NUT says Ofsted report gives “misleading impression” standards are in decline


The annual report from Ofsted, published on Monday, paints a picture of a schools system that is improving too slowly due to a “stubborn core” of inadequate teachers. Its criticisms of teachers, however, come as Ofsted itself is facing strong attacks from councils, head teachers and MPs over the way it inspects schools and children’s services.

Teacher-at-blackboardThe watchdog’s new framework leaves schools with only high levels of attainment able to be judged good or outstanding. The changes, which were introduced this September, have already seen a sharp rise in schools being handed failing or satisfactory verdicts.

Schools can be failed if exam results are too low, even if they are improving in the face of factors such as social deprivation, and even if staff are meeting other targets surrounding attendance, behaviour and student wellbeing.

This week’s Times Educational Supplement (TES) reports that schools minister, Vernon Coaker, is to hold talks with Ofsted about its controversial new inspection framework as the number of schools being given low ratings continues to rise. He is reported to be sympathetic to head teachers’ pleas that inspections should not focus so heavily on exam data.

Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), this week spoke out against of the “punitive“ new framework that allows schools to be graded harshly because of technical or minor failures to meet the new safeguarding arrangements.

The Guardian reports that Ms Blower wrote to the chief inspector, Christine Gilbert, to complain that the new inspection arrangements are “in danger of giving the general public the erroneous impression that school standards are in serious decline”.

In a separate statement, Ms Blower issued strong words to the government, saying that the prospect of a drop in schools achieving outstanding ratings shortly before a general election should provide “great pause for thought”.

Ofsted’s annual report revealed 12 schools, that were in all other respects at least satisfactory, have been given a ‘notice to improve’ because of failures to meet safeguarding arrangements. Last week, The Times reported that schools were being penalised for lacking high gates and offering coffee to inspectors before asking for identification.

Speaking to The TES this week, Mick Brookes, General Secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, said the union has been inundated with inspection “horror stories”. He added:

“There’s a massive mismatch with what Ofsted think is happening and what others are seeing.”

However Ms Gilbert has rejected mounting criticism of Ofsted’s new framework. Writing in today’s Independent, she says:

“Ofsted must not pull its punches – our job is to speak up for children and learners, and I make no apology for that. There can be no hiding place for poor practice.”

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  • Piarina Hennessey

    I realise that it may be difficult for school’s to accept a failing notice or downgrading as a result of the new safeguarding judgement, which now contributes to a school’s overall effectiveness, but that said, school’s have known since April 2007 that this would form a specific part of Ofsted’s remit and so have no excuse if they have failed to address it or ensure it complies. The separate (and possibly political)issue, and one with which I sympathise,is that school’s are being made to pick up the pieces for possible failures in our current Social care system. School’s used to be places for children to be educated but this education is being diluted because schools are now responsible for, and being made accountable for, many other areas of childcare that mop up weaknesses elsewhere in our society.
    My son’s school has recently gone down a judgement from Good to Satisfactory and on the whole this was justified, because the school and Governing Body have not tackled failures since the last OFSTED re inconsistent assessment practice and general progress across the school in all but SEN and low ability groups. The school is using the new “tougher guidelines” to hide their real decline in some areas behind. OFSTED have noted some improvement, but these are where the old guidelines would possibly have shown a greater deficit eg performance in Early years used to contribute to the overall school effectiveness criteria, but now this is no longer the case. Our school has gone from being Good (it was seen as being a real success) for the Reception year, to being only Satisfactory. The current OFSTED focus on attainment is, I believe, a real weakness of the new framework. A teacher can have a low ability child, be an outstanding teacher, make leaps and bounds with that child and yet still attain only average or below average results from the point of view of attainment. In my son’s school, the majority of children arrive as mid to high ability children but they do not make the progress that they should, because of the broadly average teaching they receive and yet they still end up with good attainment because of their good starting points. If my son was taught by a good to outstanding teacher, his attainment would be higher still; as I heard one headteacher of an oversubscribed secondary school say “Good in, good out, is not good enough”. Much more emphasis should be placed on progress than on attainment, so that the length of journey each child travels educationally, carries more weight than simply where they finish.

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