How do we know if a school is good?
  • 21st Jan 2019
  • Article written by Graham Jones
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Choosing a school for our children can be a very stressful and time-consuming project whether we are looking for our children to be educated through the state or private system.  Visiting the school or talking to other parents are ways of doing the groundwork but how do you know how good the school actually is?

You need to look at the schools inspection report.  In the state system this would be the report from the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted).  In private schools the inspection may have been by Ofsted or have been carried out by the Independent Schools Inspectorate or the School Inspection Service. Currently schools will be graded as either Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement or Inadequate by Ofsted.

Schools get very little notice of an inspection.  The headteacher will receive a telephone call at around midday on the working day before the start of the inspection.  Ofsted does have the power to inspect without notice.  In those circumstances they contact the school 15 minutes before arriving.

Once the school have been notified Ofsted provide a letter to send to parents explaining the inspection and asking for their views about the school. They can register on the Parent View website where it is possible for them to register their comments. 

An inspection normally lasts two days during which the inspection team will meet with the Headteacher, key staff, governors and children.  They observe lessons to gather evidence to inform their judgements.  Prior to the inspection the lead inspector will review information about the school to decide what issues to focus on.

At present Ofsted will report under the following headings:-

  • Overall effectiveness.
  • Effectiveness of leadership and management.
  • Outcomes for pupil’s.
  • Quality of teaching and learning and assessment.
  • Personal development behaviour and welfare. 

Schools must have their report available on their website. The front page of the report shows the grading for each area and a summary of key findings. 

The Chief Inspector of schools Amanda Spielman recently announced consultation on the new Ofsted regime, this is now emphasising that inspectors will assess behaviour.  They will observe classes during school breaks and take account of  children's ''pride in themselves and the school”  it is suggested there will be more emphasis on children's progress, behaviour and teaching methods rather than just exam results.  She has said currently there is an  ''overreliance on performance data” which could lead to schools taking dubious steps to play the system to achieve the best results in exams.

Amanda Spielman has gone on record as saying “ the new quality of education judgement will look at how providers are deciding what to teach and why, how well they are doing it and whether it is leading to strong outcomes for young people…. This is all about raising true standards.  Nothing is a more pernicious disease than a culture of curriculum narrowing and teaching to the test.”

The consultation proposes the assessment categories be limited to:-

  • Overall effectiveness.
  • Quality of education (i.e. how broad enrich the curriculum is).
  • Behaviour and attitudes.
  • Personal development of pupils

On completion the inspector reports back to the school with their final judgements.  The draft report is sent to the school for a factual accuracy check, usually within 10 working days.  The school has one day to comment on the draft.  If a school is judged as inadequate they have a further five days to comment on the draft.  Ofsted then publish the final report on their website within 19 working days.  If the school has been judged inadequate, the report is usually published within 28 working days.

Outstanding  The school is then exempt from routine inspections. However, an inspection can be called if any concerns are drawn to Ofsted's attention.

Good The school may not hear from Ofsted for over four years, they will then receive a one day short inspection as long as the quality of the education remains good.  Ofsted have power to convert this to a full two-day inspection if the school's performance has deteriorated significantly or there is a possibility of outstanding.

Requires Improvement  The school would will have a full reinspection within 30 months and will be closely monitored.

Inadequate This means it will be placed in a category of concern.  Immediate action must be taken and this can lead to an Academy order being made by the Secretary of State

Some private schools whilst are inspected by Ofsted but the majority are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate or the Schools Inspection Service.  This is a similar process but Ofsted have gone on record as saying  they have some concerns as they have no way of verifying the inspection organisations factual conclusions in the majority of cases.  Ofsted propose to do more unannounced visits to private schools during independent inspections to counter this.  The Chief Inspector has said 'I am concerned that they (the Inspectorates) reports are of increasingly limited value because of Ofsted's ability to monitor the work of the Inspectorate's is seriously hampered by the existing commissioning arrangements.

Any inspection is always a testing time for a school.  However, schools that are delivering a full, balanced and enriched curriculum in an environment where behaviour is conducive to learning should only have their report enhance their school's reputation. It is the best way for you to inform your choice of school.

For more help or information regarding this matter or a similar issue get in touch with Graham Jones here.