Does your grade depend on the inspector you get?

21st November 2014 at 00:00
Headteachers say Ofsted figures show verdicts are `luck of the draw'

Nearly 50 of Ofsted's most prolific lead inspectors have not judged any school outstanding this year, TES can reveal.

Conversely, more than 100 inspectors who have led at least 10 routine inspections in 2014 have not yet rated any school inadequate, figures show.

The findings have sparked serious concern among headteachers about the variability of Ofsted inspections, which they say is causing "fear" in schools across the country. One headteacher said the grades received by schools were down to the "luck of the draw" on which inspection team visited.

One of the 49 lead inspectors not to have awarded a single overall outstanding grade this year has led 36 inspections over the past 11 months, more than any other inspector.

Stephen Watkins, headteacher of Mill Field Primary School in Leeds, said the statistic "beggars belief". "It's amazing that some people have never given an outstanding grade. Out of 36 schools, surely you must have seen an outstanding school somewhere," he insisted.

In contrast, another inspector has led inspections of 15 schools, with eight of them (53.3 per cent) rated outstanding and the other seven rated good. Nationally, one in 10 schools inspected in 2012-13 received Ofsted's top grade.

The figures, shared exclusively with TES, were compiled by the Watchsted website, which has analysed the results of thousands of inspections, including the performance of individual inspectors. The analysis focuses on the 170 inspectors who have led 10 or more routine inspections of primaries, secondaries and special schools this year.

While 106 lead inspectors did not judge any schools inadequate, one inspector placed four of the 16 schools she visited into this category - four times higher than last year's national average.

When contacted by TES, Ofsted declined to explain the reasons behind the variability in judgements made by different lead inspectors, but insisted it placed "great importance on the accuracy and quality of our Ofsted inspection reports".

The watchdog has come in for much criticism in recent months. Last week, TES reported concerns that the inspection regime was leading to increased workload for teachers because of a new focus on marking (" `Assessment treadmill' may overwhelm staff", 14 November).

And earlier this year, a damning report by the Policy Exchange thinktank claimed you would be "better off flipping a coin" than trusting an inspector's verdict on a lesson.

Jonathan Simons, head of education at the thinktank, said the latest findings called the "legitimacy" of the inspectorate into question. "If Ofsted can provide the data that shows all of its inspectors are well-trained and all of their judgements are valid, I would accept the variation," he said. "But at the moment I don't have any confidence that all individual inspectors are making the right judgements.

"That's a real problem for the legitimacy of Ofsted. It's yet more evidence to support the theory that the grade you get depends on who arrives at your school."

Stephen Ball, principal of New Charter Academy in Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, said the figures suggested that inspection outcomes came down to the "luck of the draw". He added: "It seems to point to real weaknesses in quality assurance in terms of inconsistency between inspection teams."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers' union, said the differences could stem from some inspectors being sent into a high proportion of challenging schools or working in low-performing areas. But the variation in grades was still a cause of pressure on teachers, he added.

"Inconsistency in Ofsted inspections leads to overcompensation in schools," Mr Hobby explained. "If you don't know which inspector you're going to get, you tend to find people overdoing things to cover every possible base.

"That's where the fear of Ofsted arises: it's not the fear of the basic framework, which very few people are saying is unreasonable. It's fear of how it's going to be applied."

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, called on Ofsted to ensure that its framework and quality assurance processes were applied consistently. "Both we and Ofsted know that there are still too many inconsistencies. These variations need to be addressed," he said.

An Ofsted spokesman said: "We undertake around 6,000 school inspections each year. More than nine out of 10 schools are satisfied with their inspection outcome, while a survey of 850 schools inspected earlier this year found that more than eight out of 10 believed that the inspection process had helped them to improve.

"We are always looking to enhance our inspection process. In less than a year all additional inspectors will be contracted directly by Ofsted so that we will have more direct control over their selection, training and quality assurance."

`The regime is demonstrably inconsistent'

New Charter Academy in Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, was judged to be requiring improvement last year. Principal Stephen Ball believes another visit from inspectors is imminent.

The findings of the research are "shocking", he says. "On the face of it, it appears to confirm the belief that so many of us have: that inspection is not producing consistent outcomes."

"I'm not impugning the integrity of the individual inspectors concerned: they're managing a framework which is in itself flawed, which changes too frequently for people to master.

"Probably, with Ofsted's quality assurance of inspectors not entirely doing its job, that's why we're getting these highly questionable results.

"Nobody believes it is acceptable for a national inspection regime to be so demonstrably inconsistent and for it to depend on individuals. For those of us in challenging circumstances, this is even more worrying."

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