Another week goes by and another change to Ofsted's inspection regime has been announced. Just days after the schools watchdog called for no- notice inspections, the government has revealed plans that will put thousands of schools on the brink of being judged failing.
Under the latest proposals, the "satisfactory" category will be scrapped and replaced with "requires improvement". Any school receiving the new grade will be subject to reinspection within 18 months. Those that do not reach the "good" category within three years will be placed in special measures.
The plans, revealed at a Downing Street summit on "coasting" schools on Tuesday, will also affect the thousands of schools currently graded "satisfactory". All schools with the grade in September 2011 - approximately 6,000 - will be treated as if they had been given a "requires improvement" judgement and will face pressure to deliver rapid improvement in standards.
According to Ofsted's chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, around half of the schools currently judged "satisfactory" are in need of urgent attention. Sir Michael said there were "too many coasting schools" that were not providing an "acceptable standard" of education. "Of particular concern are the 3,000 schools educating a million children that have been `satisfactory' two inspections in a row," he said. "This is not good enough.
"That is why I am determined to look again at the judgements we award, not only so we are accurately reporting what we see, but so that those schools that most need help are identified and can properly begin the process of improvement."
Prime Minister David Cameron insisted that the move was not some "small bureaucratic change" and would target so-called "coasting" schools. "It marks a massive shift in attitude," he said. "I don't want the word `satisfactory' to exist in our education system. `Just good enough' is frankly not good enough."
The renaming of the category has been greeted with concern by headteachers, who say they are exasperated by the amount of change made to Ofsted's inspection regime over the past decade.
Forestdale Primary School in Birmingham has been judged "satisfactory" in two consecutive Ofsted inspections and would be placed in special measures under the new regime. Headteacher Rebecca Foster said that the label "satisfactory" has never meant "coasting" in her school.
"My colleagues are incredibly hardworking and dedicated and we feel that we have been on an upward trajectory for the last three years," Ms Foster said. "We would never describe ourselves as a coasting school. The changes are worrying, and it does make you think, `Where do we go from here?'"
Union leaders have criticised the changes, claiming that a new label for schools will not improve standards. Teaching union the NUT said that "constantly changing the goalposts" for measuring a school's success is "destabilising and demoralising" for the whole school community.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said a negative reaction to the change was understandable. "Many heads will be asking how they are supposed to improve if Ofsted keeps changing the rules of the game," he said. "Ofsted has already raised the bar for schools to achieve a good rating and, for those schools trying to improve, these changes will seem harsh."
The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said that, to accommodate the change, Ofsted's framework would have to be rewritten because it currently judges a school's performance against the national average. ASCL general secretary Brian Lightman said that for a school to be rated "good" standards must "broadly be at or above national averages".
"Anyone with a basic understanding of maths knows that `national average' by default means that half will be above and half will be below," Mr Lightman said. "If the majority of schools are expected to be good or outstanding, the whole framework will have to be rewritten, unless the word `average' is redefined in the way `satisfactory' has been in the past."
Ofsted is expected to provide a more detailed outline of the proposed changes to school inspection by the end of the month. The plans will then be put forward for a full consultation.
MAKING THE GRADE
6,085 schools were rated `satisfactory' as of September 2011
3,000 of those schools have been judged `satisfactory' in two inspections in a row
43% of schools inspected in 2010-11 were found to be providing a satisfactory or worse education for their pupils
6% of schools inspected in 2010-11 were judged `inadequate'
40% of schools previously rated `outstanding' had slipped when inspected last year.
Original headline: `Demoralising' inspection reform brews dissatisfaction