The Paradox of Ofsted
Ofsted was created in the early 1990’s, inspectors were hired in 1992, and the first inspection took place in 1993. The idea, under John Major as Prime Minister, sounded great in principle. An independent body to oversee education and ensure the highest standards of teaching in schools is monitored. Parents were trained to look out for that elusive “Excellent” badge for a school, and with the right to choose which school their children can attend parents were free to send their children to the school of their choice (within certain catchment criteria)…and who wouldn’t want their children to attend an “Excellent” school.
Here lies the problem, and the Paradox of Ofsted.
In my many years of volunteering within education, working with schools coaching and supporting children going through behaviour and emotional difficulties. Coaching children in careers advice, and working on aspirational projects for young people. All fantastic projects, and almost always for schools that are not rated as “Excellent”. So why is this?
First and foremost we need to understand that parents in general have been conditioned since 1993 that Ofsted will do all the research for a parent, through a robust system of monitoring and checking, so that parents can see which schools need improvement, which are good, and which are Excellent. The media then jumps on this every year, publishing Ofsted results under those banners so parents can see which are the “good” and which are the “bad” schools in their area. So that conditioning of parental opinion is reinforced further.
Next we need to look at how schools are funded, which is by the number of children who attend their school. For each child that attends; the school will receive an amount of funding. For some children, defined at High Needs, the school may receive a little bit extra but they need to fight the Local Education Authority for that. Justifying and providing evidence why that child needs additional support, and justify why they need that extra funding to provide that support and why they cannot afford to provide that through their current funding. Then we have the holy grail for children with additional needs such as SEND, and that is the Education Health Care Plan that parents with a child that has special educational needs have probably fought many years for, and have probably had declined numerous times before having it awarded. These children generally end up in special schools or Home Schooling, and that’s a blog for another day. What I will draw your attention to is the report published by the Government on 21st February 2020 acknowledges that 22% of children who opted into Home Education during 2017/2018 had special educational needs. This matches a survey I ran across a number of Facebook groups in 2019 highlighting that 32% of parents home educating their children in Northamptonshire stated their children had special educational needs.
So by this point you can see we have parents who only want their children to go to schools rated by Ofsted as “Excellent”, and you can see that schools only survive if they have sufficient quantity of children attend their school.
The report linked to above highlights previous concerns raised within Government that schools were off-rolling students to improve their exam results, and this was highlighted in a letter to the Public Accounts Committee in October 2018 the Chief Inspector of Schools, Amanda Spielman, stated that Ofsted had “a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests that parents are home-educating their children under duress”. Linked to this kind of activity I can confirm personally that my wife and I were told by our son’s primary school to keep him home during an Ofsted visit as his SEND behaviour would disrupt other pupils during the inspection.
During the survey I ran, mentioned above, 11% of parents Home Schooling their children who responded confirmed they had been advised to home school by their child’s school. Then we have the suggestions from the Government publication released last week that questions why there has been such a rise in off-rolling in recent years; The suggested reasons behind it include:
- Unintended incentives through school performance measures such as Progress 8 to remove lower-performing pupils from a school’s score
- Financial pressures on schools, incentivising the removal of some children from the school roll
So here we see the icing on the cake and the effect this has on children who need special support, children with SEND, and children at the greatest risk of behavioural difficulties. The Paradox of Ofsted that was created to support and help children receive the very best in care, to help parents ensure their children receive the very best in care, is incentivising schools to remove children that could impede them getting that elusive “Excellent” rating. Those who do support children where they need it may never get that “Excellent” rating so won’t get the volume of cohort to get the level of finance to provide the care they could…because parents will judge that school on what that single word from Ofsted. That single word published in bold across all the newspapers.
I have seen so much wonderful work done by some amazing teachers within schools that Ofsted will rate below Good and Excellent, where if only parents in the schools catchment area looked deeper than that single rating. There is so much I feel is broken in the education system, it failed my own son so badly, but I also see some great people doing great work and no matter what Ofsted says about a school it’s not the true picture. My ASD son was bullied by teachers at a primary school that is rated Good because they failed to understand or support his needs, yet last week I witnessed teachers in a school that Ofsted rates as “Inadequate” give their ASD children an amazing opportunity to improve their employability and careers aspirations, delivered by teachers who show such care and passion for the children they support it was amazing to watch and an honour to be a part of.