The Education Policy Institute has published analysis on Ofsted’s inspection of English schools. Using data from inspections that took place from 2005/06 to 2014/15 (inclusive), School Inspection in England examines the extent to which Ofsted acts in a timely manner to identify schools with substantial declines in performance – and if Ofsted grades schools with differing pupil intakes fairly. 

With parents, local authorities, multi academy trusts and policy makers taking Ofsted judgements very seriously, these questions carry great significance.  Inspection bias could create distortions, deterring teachers and school leaders from working in certain schools, or skewing parents’ decisions when choosing a school.

You can download the full report here.

School Inspection in England will inform the Education Policy Institute’s Ofsted Conference on the 25th November, which includes speeches from HMCI Sir Michael Wilshaw and incoming HMCI Amanda Spielman.

Key findings

The report finds that ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’ schools whose academic performance deteriorates substantially are not being prioritised for re-inspection. When those schools are re-inspected, we find a significant inconsistency between the identified deterioration in academic standards and the resulting Ofsted judgement:

  • In total, 1,221 primary schools were identified in the analysis of value-added progress as having deteriorated substantially between their previous and latest inspections, along with 228 secondary schools. Of these, 962 primary schools and 152 secondary schools received the same or a higher rating in their latest inspection.
  • For primary schools rated Outstanding, the probability of a worsened Ofsted judgement was very similar, regardless of whether their academic performance had deteriorated substantially. Indeed, a third of these schools with substantial deterioration retained their “outstanding rating”.
  • 47 per cent of deteriorating primaries and 33 per cent of deteriorating secondaries actually improved their Ofsted judgements, in spite of large decrease in the value-added progress measures between inspections.

The report also finds that schools with more disadvantaged pupils are less likely to be judged ‘good’ or ‘outstanding, while schools with low disadvantage and high prior attainment are much more likely to be rated highly:

  • Secondary schools with up to 5 per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) are over three times as likely to be rated ‘outstanding’ as schools with at least 23 per cent FSM (48 per cent compared with 14 per cent ‘outstanding’). Those secondary schools with the most FSM pupils are much more likely to be rated ‘inadequate’ than those with the fewest (15 per cent compared with 1 per cent).
  • For primary schools, those with high numbers of children on free school meals are still only half as likely as those with low proportions of pupils on free school meals to be judged outstanding (11 per cent compared with 25 per cent).
  • The least deprived schools were also most likely to improve their Ofsted judgement and least likely to be down-graded, even after accounting for their previous Ofsted judgement.

To cross check whether this steep socio-economic gradient linking Ofsted rating and disadvantage/low prior attainment appears to make sense in terms of standards/teaching quality, we compared the Ofsted ratings with the school value added progress scores.

This analysis indicated that while the connection between value added and Ofsted scores is not obviously out of line for the “Good”, “Requires Improvement”, and “Inadequate” ratings, it appears to be significantly out of line for schools that are in, or might be placed in, the “Outstanding” category.

Using the value-added data would suggest that only half as many primary and secondary schools with low levels of disadvantage should be rated as “Outstanding”, and in the schools with the highest levels of disadvantage, around twice as many Ofsted “Outstanding” ratings would be expected.

If schools were rated using value added only, 22 per cent of the highest FSM primary schools would be rated Outstanding (compared with 11 per cent now), and 25 per cent of the highest disadvantage secondary schools (compared with 14 per cent now). For schools with the most advantaged intakes, the percentage of Ofsted outstanding grades would fall from 25 per cent in primary and junior schools to 13 per cent, and from 48 per cent of secondary schools to 25 per cent.

These results are important. If Ofsted judgements are too generous to schools with low disadvantage/high prior attainment, then some of these schools may be enabled to “coast”, when they could be doing better. And if Ofsted judgements are too harsh for many high performing schools with high disadvantage/low prior attainment, then this may be deterring good teachers and leaders from taking on such schools, and will mean that the DFE is less able to use the leaders in these schools for “system leadership”, since this is often linked to the Ofsted grade.