Call for 'misleading' Ofsted inspection grades to be scrapped

Doubts about whether the inspectorate can accurately assess school curriculum raised by new thinktank

John Roberts

Ofsted grades should be scrapped, new think-tank claims

Ofsted should stop giving schools potentially misleading overall inspection grades, according to a new education thinktank.

The EDSK (Education and Skills) group said today that Ofsted has never produced research to demonstrate that the grades awarded to schools are "fair and accurate".

It warned that thousands of schools could have received the wrong grade because research shows that different inspectors can reach different judgements about the same school.

EDSK has said that instead of Ofsted grades, parents should be given one-page school information cards from the Department for Education.

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The thinktank published its "Requires Improvement" report on Ofsted today, as the inspectorate’s consultation on its new inspection framework with an increased focus on the curriculum closes.

EDSK raised concerns about whether Ofsted will be able to accurately judge school curriculum and whether lesson observation and workbook scrutiny are effective.

The thinktank’s director, Tom Richmond, a former DfE adviser, said: “We know that many parents use Ofsted grades when choosing a school for their child, but these same parents have never been told that these grades could be very misleading in terms of how well a school is performing.

Ofsted grades 'not reliable'

“The idea that you can summarise an entire school in a single number or phrase is not supported by any research evidence. Instead, we should focus on giving parents simple, accessible information to help them decide if a school is right for their child rather than Ofsted trying to come up with all the answers themselves.”

The new report says:

  • Ofsted should not provide an overall grade for schools due to a lack of consistency and accuracy in its judgements;
  • Ofsted should not conduct any observations of lessons or scrutinise pupils’ work until the inspectorate's processes and procedures have been rigorously tested;
  • Ofsted inspections should be "entirely focused on observable aspects of school life that are not captured by examination results, including pupil behaviour, the quality of a school’s curriculum, careers advice and extracurricular activities";
  • Instead of giving parents Ofsted grades, the DfE should publish a new one-page "School Information Card";
  • Ofsted inspection reports should ideally be no more than two pages in length and focused on two main areas: the current strengths of a school, and its areas for improvement.

EDSK said the information cards for schools should contain examination results, the judgements made by Ofsted inspectorsin areas such as curriculum quality, and measures of wider school life such as results from student and staff surveys.

Ofsted has been consulting on a new inspection framework that places greater emphasis on the school curriculum and the overall quality of education provided.

The inspectorate is proposing to replace teaching and learning and pupil outcomes as separate judgements within school inspections and subsume them into a quality of education grade which will also look at the intent, implementation and impact of a school's curriculum.

The EDSK report welcomes Ofsted's focus on the curriculum but adds: "Ofsted has not published any studies showing that inspectors will be able to make consistent judgements in these areas across thousands of schools, even though the new framework begins operation in September this year. "

It also questions Ofsted's use of lesson observations when it says there is "a wealth of evidence suggesting that they are not valid and reliable tools".

And it criticises Ofsted for signalling that "book scrutiny" will play a much greater role in inspections under the new framework. 

The EDSK report adds: "The prospect of exercise books being scrutinised in this way raises crucial questions about reliability and validity yet again." 

An Ofsted spokesperson said: "Given this is a report about Ofsted, it's surprising that we weren't approached by the thinktank as part of their research, nor did they share their findings with us in advance.

"There is little new in the report and several inaccuracies. Some of it we have said ourselves and are addressing through our new inspections, which will launch this autumn.

"We are open to serious debate about how we inspect, as shown through our recent consultation on a new inspection approach. We will be publishing the outcome soon."

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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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