position”.

“For example, we are able to say that 9 in 10 schools in England have been assessed by Ofsted to be providing a good or outstanding education for their pupils. We are able to recognise the hard work and professionalism of leaders, teachers and staff, and to celebrate that achievement.”

Committee chair Robin Walker said it was “welcome to hear from DfE that it is open to ideas about how the single-word judgements system could be improved upon”. 

Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Pepe Di’Iasio called the response “deeply disappointing”.

“Its [DfE’s] solution is to ‘consider’ the presentation of Ofsted reports rather than the system itself. This is despite all the evidence that these single-phrase judgements are the source of sky-high stress and anxiety, damaging the wellbeing of leaders and teachers, sapping morale and causing many people to leave the profession.”

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4 Comments

  1. Do Ofcom, Ofwat, Ofqual (or Ofanything else) issue grades or judgements?

    Nope.

    It feels as though this is no longer about what is the best approach, it’s about Government not being seen to be caving in to pressure.

  2. Dan Jones

    Read the DfE’s statement carefully…

    It also “enables us to look across inspection outcomes around the country and observe overall changes in the national position”.

    “For example, we are able to say that 9 in 10 schools in England have been assessed by Ofsted to be providing a good or outstanding education for their pupils. We are able to recognise the hard work and professionalism of leaders, teachers and staff, and to celebrate that achievement.”

    Note the use of ‘us’ and ‘we’ – this is about simple statements/soundbites to complex issues. The focus on good or outstanding is about look how well ‘we’re’ doing.

    Inspections show a point in time, and lets be honest, it’s the same as teaching to an exam as opposed to teaching to broaden knowledge and understanding. Ofsted is seen as something to be managed, a hurdle to overcome, as opposed to a true force for change, good or dare I say it, Quality Improvement.

    Changing or adapting the Inspection Framework to whatever is the primary focus/concern/background of the latest Secretary of State or Chief Inspector renders comparisons over-time or supposed improvements referenced through single-word judgement to be meaningless.

    A broader score-card, support and challenge, investment in teachers and teacher retention, recognising pressures in the system that fall outside of an institutions control and truly ensuring child safety is what’s needed.

    Read again “We are able to recognise the hard work and professionalism of leaders, teachers and staff, and to celebrate that achievement.” – wouldn’t it be nice for those institutions that are struggling and do get requires improvement or inadequate to not then get the opposite of that statement, ie public humiliation, published letters and calls for the heads of senior leaders, particularly from Civil Servants who have no such scrutiny, but are willing to ignore the sector they say they want to celebrate.

  3. Derrick Baughan

    I recently added my thoughts to an article by Kerry Boffey a couple of weeks ago. I make no apologies for repeating those here. The subject is too important to let it go without robust debate.

    In my own experience as a former HMI; I, and many of my colleagues, came to the conclusion there is no merit in reducing, for example, a large and complex college with tens of thousands of learners, to a single word judgement. Indeed, it is rather audacious to say that is possible. This also applies to the single word judgements about each element of the EIF. All equally very blunt tools, indeed one could argue that they are not even the right tools. There is precedent for removing a single word judgement. Many years ago, Ofsted stopped grading, with a single word judgement, individual lesson observations. The reasoning for doing that applies equally to single word judgements for overall effectiveness and other aspects of the provision.

    The DfE argue that there are significant benefits to having an overall effectiveness grade. They also said that without this people would draw their own conclusions. This can easily be solved by having an overall effectiveness paragraph, or two. There would be far more value in inspectors reporting on the provider’s history of change and how well it adapted to changes in society, the workforce and its environment. Is the provider agile? Do they have a sufficiently flexible structure to respond to change? Can the provider demonstrate how they adapt to the demands of employers and changing demographic of learners? This approach would provide the sector with a far better picture of a provider’s overall effectiveness than just a single word judgement.

  4. Dave Spart

    What an absolutely idiotic statement from the DfE. So what if politicians and the media “draw their own conclusions”? If they are doing so on the basis of the contents of a reasoned and accurate report, rather than an utterly reductive ‘one of four boxes’, why is that a bad thing? The comment that it enables tracking of progress over time is also nonsense, as everybody knows the goalposts move. As a previous commenter has noted, this is more about the government wanting to boast about statistics, whilst discouraging anyone from looking too closely at what supposedly underpins them – it belongs in the category of ‘simple answers to complex issues’.

    There is a parallel here with the question of the grading of individual lessons. We became so used to that idea that I remember colleagues saying in the past: “we have to grade observations, because we need a self-assessment grade for teaching and learning”; my stock response to that would be: “you have to grade leadership and management as well, so what grade are you?” The result of graded teaching observations was teachers effectively walking round with a number on their backs, with all the predictable effects of demotivation, and poor morale and mental health. The tragic case of Ruth Perry highlights how the same can be true at institution level.