What does Ofsted mean by ‘Satisfactory’?

Regular readers will be aware this blog has been looking at the can of worms opened up by the serious assault on two teachers at Burwood School.

We return to the subject today following a story in today’s Guardian, which explains:

The Ofsted rating of “satisfactory” for schools – widely regarded as a euphemism for a poor school – is to be scrapped, the new chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, will propose as he outlines new plans to tackle “coasting schools”.

Granted, the Guardian’s angle with the story is to put forward the teaching unions’ narrative about this being another mechanism designed to shoehorn schools into Academy status.  But it nevertheless highlights an issue with Ofsted’s school inspections that is evidenced by the two most recent reports submitted about Burwood – one of the 28% of schools given one of these ‘Satisfactory’ ratings.

The Wilshaw proposals, that schools must demonstrate improvement over the course of two more inspections over a three-year period or face going into special measures, would have signalled greater focus at Burwood before the attack took place.  Burwood School’s 2011 Ofsted rating overall was ‘satisfactory’ as you can see below…

But this is no different to the inspection rating in 2009, where a separate inspector also gave Burwood a ‘satisfactory’ rating.  At the time, with the school emerging from special measures, the inspector described Burwood as a rapidly improving school.

Although the two reports do not present the key criteria in a like for like fashion (ensuring it is difficult to establish a benchmark to judge future performance – update… and a tweeter advises that the criteria has changed again from 1st January this year) what we can see is that there were items in the 2009 report, shown below, rated ‘2’ or ‘good’.  After that 2009 report it seems the rapid improvement arrested.  By 2011 there were no ‘2’ or ‘good’ ratings.

Having given Burwood School another satisfactory rating and highlighting required improvements, some of which are incredibly similar to those highlighted in 2009, why did Ofsted not consider putting the school back into special measures?  The direction of travel, to coin a phrase, was clearly not one of improvement.  If anything things were slipping backwards, but this seems to have been blithely dismissed and swept under the carpet.

One wonders if special measures had been in force again and there was more scrutiny on the inconsistencies in classroom discipline, and the excessive culture of rewarding pupils with fun activities instead of lessons, the 10-year-old alleged attacker might have had his behaviour nipped in the bud before he exploded out of control.

While Ofsted was content to rate Burwood School as satisfactory, it seems Ofsted’s own actions in addressing failings at the school were anything but.  It could be argued they share responsibility for what happened in that classroom on 5th January.

3 Responses to “What does Ofsted mean by ‘Satisfactory’?”

  1. 1 Ian 17/01/2012 at 11:52 pm

    Another good post on this school, AM. I am reminded of Hillcrest School in Hastings, an ordinary (rather than special) comprehensive. Locals knew than the end was nigh when Ofsted dubbed it “improving”. Sure enough, soon after this accolade was awarded, the school announced that it would be closing and an academy built in its place. Same yobs of course, but new buildings.

  2. 2 oodoov 19/01/2012 at 1:47 pm

    Shouldn’t the Inspectorate simply assume that the worst classes will be taken off-site during an inspection?

    If an auditor was told that accounts for a department weren’t available, they’d be rightlly suspicious. OFSTED are simply another bureaucracy. The question now should be, should the inspectors involved in this review be named and shamed?

  3. 3 Will 19/01/2012 at 11:55 pm

    Hi Mr Mind

    I have read your posts re Burwood School with interest over the last week and even downloaded the Ofsted report you mention and read the school’s online polices. I have some experience of inspections and it seems clear to me that the Inspector left some clues in the report as to the real “state of play” at the school. It would appear that few pupils were in attendance on the two day inspection in May 2011. From the report:

    “There were limited opportunities for lesson observations because Year 11 students were out of school on study leave throughout the inspection, and two of the five remaining classes went on an educational visit for the whole of the second day.”

    “Attendance is improving, but too many students still fail to attend on a regular basis.”

    Given that the school had a roll of 44 I would guess that 15 to 20 pupils would have been present on the first day and less on the second. So the “snapshot” would not have given a real idea of what normally happens day to day.

    Also, given the needs catered to by the school, why on earth would Yr11’s be told to go off and revise ( study leave ) by themselves?

    On learning:

    “Disruption is rare in lessons where students are enjoying their learning because the activities are interesting and challenging. In this small minority of good lessons, staff plan carefully and at a level of detail that clarifies exactly what they anticipate individual students will learn.”

    The second sentence is the key one as “small minority” appears to be code for most lessons being poorly planned and uninteresting.

    “However, this good preparation for adulthood is not supplemented by a rapid acquisition of literacy, numeracy and ICT skills because leaders have not ensured that the curriculum is balanced as well as broad. Not enough discrete time is devoted to developing these key skills. Furthermore, the time available for planned learning is not used efficiently. Too much time is set aside each day for students to choose activities such as cycling and games as a reward for appropriate behaviour.”

    It seems that much of the school day is taken up by the students deciding what extra curricular activities to choose from a menu of preferred activities rather than acquiring skills that might be useful in later life. This appears to follow from the school using an extremely cumbersome and ill thought out rewards system to manage behaviour. Perhaps someone cleverer than me could explain what a raffle is doing in a reward system.

    My take is that the Inspector was giving the school the “benefit” but did not really think much of worth was happening.

    As you suspect the Ofsted system is not of much use to anyone as a tool for improvement. Neither the staff nor the students benefit from jumping through the hoops and far too much time is spent “gaming” the system rather than educating.

    If you want to raise your blood pressure further why not skip across to the TES forums and read teacher accounts of how schools game GCSE examinations and Ofsted. The Daily Telegraph has also been mining this seam for some time.

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