Ofsted 'praises the wrong schools', says academy boss

Former Ofsted director warns that schools in deprived areas are not getting the recognition they deserve

John Roberts

Frank Norris, Co-op Academies trust director

The head of a major multi-academy trust has warned that Ofsted is praising the “wrong schools” as being good and not rewarding leaders for being inclusive.

Frank Norris, the outgoing director of Co-op Academies Trust, also believes the accountability system is failing because of Ofsted’s "inability to judge schools in deprived areas" and flawed Progress 8 measures.

The former Ofsted director questioned why performance measures and inspections do not give schools credit for looking to serve their entire community and for not excluding pupils.

Quick read: 'Let more heads from deprived areas inspect schools'

Background: The future of exclusions after the Timpson Review

Ofsted: What you need to know about Ofsted's new inspection framework

Mr Norris said schools should be not be judged "good" or better by Ofsted if they don’t “add value in bringing the local community together, in helping to regenerate it”.

He said: “We have an academy in Leeds which has more 70 different languages spoken and which has our highest free school meals figures. It has not excluded a pupil in six years.

“It has higher progress scores than more than half of the schools in the city and yet it cannot get to 'good' and I am trying to get a feel for why Ofsted don’t think it's 'good'.

“Now that school has not had any exclusions and I think that is amazing. To serve that community and not to have excluded a single child in six years.

Problems with Progress 8

“If we are about the community of Leeds then the question is who is serving the community best - our school or one that has been excluding more pupils? Which is it? Which one is judged 'good' and which one is not judged 'good'? 

“And, for me, that is what I feel so annoyed about. I feel as though the system is highlighting the wrong schools as being 'good'.”

Mr Norris is leaving the Co-op Academies Trust this summer after six years in charge, during which time it has grown from running six schools to 23 academies in some of the North's poorest areas.

He said: “The Co-op's commitment to community has given me the opportunity to look beyond the walls of our individual academies and the trust overall to consider the importance of the schools' impact and involvement in the communities they are part of. 

“It is interesting that this focus isn't a key one in the new Ofsted inspection framework. It's not there, as far as I can see

“I have begun to get worried when I hear senior leaders say: ‘We need to do what is right by our kids.' 'Nothing wrong with this,' you might say. But I've noticed that this phrase is sometimes used as a way of doing the right thing from the angle of the school and thereby distancing the school from some of the broader education and social issues that may exist in the local area.” 

An Ofsted spokesperson said: "The best way that a school can serve its community is by providing a high quality education and a strong curriculum that addresses any gaps in pupils’ knowledge, skills and experiences. That’s what our new framework focuses on."

Mr Norris has previously raised concerns about Ofsted inspectors' ability to assess schools in deprived areas if they have no experience of working in a similar context.

He told Tes he is also concerned that Progress 8 is not recognising the performance of some schools in deprived areas.

He said: “What if we have used the wrong measure? We are looking at progress, but what if the measure we are using is fundamentally flawed.

“Is the reason why the government is not keen to change performance measures that it might highlight weaknesses in some schools which they have previously said are really fantastic?

“What we are trying to do at the moment is boil effectiveness down to one number. I don’t know any other system that does that.

“Who has done the research on this to make sure this is a tight and secure measure?” 

Last year a study of schools' Progress 8 scores prompted claims that the performance measure is loaded against schools in poor areas with majority white British pupil populations, and could create "wastelands" of schools deemed to be failing.

And an Ofsted analysis of its own data found that schools in poor white communities are much more likely to be rated "inadequate" or "requires improvement" compared with those in deprived, non-white British areas.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "We want all pupils, whatever their background, to be able to fulfil their potential.

"That’s why we introduced Progress 8 as a fairer way to assess overall school effectiveness, because it holds schools accountable for the performance of all of their pupils and encourages schools to focus on lower attaining pupils as much as higher attaining pupils.

“Standards in our schools have improved. As at March 2019, 85% of schools are now rated as Good or Outstanding - up from 68% in 2010. Ofsted’s new inspection arrangements, which will be implemented from September, will mean that inspectors will take a rounded view of the education that a school provides.”




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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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