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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. Each section is headed and graded:

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 four more. Achievement covers progress and attainment. This includes test/exam results, how well learners with disabilities or learning difficulties progress and the extent to which the gap is narrowing between the progress and attainment of the poorer pupils and the rest of the school. It also assesses how well pupils are prepared for the next stage of their education, training or employment.

The second grade is for the quality of teaching, which now receives more focus — schools can no longer be judged outstanding unless this aspect is too, which has led to the downgrading of a large number of previously outstanding schools. Teachers are expected to meet the needs of all abilities (teaching to the middle no longer an option), to engage and have high expectations of all pupils.

The third judgement is on the behaviour and safety of pupils; the fourth on the quality of leadership and management, again with a focus on the promotion of high quality teaching. 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!). Comments on spiritual, moral, social and cultural development occur within the overall and separate categories, but in less detail than before. At present there is no reference to healthy lifestyles, but it has been announced that inspectors are to include evaluation of school food and the lunch environment.

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.

Use your imagination and read reports with care – inspectors have seen too many schools and tend to think everyone knows what’s meant by, eg, ‘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.

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. 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.

Is a 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? 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 either given a ‘significant improvement judgement’ (formerly a notice to improve) or are placed in special measures, pressure to convert to an academy, like it or not, now being a probable consequence.

Ofsted has also taken over the ‘care’ inspection of boarding schools, to check they meet national minimum standards. The safety aspect is taken very seriously, and though we have yet to see a disastrous report (boarding schools are much better than they used to be), you may gain some insights from reading it.

See also

Ofsted – www.ofsted.gov.uk

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

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

DENI –www.deni.gov.uk (in Northern Ireland)

Estyn – www.estyn.gov.uk (for the Welsh) for inspection reports online.

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 they come from. or go on to.

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