Majority of school leaders believe Ofsted headline grades are unreliable – poll

The majority of school leaders believe headline grades awarded by Ofsted are unreliable, a survey suggests.

More than four in five (85%) school leaders said they were “unconfident” in Ofsted, according to a poll of members of the NAHT school leaders’ union.

The findings come on the same day that Amanda Spielman is set to publish her final annual report as the chief inspector of Ofsted.

The survey, of 1,890 school leaders in September and October, found that only a fifth felt Ofsted inspection reports provide useful information for parents.

Nearly two in three (64%) school leaders disagreed that the headline grade given by Ofsted for a school’s overall effectiveness was reliable.

When asked how they felt about their school’s next Ofsted inspection, the top five words given by leaders were anxious, sick, stressed, terrified and dread.

The inspectorate has faced repeated calls to revamp its school ratings system – which uses one-word judgments – following the death of headteacher Ruth Perry in January.

Ms Perry’s family say she took her own life after an Ofsted report downgraded her Caversham Primary School in Reading from its highest rating to its lowest over safeguarding concerns.

Her death is the subject of an inquest due to start next week.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, said: “This is a pretty damning indictment of how far Ofsted has lost its way.

“Far from driving school improvement, inspections are seen as inaccurate, unreliable, and of little use to parents or schools. Ofsted is clearly no longer fit for purpose, even after the limited changes it was forced to make in the wake of the Ruth Perry tragedy.”

Mr Whiteman added: “The impact of a single word judgment that cannot possibly capture a whole-school performance can be devastating.

“And it’s not only a ‘bad’ grade that can be damaging – many school leaders with positive inspection outcomes talk powerfully about the negative impact of the inspection process on their health.

“Unfortunately, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that Ofsted is broken. This must be a wake-up call to government, and the number one priority for the new chief inspector when he starts in January.”

Earlier this week, an inquiry into the future of school inspection concluded that Ofsted was in need of major reform and was seen as “not fit for purpose”.

The Beyond Ofsted inquiry, chaired by former schools minister Lord Knight and sponsored by the National Education Union (NEU), called for “transformational change”.

Another report, from the Institute for Public Policy Research, suggested that “overly simplistic” school inspection judgments often trigger abrupt changes to management, which has fuelled a “football manager culture”.

In June, Ofsted announced changes to improve inspection arrangements and reduce pressures on teachers and heads following the death of Ms Perry.

An Ofsted spokesperson said: “Children only get one chance at an education, and inspection ensures that standards are high for all children.

“We always want inspections to be as positive an experience for headteachers and school leaders as they can be.

“After every inspection we ask schools whether they believe the inspection will help them improve. Nine out of 10 say it will.”