When buying a house recently I noticed just how prominent Ofsted inspection reports have become for estate agents promoting a neighbourhood. It was also notable that houses within the catchment area of an outstanding school were selling for more money, which got my thinking really how useful are Ofsted inspection reports for parents?
Here we have a look at what parents can get from Ofsted inspections reports and how else they could choose the right school for their children.
What other sources of school information are available to parents?
Typically parents are most interested in how well their children are going to do academically. For secondary schools, Progress 8 was introduced in 2016 with the intention of delivering a better insight into a school’s achievement by tracking student progress during the time at the school. Students start at different levels, Progress 8 takes this into account.
However, test scores at KS2 are the only measure used as a starting point to calculate Progress 8; therefore schools with a disadvantaged intake still see lower scores. Students from low income families are more likely to live in challenging circumstances that affect their progress at school, whilst students from advantaged backgrounds often have parental and tuition support at home that boosts their progress. These factors are not taken into account so parents should be aware that this source is only useful when comparing schools with similar intakes demographically.
Primary Schools also have SATS examination results available, parents should approach with the same caution when comparing these.
Parents mustn’t forget that there is much more to education than examination results. Schools are the place where children and young people get their first experiences of integrating with society and this will have important ramifications on character development.
A parent knows their children best, there will be lots of opportunities to visit schools and meet key staff to get an idea about whether the ethos will help them to thrive. If your child is academically bright and naturally excels in core subjects then yes a school with consistently good examination results might be the right option. Or perhaps your child has other strengths that may be better nurtured in a different environment.
How useful are Ofsted inspection reports for parents?
Historically there has been criticism that Ofsted favours schools with good academic achievement, which begs the questions whether an Ofsted rating adds any value to comparing SATs/Progress 8. If parents look at the examination results then the Ofsted inspection rating will correlate with this.
Yet evidence mostly from before the new 2019 framework suggests that students are likely to get the same examination results whether they attend an outstanding school or an inadequate one. The Ofsted grade correlates with the Progress 8 but this is due to the differing intake rather than the performance of the school.
So really up till now Ofsted inspection reports have had minimal use for parents. The 2019 Ofsted framework (EIF) was supposed to counteract this by inspecting how effective a school’s curriculum is through the new “Quality of Education” as well as introducing a new “Personal Development”, which could be seen as a recognition from Ofsted for the first time that education is not just about examination results.
So has anything changed with Ofsted inpections?
As can be expected, the new Ofsted framework did not result in an immediate change in the way Ofsted inspected schools.
After the first set of inspections in December 2019,the National Director for Education Sean Harwood conceded that schools with disadvantaged intakes were still less likely to be judged “good” than those with more advantaged intake.
Following on from that we had a pandemic and exams were cancelled, so Ofsted inspectors did not have access to performance data for the 2021/2022 academic year. Analysis this year reveals the link between Progress 8 and Ofsted is not so clear, a move away from outcomes being decisive, perhaps a recognition from Ofsted that there is more to education than outcomes.
Historically schools in the bottom 100 for Progress 8 would automatically be graded “requires improvement” or “inadequate” regardless of having innovative curricula, yet eight schools from this category achieved a “good” rating in this recent analysis. This rating was achieved despite Progress 8 suggesting the students on average achieved a grade less than expected.
Curricula that cater for all students and personal development were cited as reasons for the positive rating.
If this is a sign of things to come then we would say that absolutely Ofsted inspections are useful for parents moving forward. If research says that schools only account for 10% of the variation in pupil progress (the other 90% being external factors), then parents would be better informed to choose schools based on how well suited the curriculum is to their child and how effective the school will be in developing their character for life after school.
At the other end of the spectrum, the same analysis shows that excellent Progress 8 scores are now not sufficient to achieve the top “outstanding” rating, with 4 of the top schools in the country for test scores being downgraded to “good”.
This would suggest that Ofsted now also adds value to parents when choosing schools in affluent areas. The excellent test scores are likely attributable to the advantaged intake, they do not per se conclude that the school has an outstanding curriculum or that more care could be taken with the personal development of all students.
The Ofsted inpection time lapse
Parents typically look to choose schools for their children a year before they are due to start. The Ofsted inspection report they will be looking at will be on average around 2½ years old and for 10% of school it would be over 5 years. So the information could be up to 6 years old by the time the child starts and quite likely not be relevant, especially if there has been a change of leadership.
With new leadership comes a different ethos, so the information will most certainly be outdated. Analysis tells us that when parents read an Ofsted report, around half of Headteachers inspected in that report will have left by the time the child starts school and most will have left by the time they finish.
It is also difficult for parents to get an accurate school comparison from Ofsted inpection reports when they are reporting in different timeframes by different inspectors and some may still even by inspected under the old framework.
So really Ofsted inspection reports are usually of mimimal use for parents when comparing schools.
Parents should also be advised that a lot can happen in a year with regards to school improvement, especially if the school has been rated “requires improvement” or “inadequate”. Schools with negative ratings are inspected regularly so more updated information will come available. The negative rating may also result in a new Headteacher with a different ethos and direction.
Ofsted reports have always reflected examination results, which in turn are almost entirely decided by the intake. So when searching Ofsted outstanding schools near me, parents should be aware that most of them will be in the affluent areas nearby.
Parents should not fall for the assumption that these outstanding schools have all the best teachers and that schools with less advantaged intake are not run properly and have lower quality of teaching.
Recent analysis would suggest that Ofsted reports will become more useful for parents, with a move away from the paramountcy of test scores we have seen in the past. However, this may regress with examination results once again becoming available again with the pandemic now behind us.
In any event, when reading an Ofsted report parents will more than likely be reading outdated information, which makes it almost impossible to compare schools in this way.
So how useful are Ofsted inspection reports for parents? Not very usef
Our advice would be to visit schools and speak to key staff to get an insight into where the current management are trying to take the school and how they intend to develop your child’s character through the quality of education. Perhaps the “requires improvement” school fits better with how your child responds to learning.