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Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills) www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ofsted inspects and regulates services that care for children and young people, and services providing education and skillstraining.

Which schools does Ofsted cover?

Ofsted inspects all state-maintained schools, as well as independent schools which are not members of the Independent Schools Council (ISI) www.isi.net/ or covered by the Schools Inspection Service www.schoolinspectionservice.co.uk or Bridge Schools Inspectorate www.bridgeschoolsinspectorate.co.uk/home. Currently, over 1,000 independent schools fall under Ofsted’s remit.

Are Ofsted reports useful?

As with most reports, there’s a code to decipher and a few questions to ask. The local school gets a glowing report, yet you know half the population are banned from the shopping centre. Puzzling?

So just what do inspection reports tell us and have they any value? The answers are lots, and yes, if you know how to read them and bear in mind their limitations.

What do the grades mean?

1 means Outstanding (and we’ve seen several of these), 4 Inadequate, with Good and Requires Improvement in between. Helpful comments are made about what the school should do to improve.

The overall effectiveness grade is supplemented by five more:

  • Effective leadership and management. This includes ensuring high quality teaching leads to excellent outcomes for all pupils; evaluation of academic curriculum and extracurricular provision; preparation for life beyond school, including PSHE curriculum. Governors can expect to be grilled and, at times, criticised in the report (and they don’t even get paid for the privilege of doing their job!).
  • Quality of teaching, learning and assessment for all groups and abilities.
  • Personal development, behaviour and welfare, including year 7 transition, online safety, bullying and careers provision.
  • Outcomes/achievement and progress for all groups and abilities.
  • 16-19 study programmes (if relevant).

Are parents consulted?

Parents are consulted via an online questionnaire, but the numerical data is no longer included with the report – a pity, as it was very informative, and knowing the percentage of parents that had responded was also revealing. You can, however, view responses online on the Ofsted Parent View site.

Digging deep

Use your imagination and read reports with care – inspectors have seen too many schools and tend to think everyone knows what’s meant by, for example, ‘low-level disruption’. Nothing much then? No! They actually mean the most annoying kind, the sort that’s much worse for other pupils than the occasional, spectacular blow-out followed by a quick expulsion, .

Other things to look out for include:

  • Does the teaching meet the needs of all abilities, from the very bright to those with special needs or disabilities?
  • do teachers provide engaging tasks and resources?
  • do they encourage deep thinking?
  • does the school promote wide reading well?
  • how effectively is bullying dealt with?
  • is there good provision for mental health and wellbeing?
  • does the school encourage pupils' opinions to be heard and how well does it respond to them?
  • is there good provision of extra curricular activities, trips, visits, clubs?

Are Ofsted reports worthwhile?

On the whole, despite the obvious improvements, we have our doubts about the current system. Mechanistic (relying on statistical analysis), not getting under the skin of a school and unsupportive are some of the complaints we’ve heard.

Many schools complain that Ofsted has already made up its mind before visiting, basing its judgement on raw results rather than teaching. We are pleased that Ofsted plans to concentrate on ‘quality of education’ rather than exam performance – though not till late in 2019. Some also suspect political pressure to come up with some judgements that conform to Government views, with allegations that some ‘superheads’ get advance warning of inspections.

Some heads have expressed concerns about the inconsistency of inspections and the difficulty in navigating the complaints procedure which deters challenges when it is felt that mistakes have been made. It is also felt by many schools that the focus rests on test and exam results in a limited range of subjects at the expense of – for example – arts and technology. There are additional concerns about how many schools with outstanding grades have not been visited by Ofsted for over a decade: www.theguardian.com/education/2018/may/24/ofsted-not-inspected-hundreds-schools-decade-report

Other questions you might want to consider are: is a one or two day visit really enough to make an accurate judgement of a school? Are 20-30 minutes’ observation really enough to make an accurate judgement of a teacher?

At the GSG, we don’t visit a school just because it has an outstanding rating – though this will form part of our judgement. Equally, some of our reviews are of schools that have been rated as requiring improvement. We find out what current parents think, talk to the head about their plans, and form a judgement: which may be that the ‘outstanding’ school has got its grade by ticking boxes, whilst the ‘requires improvement’ one has a talented head, great parental support, and is a school where we wouldn’t mind sending our children.

What happens to schools at each end of the grading spectrum?

In England, the most outstanding schools will be named as such, with the consistently great assigned to The Ofsted Hall of Fame — complete with framed certificate.

At the other end of the scale, just under one in 10 are judged to require improvement – that amounts to around 1,900 schools.

Also see

ISI – www.isi.net (for independent schools)

HMIe – www.hmie.gov.uk (for Scottish schools)

DENI –www.deni.gov.uk (in Northern Irish schools)

Estyn – www.estyn.gov.uk (for Welsh schools)

And do check the individual school pages on this website, where we examine not only how well schools are doing but how well they are doing for a child like yours and which schools pupils come from or go on to.

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