Ofsted Grades here to stay. Now what?

A while ago I wrote a blog exploring the reasons why Ofsted Grading is such a terrible idea:  Five reasons to ditch Ofsted grades.

Here are the reasons:

  • They are a ludicrous over-simplication
  • Inspection is fundamentally too subjective and unreliable
  • The public interest illusion:  schools needing the most help are damaged even more.
  • The hideous hubris of Outstanding – and the albatross effect
  • Every School Requires Improvement.

I think I make a convincing case!

I’ve also written this blog:  #ditchthegrades Let’s call time on Ofsted grades for schools.  which features the ‘City Grade’ analogy and the issue of borderline cases – essentially there is no way of reliably placing schools on the right side of an arbitrary line.

Then, there was some stirring and rumouring and I got my hopes up: https://teacherhead.com/2018/03/22/ofsted-grading-is-on-the-table/  I was reporting comments on twitter and in Schools Week – grading was under discussion.  I also highlighted the ‘cusp delusion’ – another excuse for fudging all the guessing when aggregating hundreds of sub-judgements into an overall grades.

However, it seems that now all is lost.  Amanda Spielman – who remains someone I have strong personal respect for – informed the throng at the Education Festival at Wellington that changes to grading are not on the cards.   https://schoolsweek.co.uk/amanda-spielman-rules-out-changes-to-ofsteds-grading-system/ 

The two reasons given:

  • A poll of teachers said they don’t want to change.
  • Lobbying from headteachers said it would give the wrong message about aspirations.

I suspect that, behind the scenes, there’s also been a firm ‘No Way’ from further on high in the DFE – but I don’t know that.

Deep deep sigh.  I actually felt sick when I heard this.  I’m gutted.  It’s horrible feeling that all the logic and rational thought of so many people across the profession counts for nothing in the face of massive inertia, Stockholm Syndrome and the vested interests of people whose professional standing (and possibly their sense of self!)  relies on being able to stick  the grubby logo of hubris on their letterhead.   To be honest, it didn’t help that the previous bombastic ‘tough talk’ HMCI was also at the festival talking to that bombastic ‘tough talk’ celebrity breakfast TV presenter telling us about our mediocre schools system, doing his usual trash-the-profession talk.   It feels like, where some hope was emerging – even just a glimmer – we’re back in the mire.  Under the cosh; back in our place, powerless in the face of an organisation running a process that is simply too flawed to be as powerful as it is.    Remember – it’s not as if there isn’t some kind of recruitment crisis going on….

I have another reason to feel sick about this.  In the last few months, despite the full-on PR machinery telling us about #OfstedMyths – I’ve had a steady flow of people reaching out to me via email and DM telling me how Ofsted inspections continue to leave them disillusioned, demoralised, insecure, frustrated, angry, feeling a deep sense of injustice…. That’s what our system does to good people.  And it makes me mad that Ofsted people – even the ones I really like in person – never ever acknowledge this.  Every week they crush someone who doesn’t deserve it.  That can’t be good for the system.  Can it?

Where to now? If grading is off the table, I think we need to focus on demanding reforms that can be delivered.  Here’s  a few suggestions:

  • Conduct and publish reliability trials into the process of making judgements, report writing and sub-processes like work scrutiny , data analysis and lesson observations:  Does Ofsted do a good enough job in training its inspectors so that reach similar conclusions when inspecting large schools in teams?  Surely that’s reasonable?  Don’t fob us off with all this ‘inspectors are human’ stuff – that’s not good enough.  Not remotely.
  • Make the complaints procedure fully independent.  Currently it is Kafkaesque.  Judge and jury.   If the Evidence Form says it happened, it did; if there’s no evidence on the EFs, it didn’t.  You might say ‘inspectors did all these things they shouldn’t have’ because you were there! Ofsted says ‘no they didn’t.’. That’s about it.  I think Ofsted has a deeply defensive institutional culture and that needs to change.
  • Take safeguarding out of routine inspections to that it gets the full attention it deserves, for all schools, whilst allowing curriculum and teaching and learning experts to spend time getting to know what really goes on.  Currently, inspections are a massive fudged rush  which is unacceptable.  In truth, the full set of things inspectors are meant to look at cannot be looked at in any depth because there are too many and not enough time – it’s a superficial process with deep and lasting consequences.
  • Take some responsibility for the impact of crushing a school in challenging circumstances further into the dirt with an RI or SM judgement – recognising that you have now made it harder to recruit teachers and students.  This means giving recognition to the quality of teaching and learning and leadership as separate from the outcomes or progress, given all the deep deep flaws we all should now understand about progress and the zero-sum tendencies in our examination grading and scoring systems.  Stop fuelling the Matthew Effect…

I”ll stop there.  Except to say this.  Every week I work with astonishingly resilient people in challenging schools doing simply incredible work in very tough circumstances.  Very often people feel that the system is working against them, not for them.  Some are afraid of their jobs – continually on the edge –  because governors and CEOs crave Ofsted glory that can feel unlikely to be forthcoming.  Schools ‘doing things because of Ofsted’ is real because Ofsted holds the power to destroy and, de facto, behaves in ways that leaves professionals across the system shattered.   Every week (and that’s just my inbox).

So – keep your grades, but for God’s sake, give the PR a rest and sort out the rest.


  1. I said it for years before I took early retirement; if the inspectors are that good then the best way to improve a school is to spend a week in there supporting and helping staff and students. Inspection regime as it stands is like a lesson grade – out of date and not fit for purpose.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I worked as a member of an independent review team for early childhood programs here in Australia for ten years until recently. Our Decisions Review Committee was made up of 3 education specialists ( practising) and 3 lawyers who co-wrote each review decision with us. This was a federal government committee completely seperate to the accreditation body. Our recommendations were submitted to the accred board and May or may not be taken up. We found that 99% of them were upheld as they were a thorough investigation of the events and documentation available on the day of the inspection. services could submit documentation, affidavits, videos, photos of positioning ( as quite a few events centred around the impossibility of an inspector being able to see what they declared they could see).
    We also spent a lot of time with our reports giving guidance and resource support to those services where we upheld the ‘not accredited’ decision. This was greatly appreciated by these services who felt they had had a good hearing. In general we upheld around 50% of decisions and overturned 50% to ‘ accredited’. These were upheld by the accreditation board.
    Now that this process has been decentralised to each state rather than a national framework the independent review committee had been abandoned and services have little recourse to having their side of the events heard.
    Natural justice is gone.

    Liked by 1 person

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