Schools in challenging circumstances which face a battle getting above-average results will stand a better chance of being judged "outstanding" under new inspections, Ofsted has said.
Ofsted’s national director of education, Sean Harford, said the new focus on an overall quality of education will allow inspectors to look at a school’s curriculum alongside exam results.
He said: “If we go into a school in challenging circumstances and there is a curriculum that is really doing the right things, it's putting the right things in front of the children, they are learning well but we know in those circumstances actually it’s a tough job getting just above average results; for example, we might be considering them for 'outstanding' when previously we might not have done that.”
However, he said Ofsted was not dumbing down on standards and that a school with low results would not be judged as "great".
Ofsted is launching its consultation on a new inspection framework today which will place a greater emphasis on the school curriculum.
Ofsted's new approach
The inspectorate is proposing to replace teaching and learning and pupil outcomes with a new "quality of education" grade. This will look at exam and test scores, teaching and the school curriculum.
Ofsted plans to look at the intent, implementation and impact of school curriculum as part of its quality of education judgement.
Luke Tryl, Ofsted’s director of corporate strategy, said that the inspectorate wanted to reward schools that “sit more rigorous qualifications”.
He said: “If a school in a challenging area that takes the decision to put more students in for the EBacc subjects rather than the equivalent of the European Computer Driving Licence – or whatever is easy – we know that even with progress they would probably get a higher score for entering for those easier qualifications than they would for entering those more rigorous ones.
"We want to reward them for entering pupils in for those rigorous subjects which will set kids up to succeed.”
Ofsted has previously been criticised for failing to take a school’s circumstances into account when reaching judgements.
Last year, chief inspector Amanda Spielman rejected accusations that the inspectorate was biased against schools in white working-class communities after Ofsted’s own data suggested that white pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to go to a failing school than the most deprived ethnic minority pupils.
In a speech at the launch of Ofsted’s annual report last year, she said she made no apology for not giving schools in white working-class areas an easier judgement.
She said: “I would never want us to be saying that this education wouldn’t do for Chelsea children, but it’s good enough for Grimsby.”