Ofsted and to be or not to be 'satisfactory'

18 Jan 2012

Interesting decision from Ofsted to abolish the 'satisfactory' grading. Keen readers of this website will recall that Roy Blatchford had called for exactly this decision back in June in a guest article here: www.mikebakereducation.co.uk/articles/86/why-ofsteds-satisfactory-is-just-not-good-enough  It is worth looking at it again.

While I sympathise with the reaction of many school leaders who must feel the bar is being raised ever higher, in reality 'satisfactory' had already been turned (in Big-Brother-speak) into 'unsatisfactory' by frequent statements from Chief Schools Inspectors. So in some ways this at least clears the waters. If only from the point of view of preserving the meaning of language, this decision is sensible.

However the worry is that the term 'requires improvement' could put the skids under a school that is already starting to improve. It should not be used just as a lever to create more academies.

User Comments

Tomo - 18 Jan 2012

Academy drive

It shouldn't be used as lever to create more academies but it surely will be. It feels like everything is being geared to making academies either seem more appealing or be the punishment for 'underperformance' that becomes ever more likely the more the goal posts get moved.

Rebecca Hanson - 18 Jan 2012

A major step back

This is really deeply shocking. In many cases what satisfactory actually means is that the school doesn't fit the Ofsted definitions of very good or outstanding, which are written for specific types of schools with specific types of cohorts using specific types of practice.

It's yet another axe in the head for schools in challenging areas for whom those categories will not fit and should not be applied.

Surprise surprise it leads to lots of extra work of the old style for Ofsted. Now whose interests is that in? http://mathseducationandallthat.blogspot.com/2011/08/ofsted-part-2-journey-to-heart-of.html

Ofsted should be professionally reformed in line with the finding of the Hampton review into inspection and regulation and the resulting law to which it became obliged in 2009. That it is actually going in the other direction is horrifying.

Milly Gandy - 18 Jan 2012


As a Parent the most important and even more difficult to understand stats are around the concept of VALUE-ADD. What does the pupil intake look like when they come into school ... and what difference does the school make to them at an individual level. Whilst the number of schools failing to help pupils achieve the basics in well documented; there are loads of schools in Middle Class areas that should be punching well above their weight! I'd also like to see schools imposing their own sets of measures linked to their school development plans ... that would tell me as a Parent that they care and have vision ... which is as lot more than any Ofsted/official report currently does ;-(

Robin Richardson - 18 Jan 2012

Ofsted's beliefs and assumptions

Problems with the Ofsted framework have been highlighted by the recent circulation of a brief paper dated 6 January 2012 which provides guidance to inspectors on the identification of extremism in educational settings. The paper is clearly though not explicitly about Muslim schools, and schools with large numbers of Muslim pupils. It reflects hostile and ignorant attitudes towards Islam and British Muslims, even though it claims that Ofsted has ‘a number of skilled, expert inspectors that focus on extremism issues’. It is a timely reminder that Ofsted is capable of reproducing and spreading deeply unhelpful messages, and that scrutiny of Ofsted’s assumptions and beliefs needs to be both public and substantial.

Iftikhar Ahmad - 18 Jan 2012


Education is not for degrees and not for jobs. It is for life. Degrees and jobs should come as a by-product. Migrant Muslims are not economic slaves. They are part and parcel of British society with their own cultures, languages and faith. Migrant Muslims need to preserve and transmit their cultural, linguistic and spiritual identities; otherwise, they will be lost in the western jungle. Learning Arabic, Urdu and other community languages do not deter people from integrating. It helps them integrate. British schooling is at war with Migrant Muslims learning Arabic, Urdu and other community languages.

Community cohesion has failed because there is a negative experience of mutual understanding and cooperation between the hostile host community and Muslim community. According to a French political sociologist, Muslims in Europe feel that they are not welcome. Inspite of official initiative, a significant minority see institutional racism across the board. Blatant racism exists in parts of the world of work. Religious intolerance is “the new racism” and one of the main causes of persecution of minorities. Terrorism efforts and economic marginalisation are increasingly being associated with religion, not ethnicity. In my opinion, British schooling has been producing Muslim youths with anger and frustration. According to a report, the majority of Islamist terrorists in the UK are British born and educated is under the age of 30, well educated and likely to be employed. Most terrorism in Britain is committed by home-grown terrorists. Britain’s fight against terrorism has been a disaster. It has alienated Muslim youths. The campaign has targeted non-violent Muslims and branded them as supporters of violence. Britain remains under severe risk from terror attacks. The government policy had made the task of the police harder by alienating Muslim youths.

