Does Ofsted help ‘stuck schools’ to become better?
The characteristics of state schools that are stuck – as defined by Ofsted – are disproportionately found in urban cities and towns.
Aim of the research
In another excellent report (about the flaws of Ofsted), the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and University College London (UCL) publish their findings: Can below ‘Good’ Ofsted inspections prevent sustainable improvement? (June, 2022)
The research sought to determine the characteristics of stuck schools – defined as those in a revolving spiral of ‘requires improvement’ grades.
The aim was to find a more detailed picture of why these schools remain stuck.
In Ofsted’s annual report (2017), they highlighted how some schools that continued to be labelled required improvement, satisfactory, or were inadequate.
5 research questions
- What are the characteristics of ‘stuck’ schools
- What factors have contributed to the stuck schools’ pattern of lack of change or decline?
- How is the overall judgment requiring improvement and insufficient related to judgments in current and previous Ofsted frameworks? A great question!
- How do head teachers, teachers and governors of stuck schools perceive the validity and fairness of Ofsted inspections? I can answer this one! and,
- What are stuck school stakeholders’ views on how inspections can support change of their schools?
A bespoke dataset gathered information from schools stretching from 2005 to 2018, “incorporating every inspection that took place over this period.”
The information in the dataset included historical data about schools, for example, those that have closed. The National pupil database school census, school performance tables, the school workforce census and financial reporting data.
Sixteen case studies from 580 stuck schools were identified.
- Following Ofsted, teacher turnover is very high. 73 per cent for primaries and 72% for secondary schools (54 and 56%, respectively, for those not stuck). Here is clear evidence that Ofsted drives teacher attrition.
- These types of schools have higher. higher rates of people’s mobility.
- Almost every school (100% secondary / 94% primary) underwent at least one change at governance level.
- The schools are more likely to be located in middle-sized urban areas.
- Stuck schools have more pupils eligible for free school meals; they are more sensitive to social changes.
- These schools have higher. higher proportions of children living in poor neighbors (IDACI). See this data also.
- Stuck schools have higher. higher rates of children with low-level special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
- This research found that the present good or outstanding schools in the neighborhood is a useful predictor.
- There is a vicious cycle between low Ofsted grades and increasingly deprived pupil intakes.
- Joining a multi-academy trust is associated with small positive effects for secondary schools. This might be due to ‘inspectionholidaysgiven to schools when they make a fresh start. For example, How do we think one school can be labeled inadequate, and then achieve an outstanding inspection report soon after?
- The research also concluded that monitoring and full inspections received by stuck schools were too frequentvariable and sometimes inconsistent.
- The validity, reliability and fairness of inspections, for example, unfair Comparisons, competition, statistical driven judgments, biased judgments and the politics of inspections, were also raised. I fear the latter is increasing. A narrow focus, a limitation in progress measures, preconceived inspector judgements, poor behavior from inspectors and bad inspection timing were also cited.
Questions for teachers and politicians
For many teachers (like myself) who (have) worked(ed) at these challenging schools with increased societal issues (lower IDACI), receiving a negative Ofsted label can result in the end of your teaching career. During the rebroker process, we fall into this mindless loop of wasting taxpayers cash, using a ‘failing schools’ methodology.
Some people profit from this methodology, lapping up schools in the brokering process, without considering how the circumstances (see 12 points above) led any school to be deemed a failure.
All teachers work hard, and we will likely ‘pat ourselves on the back’ when we receive an Ofsted accolade. This is more of a ‘celebration of surviving the stress’ too, and not just the final outcome. Ofsted’s impact on teacher mental health is something Ofsted refuse to research.
It’s as if the current methods perpetuate inequality and school poverty, rather than reverse it.
All educators must look more closely at the metrics used to determine gradings – and challenge them.
5 key questions Ofsted must be resolved
- What can the Department for Education do to provide more support for stuckschools?
- How can we avoid an exodus of teachers following a poor inspection?
- How can we improve the training of Ofsted inspectors, and how can we minimize bullying behaviour?
- What changes should we make to section 5 in section 8 inspections to give schools time to implement improvements, without imposing frequent high-stakes inspections?
- What changes to inspection can be implemented, including removing overall grades, to avoid detrimental effects?
School inspection is not a level playing field, and currently, in an increasing accountability system, the competition between schools is increasing and not reducing. From a legislative perspective, we are light-years away from removing Ofsted gradings, switching to a peer-network inspection system; Promoting sharing and developing rather than competition and standards.
Every time a General Election comes along, the Ofsted debate is politicised, and any hope of grades being reformed are quashed for another five years. Ultimately, stuck schools can become unstuck, but this requires time and support, which the research does highlight. An analysis of “six unstuck schools evidenced that no matter how long it took them, they were able to obtain a good inspection grade.”
There is a great amount of detail in this report – 183 pages in all – and it will keep you going for quite some time.
Put simply, we will always have schools operating in more difficult situations than others. We need an inspection system that still offers some accountability and rigour but provides much more targeted support for schools that need it the most.
Stuck schools and their status with Ofsted was strongly associated with school deprivation, both in terms of the proportion of pupils who are legal for free school meals (FSM) and in terms of IDACI neighborhood deprivation schools.