News | Published April 07 2019

Think tank questions value of Ofsted grades

In a recent report, the newly formed thinktank EDSK has questioned the impact and utility of Ofsted’s grading system. Every Ofsted report is summarised into an overall grading: “inadequate”, “requires improvement”, “good” or “outstanding.”

This new report questions both the accuracy and the usefulness of these ratings, with the director of the think tank, Tom Richmond, stating that there is no evidence that supports the usefulness of “summarising an entire school in a single number or phrase.”

This follows the sending of a joint statement to the Chief Inspector of Ofsted by two headteachers unions: the Headteachers’ Roundtable and WorthLess? 

In the letter, the two unions also questioned the efficacy of the grading system. They described the retention of a four point grading system as “hugely problematic.” 

Stating that these concerns had not been addressed in the past 25 years, they wrote that: “The absence of any independent empirical evidence base for the reliability of the grades produced and the validity of conclusions reached, fundamentally undermine the proposal presented by Ofsted.” They also argued that the current grading system can cause “more teachers to leave the profession or move from these schools.”

The think tank report concluded that “By moving away from the notion of ‘grading’ schools and towards empowering parents with better information, the education system as a whole will reap the benefits.”

The report targeted four main questions: can parents trust Ofsted grades; is Ofsted measuring the right metrics; what impact does Ofsted have on schools and whether Ofsted inspections lead to better schools. 

One of the key criticisms of the report was the lack of consensus between inspectors and the frequency that different inspectors will come to different outcomes on the same school. Quoting Ofsted data published in 1996, the report stated that Ofsted inspectors awarded different grades after observing the same lesson in a third of cases.

The report also sought to compare Ofsted grades with academic performance. It stated that 69 per cent of primary schools performing the government’s “floor standard” had been rated “good” or “outstanding” by Ofsted. This was also true for 35 per cent of secondary schools.

Another area which the report scrutinised was the effect that Ofsted gradings have on schools. Referencing Ofsted data, the report found that “33 per cent of primary schools and 58 per cent of secondary schools rated as “requires improvement” did not subsequently improve.” Beyond this, 11 per cent declined to become “inadequate.”

Ofsted dismissed the findings of the think tank, highlighting “several inaccuracies.” A spokesperson for Ofsted said: “There is little new in the report and several inaccuracies. Some of it we have said ourselves and are addressing through our own inspections, which will launch this autumn.

“We are open to serious debate about how we inspect, as shown through our recent consultation of a new inspection approach. We will be publishing the outcome soon.” 

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Authored by

George Salmon
Political Editor
April 07 2019

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