Are Ofsted inspections dumbing down?
At Property Detective, we frequently make use of Ofsted data and (if we’re honest) actually take quite a lot of pleasure from reading Ofsted reports. Normally, we find it quite interesting when we come across an occasional awful school, but on the whole most reports are quite similar and paint a picture of a generally supportive educational environment across England and Wales, where those starting school are welcomed into places of learning where the standard of teaching is at least good, if not better.
The reason for this blog post wasn’t to reminisce, but really to share something interesting we stumbled upon this week that raises quite an important question about ‘data’, and about Ofsted’s role as the provider of information to pupils, parents and teachers about the quality of education that a school provides in any local area.
What happened to the 36-page rich, detailed reports?
A few days ago – for no apparent reason – we found ourselves reading up about Mead Road Infant School in Chislehurst. This is a pleasant, small infants’ school that provides a safe and welcoming learning environment for up to 90 pupils at any one time.
Mead Road was rated Outstanding (the top rating) by Ofsted in 2009. Prior to that it was also rated Outstanding in 2005. We were reading up on the old Ofsted reports because we wanted to find out how long it had been rated Outstanding, and whether it was previously anything but. In doing so, we stumbled upon the Ofsted report from the year 2000.
One pupil said that they thought their teachers were the ‘best thing in the school’ and that school was ‘a fun place to be’.
What struck us was just how comprehensive, detailed and fluid the millennial report actually was compared with modern-day inspection reports. Today, Outstanding schools are let off with a relatively light-touch ‘reduced tariff inspection’, but even so, the modern day 9-page Ofsted report is nothing compared to the 36-page behemoth that it replaced, which broke down assessments by curriculum area, subject, teachers and much more besides.
Why has Ofsted reporting been redacted?
As we read it, we were quite disappointed that such a wealth of data wasn’t made available to us at Property Detective, as we could do an awful lot with it, as could the many millions of parents out there who rely on this sort of insight to inform their choice of where they send their children to school. We couldn’t quite believe that such a richness of insight existed previously, and just how redacted the modern Ofsted report is in comparison.
So, with that in mind, is it right to ask whether Ofsted itself is dumbing down? What led to such shrinkage in the level of information provided? Why has in-depth opinion been replaced by copy-and-paste identikit reporting? And why aren’t parents given the information they need to make a sound, reliable decision?