Jan 2012

Ofsted: Schools are no longer “satisfactory” they “require improvement”

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First AQA (Assessment and Qualifications Alliance) change the GCSE assessments for many subjects, then they plan to drastically alter ICT lessons. Now the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted)  are looking to change the language they use in school inspections. The idea is to toughen up on the standard of education across the UK, and push the lower performing schools into bettering themselves.

Ofsted think a wording change will improve schools

The inspectors are re-evaluating their own use of the word ‘Satisfactory’. Ofsted’s chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, is determined to scrap it in their reports, due to fears there are schools “coasting” and not pushing to improve their own standards. This announcement comes a couple of weeks after plans to reform the school ICT curriculum were revealed.

What will they replace this word with? The new term is “requires improvement”.

What is the current labelling?

As of right now, an inspector will enter a school every three or four years, to assesses the schools performance for a week. They sit in on lessons for every subject taught at the school, which could be Media Studies, ICT, Graphics etc. And they assess all aspects  including the quality of teaching, discipline, the standard of work produced and determine overall whether they have improved since the last inspection.

At the end of the inspection, each criterion is graded with either:

  • Grade 4: “Inadequate”
  • Grade 3: “Satisfactory”
  • Grade 2: “Good”
  • Grade 1: “Outstanding”

With the new changes, if Ofsted were to sit in on an ICT lesson, they might deem the once ‘satisfactory’ lessons and its teaching methods “old fashioned” with improvement required, now that the curriculum has been branded unnecessary and outdated. And the English curriculum for example has been changed by AQA in the last few years too. Students can only handwrite their coursework in class, a change that is possibly in retaliation against spell check and the internet. They have to complete their work in a controlled classroom, in a bid to stop students using their phone to look the answers up.

With all these abrupt changes, will a simple word alteration in an Ofsted report make any difference, at a time when the curriculum is in confusion?

Speaking to the BBC,  Wilshaw had this to say:

  • At this moment in time, two thirds of the schools in the UK have been categorised as either “good” or “outstanding”. However, there is still that one third who are not making the grade, either failing their inspection entirely or are deemed “satisfactory”.
  • When a school is deemed “satisfactory”, it can take up to two to three years for Ofsted to visit and inspect their progress. In the case of the vast majority of “satisfactory” schools, only a tiny percentage improve enough to become “good” or “outstanding”.
  • With the new “requires improvement” category, Wilshaw explained that the inspector will re-visit the schools under this umbrella, between 12 to 18 months after their initial inspection. They will then assess whether the school has improved their overall standard.

The trouble is, with schools getting used to the new English rules and a brand new ICT lesson plan under way, there are going to be schools that were above the bar before, who slip in standard. And while yes,  drastic changes in media, and the accessibility of information does increase the need for lesson upgrades, Ofsted telling them they are under-achieving during this time could make confused students lose confidence.

David Cameron disagrees:

“This is not some small bureaucratic change. It marks a massive shift in attitude. I don’t want the word ‘satisfactory’ to exist in our education system. ‘Just good enough’ is frankly not good enough.”

Teachers are still insulted by the “derogatory” new ruling. NUT leader, Christine Blower, had this to say: “First we had ‘under-performing’ schools, now we have ‘coasting’ schools. Labelling schools in this way is derogatory and insulting to pupils, teachers, school leaders and governors.”

Caroline Browne, the headteacher of Evesham High School and Simon De Montfort Middle School in Worcestershire pointed out that the progress of children is dependent on their abilities: “For every school, the ability of their children’s intake is different so for some the jump is bigger than for others.”

Only time will tell if Ofsted’s big idea will even work. Until then we are intrigued by what other educational reforms will be affected by technological advancement.

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