Why Ofsted's 'satisfactory' is just not good enough
07 Jun 2011 Exclusive to 'Mike Baker Education'
Ofsted have just closed consultation on the new inspection framework, which is due to start in January 2012. Many schools will spend this summer and autumn taking part in pilots for the new framework.
Meanwhile, 2012 will also see Ofsted celebrating its 20th birthday. When established in 1992, Professor Sutherland, its first chief inspector (part-time you may recall), wrote in his Annual Report that ‘the intention of, and even the justification for, Ofsted's existence is to make a contribution, through these inspections, to raising standards and improving the quality of educational experience and provision.’
Has Ofsted succeeded?
I recently returned from inspecting schools in the Middle East, to a nine point inspection framework. A school awarded grade 8 or 9 is threatened with closure. There are even three kinds of ‘satisfactory’! What is certain is that within a short space of time, this nine point scale will shrink to five, or fewer. Look at England’s experience over the past twenty years.
All over the Middle East, inspection systems based on the Ofsted framework have taken root. Governments buying-in international inspectors are united in one ambition: to create world-class schools in order to attract businesses and families from across the globe. Satisfactory schools for them are simply not part of the picture.
Yet in England, twenty years on from the birth of Ofsted, we have close on a third of schools described by the inspectorate as satisfactory. Too many, I would contest, are grindingly satisfactory. Some pundits call these primary and secondary schools, in all parts of the land, ‘deeply satisfactory’.
Worryingly, 40% of lessons seen by Ofsted last year were judged satisfactory.
In the face of such statistics, the recent consultation about a revised framework has focused on shrinking the number of headings under which schools will be judged. Fine as far it goes. Let’s have fewer judgements. But the elephant in the room, the one key feature not consulted on, is the grading system itself.
All kinds of digressions filter into Whitehall under the umbrella aspiration to achieve world-class education. One minute, it’s copy the Swedish model of schooling; then it’s follow the Finns, who have no national inspection system to speak of; then it’s emulate inner urban New York and the KIPP schools.
The truth is ministers should set their stall out and say, unequivocally, that ‘all English schools will be good schools within three years’. England will have a system on a par with the best in the Middle or Far East.
We are too late now for the 2012 Ofsted framework. But let the 2014 edition spell out quite clearly the following criteria against which all schools and lessons taught should be judged:
- Excellent: above standard expected – grade 1
- Good: standard expected – grade 2
- Improvement required: below standard expected – grade 3
Quite simply, let us agree that satisfactory is not good enough. Head teachers and governors tell you this, but the current system allows those who receive satisfactory judgements to breathe a sigh of relief. Ofsted commits itself to monitoring and revisiting a percentage of these schools, but still too many of the nation’s children languish for a school lifetime in mediocre provision.
Educational inequality narrowed in the past decade, and let it be acknowledged that Ofsted played its part. That said, ‘satisfactory’ schools are still concentrated disproportionately in the most deprived parts of the country.
Two thirds of children from the highest socioeconomic groups get five GCSEs at grade C+, but only a third of those from lower socioeconomic groups do the same. That number falls to a fifth for pupils on free school meals. Alan Milburn, the government’s social mobility adviser, is fond of describing this educational apartheid. Under a Times headline of ‘For a British Obama we need better schools’ Milburn went as far as to comment: ‘This not just a social injustice. It is a moral outrage and must change.’
The time has surely come for Ofsted to challenge unambiguously the assumption that ‘satisfactory is good enough’. It plainly isn’t, and particularly for those children in our schools who most need good and great teaching to transform their life-chances.
Roy Blatchford is a former HMI, and Director of the National Education Trust www.nationaleducationtrust.net