Is this the most clueless OFSTED report ever written?

December 3, 2015

Before I start I’ll say that I do like to think OFSTED have changed. I am part way through writing a post about how a couple of recent reports said things that the OFSTED of old would never have said. Then, earlier today, this post on Labour Teachers drew my attention to a particular OFSTED report. (I won’t name the school in this post, as it is unfair on the school if people find this blog when searching for the school by name, but you can find it from the report.)

According to OFSTED this school is outstanding. This includes the achievement of students. According to the report:

  • When joining the school, usually in Years 10 or 12, students’ attainment or grades are generally below average. The progress they have made in in their prior secondary education is also below average.
  • This pattern changes dramatically as soon as they start at the studio school. Students’ progress and achievement immediately increase very notably and the improvement is sustained. This is shown in the school’s data and fully supported by inspection evidence….
  • The school takes firm action to deal with the students’ low initial achievement. Steps include well-focused and successful additional teaching in English and mathematics.
  • Teachers set challenging target examination grades with the students. The school reasonably expects that most students will reach these grades and achieve very well, given their starting points…

There you go. A high-achieving school. Admittedly it’s a new school and the only hard data available was a handful of AS grades, but it was clear that the inspectors, in late June of this year, were convinced that achievement was outstanding at this school. Given the reference to starting points, results might not have been expected to be in the very top rank, but you would assume that if a school isn’t a special school, and it is praised in this way, its results would be competitive with other schools. And as you may be aware, the DfE released provisional exam results early this year. We know how this cohort did in their GCSEs. If you haven’t already read the Labour Teachers post I linked to above, want to guess the A*-C (including English and maths) pass rate before reading on?

Well, it turns out that a school can have outstanding achievement in the eyes of OFSTED, while only 8% of its students are getting 5 good GCSEs including English and maths. Few mainstream schools are at this low a level. This was a small cohort, who were behind expectations on arrival, so I am aware that it could be possible to pull apart this data and see the school in a more positive light than the raw figure suggests. But… “outstanding” achievement? Really? The inspectors’ grade and comments suggest they had absolutely no idea how the school was doing, and how their students had progressed. Yes, they were operating without much data, but what is the point of inspections if, once inspectors are deprived of external data, they reach such ridiculous conclusions?

If we want to speculate as to why the inspectors were so wrong, then the section on the teaching gives us a very plausible explanation. You see, the teaching was also graded outstanding. And, a few quotations from the section on teaching makes it clear what the style of teaching they saw was:

  • The school’s preferred approach is for teachers to work as partners with their students, as ‘first amongst equals’. So, although teachers are clearly in charge of all lessons, they listen carefully to students’ views and preferences. Students expect to ask each other questions, and to work things out together, not simply relying on the teacher. One student summed this up by saying, ‘It’s two way respect. There’s more freedom and help. Everyone is respectful’…
  • Lessons allow students to think deeply for themselves, share ideas with adults and each other and learn in real depth. For example, in a Year 10 GCSE English lesson, students made very astute and profound remarks about the motivation of characters in ‘Romeo and Juliet’, showing real appreciation of Shakespeare’s insights and language. They bounced ideas off each other, reaching maturely evidenced conclusions, such as ‘Romeo wants to be loved and is in love with the idea of love’.
  •  Students are motivated to learn, not simply to get a good examination grade but because they are genuinely interested in the subject matter as it is presented. Teachers skilfully build up and use that intrinsic motivation. They then very effectively help students to apply their deep learning to examination criteria.
  • Staff offer a good variety of activities in their teaching, which often include the use of practical apparatus. In a Year 10 mathematics lesson, students’ understanding of formulae related to solid shapes was helped by the fact that they physically handled such shapes in the lesson. Students pointed out that a science lesson was enhanced by the use of modelling dough to make representations of atomic structures….
  • Much of the teaching is developed through tasks and projects which have real purposes, leading to a performance, presentation or display. Students find this very motivating…

Read the above, and think about what an outstanding OFSTED lesson was meant to look like a few years ago, i.e. all groupwork and chat, and little teacher talk, before OFSTED relented and said that teaching style didn’t matter. Now I realise I’m only quoting the references to teaching style; the inspectors do give examples of other things they like and claim parents and students are impressed by the teaching. However, isn’t the single most obvious explanation for why the inspectors thought that achievement and teaching at this school were both outstanding, was because they were still looking for the OFSTED teaching style? For some inspectors (and these were HMI) great teaching is still synonymous with progressive, child-centred teaching, where explanations and practice take a backseat to students talking to each other and doing projects. And, whether this is normal for the school or not, this is what the inspectors found. and with all the boxes ticked they settled on outstanding. In this case, it looks like OFSTED have not moved on at all.


  1. ‘maturely evidenced conclusions, such as ‘Romeo wants to be loved and is in love with the idea of love’

    ‘Maturely evidenced’ is clearly the new way of saying ‘utterly cliched and totally second-hand’

    • If a GCSE level English student had used the phrase “maturely evidenced” in any essay for me, I would have written…”Very clumsy expression. What were you actually trying to say?” and then moved on to advise them (as cunningfox notes) better not to reproduce expressions verbatim from York Notes… if you want to get an A grade.

      • Quite.

  2. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  3. […] and committed teachers that have been told they “require improvement”. There are “outstanding” schools that have actually been disastrous failures. And this is without the long history of perverse […]

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