‘Startling and systematic bias’ in Ofsted ratings

Ofsted bias works against schools with more disadvantaged pupils, conference told

ofsted ratings

A conference on child poverty has been told of an Ofsted bias against schools with larger numbers of poorer pupils.

Attendees at the conference, staged by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), were shown research findings that 42 per cent of secondary schools where almost a quarter of pupils received free school meals were rated as either "inadequate" or "requires improvement" – compared to 7 per cent of secondary schools where less than 5 per cent of pupils were on free school meals.

With primary schools, a quarter were rated either "inadequate" or "requires improvement" where more than 30 per cent of pupils received free school meals, compared to 11 per cent where less than 4 per cent of pupils received free school meals. 

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Researcher Jo Hutchinson, who is director of social mobility at EPI, said the research had been carried out between 2005 and 2015 and therefore pre-dated the new Ofsted inspection framework (which places less emphasis on exam results).

But she said: “There is a startling and systematic bias, particularly in secondary schools, where the more disadvantaged the intake, the more the likely the school is to get a lower Ofsted grade."

The conference, on understanding child poverty and disadvantage in England, was held at the Royal Society of Chemistry in central London.

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, said teachers were being put off from teaching in schools with low Ofsted ratings because they believed they could be treated "unfairly" by the inspectorate and that their careers could be “at risk.”  

A DfE spokesperson said there were now  85 per cent of children in "good" or "outstanding" schools compared to 66 per cent in 2010.

Ofsted said it did not wish to comment.

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