Bilingualism can help pupils' all-round education and should be encouraged. Children who know an “eastern” as well as a “western” language are more academically able than others. With the pace at which the world interacts today, multi-lingualism is a step forward. Muslim community feels that state schools with non-Muslim monolingual teachers are not suitable for bilingual Muslim children. The number of Muslim schools is on the increase and I believe that by 2020 there will be more than 500 Muslim schools. Muslim schools give young children self-confidence and self-esteem in who they are and an understanding of Islamic teaching of tolerance and respect which prepares them for a positive and fullfilling role in society. There are hundreds of state schools where Muslim children are in majority. In my opinion, all such schools may be opted out as Muslim Academies. Bilingual Muslim children need bilingual Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental periods. There is no place for a non-Muslim monolingual teacher in a Muslim school.
The present structure of OFSTED is not in a position to inspect Muslim schools properly. There is a dire need for bilingual Muslim Inspectors for the inspection of Muslim schools. Non-Muslim monolingual Inspectors are not in a position to inspect Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim children. OFSTED should employ bilingual Muslim inspectors for the inspection of Muslim schools who should not only be well versed in English, Arabic, Urdu and other community languages but also in sciences and humanities.
Bilingual Muslim children need to learn and be well versed in Standard English to follow the National Curriculum and go for higher studies and research to serve humanity. The problem is that they learn English in the streets and in the playgrounds. British schooling does not teach English to migrant children. The teachers let them speak the same accent in the classroom. They have no courage to stop them or correct them. This is one of the main reasons why one third of children have difficulties with reading when they leave primary schools. Majority of such children are bilingual Muslims. They often speak "street" with its own grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. In other European countries and in the sub-continent argot and slang are not allowed into the classrooms. In Britain primary school teachers do not feel that it's role to interfere with self-expression in any shape or form. They encourage children to read poems and stories written in ethnic dialects. Bilingual Muslim teachers are in a better position to teach English to their children.

Ursula Edgington - 18 Jan 2012

I totally agree. For a long time now, in FE at least 'satisfactory' has actually meant 'UNsatisfactory'. This latest move just makes things worse. 'Inadequate' means now....what exactly? This bureaucracy must end and more support offered to teachers and schools more generally who are determined to create success for their students no matter how small or 'insignificant' to the powers that be - and despite being located in areas of severe poverty and crime. Time to reform Ofsted and all that it symbolises to us teachers.
We need support not criticism or meaningless labels.

Elaine Hendry - 18 Jan 2012

Academy Status

Can somebody explain to me - as I am clearly being a bit thick - how forcing academy status on a school automatically results in improvement (as seems to be the message coming from Gove and the DfE)?

The primary school where I'm a governor has had poor results in the past couple of years, resulting in us being made part of something called a 'Trust Action Group'. This means we get constant extra support and continuous scrutiny from the LEA. They don't tell us how to manage our budget, nor do they oversee our curriculum (we've just introduced a new one).

A recent Ofsted said we were satisfactory (based on those results) but with good capacity to improve, so we're hoping for the best next time. But if it doesn't happen, how will making us into an academy and effectively leaving us to sink or swim without the LEA's support bring about further improvement?

Puzzled of Hackney

Steve Heal - 18 Jan 2012

(un) satisfactory

Ofsted and others have long used the S word to mean the opposite. At last they are saying what they mean. No doubt someone will get a knighthood for this startling achievement. And a large bonus and a fat pension.

But are the new words so helpful? Are we to infer that good and outstanding schools don't need to improve? Surely all schools need improvement. Any head teacher who can't see how to improve their school needs replacing.

And are the inspections so helpful?
For the primary sector, Ofsted have a very simple definition of satisfactory (or 'improvement needed'), which is: your SAT scores are about average.
Perhaps they could just publish that and not bother with the farce of sending round a team of couldn't-cope ex-headteachers who retired on eye-watering pensions to blunder through lessons they don't understand and write unjust criticisms of people doing a better job than they ever have.
Ofsted: 'needs improvement'.

Post a comment

After posting your comment you will need to confirm it by checking your email and clicking the confirmation that will be sent to you.

Comments will appear once reviewed for appropriate content.