Remove the ‘OFSTED Outstanding’ label and put system-wide improvement ahead of islands of excellence…

Acouple of weeks or so ago I found myself engaged in a twitter conversation about how OFSTED could change.  An idle tweet sent whilst watching my daughter swim on a Saturday morning and before I knew it I was involved in a debate between OfSTED’s National Director, Sean Harford and various other keen Saturday morning twitterers.

Anyway, my view (developed further from the input of many on that Saturday morning tweet-fest) remains that the OFSTED ‘Outstanding’ tag remains more of a hindrance than a help in improving education for the the 8.56 million children of school age in England.
I should, at this point, make it really clear that there are many schools I know who are outstanding in every sense of the word (we have one in our trust).  They not only give a great deal to the children in their own building but play their part in supporting others in schools who need help.   There are others however, with the tag who just aren’t and I’m not sure what good it does anyone reading the celebratory OFSTED banners as I drive around the country.
keep-calm-we-are-ofsted-outstanding
Others have already written posts which set out a case for change in OFSTED including Jarlath O’Brien in the TES who gives seven reasons why the outstanding grade should be scrapped and Stephen Tierney who this weekend wrote about the huge opportunity for change in the OFSTED system in the years ahead.  Here are some issues that I have with the ‘outstanding tag’:
  1. The schools with the outstanding tags are not always the best schools; they are sometimes those with a more privileged intake and therefore are easier to run.  Remarkably, OfSTED itself has now admitted this.
  2. The vast majority of schools aiming to be outstanding will fail by definition as only a small minority can ever be classed in this category.  Bearing in mind that 9/10 schools are already good or better, that’s a lot of 3 year roadmaps with a destination of ‘outstanding’ that will never come to fruition.
  3. The pursuit of ‘outstandingness’ can drive insular behaviour from schools with little incentive for school leaders to get out and play a part in improving the wider system as opposed to protecting the greens on the RaiseOnline.
  4. Competition for the top grade results in back-door selection taking place in schools such as compulsory admissions tests that take place at weekends which put more barriers in the way of those who are disadvantaged or discouraging those with SEND to apply to the school.
  5. The system is clearly broken if it’s possible to have an outstanding school at one end of the street and an inadequate one at the other.  Surely truly great schools would make it their business to play a wider part in the community?  Take, for example, the recent evaluation  where an infant school is 3 times more likely to be outstanding than the junior school and think of the impact over the years that this has on staff at those junior schools.
  6. Careers are defined by the term ‘outstanding’ and the word appears on bios and CVs of almost every Dame, Knight and  Government advisor as though this is a certificate of magical powers which will transform any unrelated educational setting.
With the outgoing Chief Inspector, Michael Wilshaw, leaving us with parting words that we should prioritise teacher and leadership recruitment and retention rather than tinker with school structures, the HMCI-elect, Amanda Spielman will be assessing how she can make a genuine impact in her tenure in charge of OFSTED in the middle of such radical reform.  Although there will be political challenge and calls that such a move would be dumbing down standards, I think a big step forward would be to remove the top grade and focus on making all our schools good enough.
So I’d ditch the outstanding grade and keep the following 3 categories:
Grade A: Good and Improving 
Good and Improving is what all schools should aspire to be and currently represent around 90% of the schools in the UK (Good & Outstanding).  Clearly, there is a huge range of both context, academic outcomes across these schools and there will be a wide range of different ethos and approaches.  Ultimately, children will achieve good educational outcomes in relation to their starting points, behave well, be safe and leave these schools with a well-rounded bunch of experiences across the currciulum which help develop them as individuals.
 ‘Good and Improving’ schools offer their children a good deal and the taxpayer good value for money.  Leaders of ‘Good and Improving’ schools would base their priorities around maintaining and improving their own schools AND playing a proactive part in system-wide school improvement collaborating and supporting others within a trust, geographical cluster or local authority.
Grade B: Requires Improvement
The school is not yet good.  The teaching at the school is not consistently good and educational outcomes and behaviour is not as good as it should be.
Grade C: Inadequate
As above  AND the leadership of the school does not have the capacity to improve the situation quickly.
Or
Children are not safe.
The bottom line, surely, is that we all want as many of these 8,560,000 children in our country to be in a good, improving and inclusive school where they enjoy attending regularly, develop personally, achieve academically,  with the welcome side effect that parents and the local community feel that the school is great.
I think that not having the outstanding tag would help.
What do you think?
TR

One thought on “Remove the ‘OFSTED Outstanding’ label and put system-wide improvement ahead of islands of excellence…”

  1. I agree with a great deal of what you have said. I believe the outstanding tag can at times be very harmful and even cause teachers to sit back and relax for a few years before gearing up to defend their status again.
    I just worry that with only 1 grade that is good and improving there is no room for a slight error of judgement. One wrong word from the HMI or the leadership team and the school is in a category.
    I would like to see the 3 categories you’ve mentioned plus the return of satisfactory. The satisfactory should mean satisfactory and not be converted to mean it requires improving. Leaders in satisfactory schools should aspire to be good or improving obviously.
    Great post.

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