Why Ofsted’s new inspection framework may see ‘outstanding’ providers marked down

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Some ‘outstanding’ colleges which have improved since their last inspection may still be downgraded because the bar has been raised under the latest Ofsted inspection framework.

That’s according to Chris Russell, the watchdog’s national director of education, who has said if a previously grade one college receives a ‘good’ grade, it “doesn’t mean that the school [or college] has declined in recent years. In fact, the opposite can be the case.”

He said this was because the top grade is a “challenging and exacting judgment to achieve” under the new education inspection framework (EIF).

The comments follow Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman saying a drop to around one in ten schools being ‘outstanding’, half the current rate, “might be a more realistic starting point for the system”.

There are currently 16 general FE colleges with a grade one, five of which have gone more than decade without inspection.

Asked whether the chief inspector expected a similar proportion of colleges as schools to drop from ‘outstanding’, an Ofsted spokesperson said: “We can’t know what the final picture will look like, and any judgments will, of course, be rooted in the evidence we find.

“Some providers may be found to be ‘outstanding’, but given the length of time that has passed, others may not.”

‘Outstanding’ education providers are being inspected this term for the first time since 2010, after an exemption was removed last year.

It will be the first time ‘outstanding’ providers are inspected under the EIF, which was introduced in 2019.

Russell, in a video posted this week, said there was “no doubt that under the current education inspection framework, ‘outstanding’ is a challenging and exacting judgment to achieve”.

“So it does mean, I think, that you need to be very careful, if, for example, a school [or college] that has been judged ‘outstanding’ a good many years ago is inspected again and judged to be ‘good’.

“That doesn’t mean that the school [or college] has declined in recent years. In fact, the opposite can be the case, so very important, I think, in those circumstances, to read the inspection report really carefully, to get a really good view of how good it is now and how well the school [or college] is doing.”

In a blog published on Wednesday morning he added that the drop in standards in some schools and colleges may have been several years ago, with schools and colleges now improving again. “So it’s important not to view the loss of an ‘outstanding’ grade too negatively,” he added.

Twenty-three reports relating to ‘outstanding’ schools were published yesterday. Of those, 19 were graded. Almost three in four, 17, lost their grade one.

Ofsted declined to comment on whether any ‘outstanding’ colleges have received an inspection so far this term.’



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  1. Phil Hatton

    This piece demonstrates the Ofsted mentality of their main focus being on schools and colleges, whereas the EIF is also used to inspect ITPs, employers and various providers of adult education. Inspectors who have significant experience in learning and skills will tell you that the same standards were not applied to schools as they were to our sector, with ‘outstanding’ having been given to far too many schools in the past. If you are outstanding, others should be able to visit you and learn from what you do better – that certainly was not the case with schools, so the numbers falling may not be simply a loss of quality but a more realistic quality verdict. An interesting feature of recent L&S outstanding reports for ITPs is the reluctance of Ofsted to list any areas for improvement, even though the published text indicates they exist. Is this an instruction from on high? If you are notably better than others you can be grade 1 and still have AFI. Most disappointing for me as someone passionate about sharing good practice to improve the sector is having seen the draft report of a fantastic provider with several unique areas of such practice is that any provider reading the report in the next few weeks will not be enlightened by the text as to what really makes them outstanding. Perhaps Ofsted could consider a survey where they give examples of outstanding practice, or indeed introduce good practice text boxes in reports as had been done by previous inspectorates so that inspection helps raise standards in the sector by sharing what works for the benefit of all.