Parent’s Guide to Ofsted









By Jobbing Teacher                                Join me on Facebook

There is a lot of smoke and mirrors around Ofsted  and Jobbing Teacher often worries that parents take too much for granted with regard to Ofsted ratings when choosing a school for their child. Today’s post takes a good hard look through the lens of a teacher who has experienced numerous Ofsted inspections over a 25 year career.

The first question any parent should ask is;

 ”does an Ofsted report give a true impression of a school?”

The answer to this question is yes and no. It gives a concentrated but narrow view of the quality of a school’s work based these days purely on examination results (including SATS) and progress measures. They do not report on broader aspects of education and only pay lip service to judging the quality of such things as the social and moral development of our children. Another problem worth mentioning is that each new ‘framework’ that Ofsted uses (this changes every few years) shifts the goalposts. The result of this is that at the start of a new framework, you tend to get more surprising (dodgy) judgements. This is mainly due to a combination of inspection teams getting used to the new judgement criteria and schools learning the rules of the latest version of the Ofsted game.

I’ll give you an example. A local secondary school to me had three ‘outstanding’ Ofsted judgements on the trot over a period of a decade or more and was put on a pedestal as a paragon of educational virtue. They had an inspection last year and fell foul of the GCSE English results debacle which meant their English results showed a dramatic dip for one year. They were re-categorised as ‘Needs to Improve’. (The old ‘satisfactory’ judgement).  Now I don’t want to get overly cynical here, but three ‘outstanding Ofsteds and then a ‘needs to improve’. I think this says more about the Ofsted system than the school quite frankly. But I digress!

The latest Ofsted visit is only two days long with very short notice – presumably to enable to see the school as it really is. Most lesson observations last about twenty minutes although when I was inspected last year, the lead inspector came into one of my lessons for the last 15 minutes!! You might be thinking, how do you make a judgement like that?

Exactly!! This kind of regime can create anomalies. If Ofsted see a lot of lessons in a subject area in a secondary school for example and deem them all to be ‘good’ then they will write a statement in their report saying “ teaching in that particularly subject is good”. However, and this is where the sheer stupidity of the system can show itself, if the results in the same subject are deemed not to be good enough, then in the same report a few paragraphs later it can say “teaching needs to improve in the said subject”. Utter nonsense, as I am sure you will agree!

Joking apart, Ofsted make the assumption that what they are seeing on the visit is not what happens on a day-to-day basis. They don’t put this in the report but tell the crestfallen Headteacher verbally.

Ofsted just don’t seem to be able to cope with these types of situations well. So how do parents interpret these mixed messages?

If a report from a local school says that ‘teaching is good’ this probably means that teachers have learned how to ditch their principles and learned how to play the ‘Ofsted game’. Examination results are likely to be above national averages and the staff know every trick in the book to get there regardless of whether it is right for our children’s long term educational development. (e.g. BTEC PE in a week-type strategies to make sure every child gets their 5 GCSE or equivalent results)

If the report says ‘teaching needs to improve’ it is likely that the school’s results are a true reflection of their pupil’s natural ability and staff know that it is no good for the kids futures to virtually do it for them. Staff will no doubt get a good kicking and quickly learn how to manipulate results or end up on capability procedures.

If a local school is deemed by Ofsted to be ‘Outstanding’ this means they have really bagged every  barely-legal examination sleight of hand know to the civilised world. Their Headteacher is a smooth operator who knows the game inside out. She/he will have worked in and subsequently ditched a number of tough schools on the way up the greasy pole. The pupils will be very compliant and parents will back the school over everything. This is like the Nirvana of Headship or like getting a Knighthood (which often seems to follow these days, particularly if you are an Academy Principal and like taking over other schools in a Genghis Khan-like fashion). This head is a lucky, lucky person, but will not be in school much. Outstanding status opens lots of doors for Headteachers with DFE accolades, Government focus groups and lucrative consultancy work – Nirvana indeed!

If a school is deemed to be inadequate or needs ‘special measures’ in Jobbing Teacher’s experience this probably means that the pupils are out of control (no doubt due to the pressure to learn inappropriate subjects in an inappropriate way) and the Headteacher is out of their depth to deal with it. (and will usually disappear very quickly). Avoid these types of schools until a new Head has sorted them out and taught everyone how to play the Ofsted game. (this normally takes about 18 months in every school miraculously!)

Another point that parents need to consider when trying to interpret Ofsted reports is that the smaller the school, the more unreliable that statistics become. Jobbing Teacher is not renowned for his Mathematical ability but I think you can work that one out for yourself (sample size etc)

The Ofsted Statistics Bible is called Raiseonline which like Premier league football pundits gives every statistic under the sun. School leadership teams spend torrid hours trying to work out why the Raiseonline statistics say the results last year (which everyone thought were really good)  appear to be really crap!!

All in all a difficult one to ponder when thinking about whether a local school is really the right one for your child. My advice is simply this;

  • Don’t believe everything you read in Ofsted reports or the local press. Take it with a pinch of salt
  • Listen to what your local community says about its schools
  • Talk to other parents and friends who have children there about their experiences of the school
  • If parents generally send their children to a school where they were pupils themselves or if you know that some staff have their children at the school, you are usually onto a winner!


What do you think?





Posted in Education Policy, School Leadership, School Organisation Tagged with: , , , ,

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