So, at the moment a school can be judged Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement, Inadequate and be further categorised as special measures or serious weaknesses. The stakes are very high for education leaders and for many a poor judgement can mean a school is forced to be academised, gains a poor reputation and enters a cycle of decline and for school leaders, careers can be ruined. All high stakes and potentially damaging.
We know the following:
- Great leaders are not attracted to schools in a category or even RI as careers can be put in jeopardy as there is an expectation of a quick fix in a very brief period of time.
- There is a stigma attached to a school with a bad Ofsted label which can affect parental choice preferences
- With a recruitment crisis generally in the profession, some teachers will shun schools that appear to be more challenging with a poor grading
- Morale in a school can dip significantly after a poor Ofsted judgement
- Schools who are Good or Outstanding are encouraged to put up banners everywhere sending a marketing message that they’ve ‘made it;’ but there is a danger they become ‘coasting’. In my opinion, all schools require improvement and should be on a continuous journey of self-improvement.
- Schools with good or better do not get the same scrutiny from Ofsted and there is the possibility for schools to not be inspected properly for extended periods of time
- Confidence within and external to the school declines with poor Ofsted label
- Schools with poor judgments often have turbulent leadership with interim posts and those schools that need stability most experience less stability.
So Ofsted says parents like the ‘outstanding’ label – I’m not aware of how extensive their sample size is to back up that claim, but I think most parents, and I am one with three children in secondary school would be happy that their school is providing a ‘good’ level of education. After all, in life gaining a good experience is usually acceptable. Now that is not to say that I have low expectations. All schools should aspire to continuous improvement. I support Carter’s ideas that we should change the labeling and the language we use. I also like his idea about what differentiates a school from good to outstanding.
Let’s consider his key ideas (As I understand them):
1, No more Requires Improvement but Requires Support. This is a very good shift in emphasis. All schools need support from time to time and within the multi-academy model, school to school support, when leadership is strong, works rally well and is beginning to show sustained trends of improvement. The label is less ‘blunt’ and the suggestion of support is much more collegiate – ‘We are all in this together for all children ‘ – probably best sums up what I am thinking.
2. Good remains Good. Yes, I think this is appropriate and how we measure Good is under consultation from January from Ofsted which I welcome. The key is how Ofsted will weigh up quality of outcomes v quality of education which are two different concepts in my opinion. Interesting times ahead as Ofsted look at this carefully. If Ofsted come down on ‘outcomes’ as the determinant factor in a judgement, then I fear school’s will stagger on in a newly dressed framework which has not changed from the status quo. Let’s hope that won’t happen
3. Outstanding should remain but caveat that a school can only be outstanding if it can demonstrate that is is supporting other schools and is a system improver. The incentive of an outstanding grading is to offer robust, successful support to other schools which has impact. I think this can work and I would argue that schools that are judged Outstanding should also be profiled in a national website to share school improvement best practice.
I am amazed that we do not have a national website (Maybe an idea that I might follow up with DFE) which celebrates best school Improvement work. Yes, there is Ofsted with their reports but a website that is a genuine interactive portal for school leaders to access is desperately needed in my opinion – free and open for all.
Carter’s ideas have real merit here and I hope that Ofsted will publish a new framework which gets rid of the current gradings and dares to be innovative but more importantly, less hostile to schools through their current judgements which cause more damage than good for the whole system.