Exclusive: Ofsted to rate schools ‘outstanding’ only if they can prove they are helping the poorest children

Ofsted would only be able to rate schools as “outstanding” if they can prove they are helping children catch up with lost learning, under plans being considered by ministers.

Schools would not be eligible for the top grade unless they demonstrate to inspectors that they are narrowing the achievement gap between the poorest pupils and their wealthier peers, according to the proposals. 

Officials at the Department for Education (DfE) are currently undertaking a review of further catch-up measures, including extending the school day ahead of the Chancellor’s spending review.

Ministers are particularly interested in low-cost solutions after losing a battle with the Treasury earlier this month which prompted the education recovery tsar Sir Kevan Collins to resign.

At the time, he launched a scathing attack on the Government, accusing ministers of a "half-hearted" approach to helping thousands of schoolchildren whose learning has been disrupted by the Covid pandemic.

Under the plans – drawn up by Prof Lee Eliot Major, who advises the Government on social mobility issues, and Robert Halfon, the Tory chair of the education select committee and former skills minister – headteachers of outstanding schools would need to show they are helping the most deprived children reach their academic potential.

In an opinion piece below, they write that in order to close the attainment gap between rich and poor students, the Government needs to not only consider funding but it must also “reform the central levers that drive behaviour in schools”.

One way to do this would be to hold schools accountable for the progress they make in improving the academic outcomes of the most deprived students.

“Schools live or die by their Ofsted inspections,” Prof Major and Mr Halfon write below.

“These changes would encourage outstanding schools to be engines of social justice and beacons of educational excellence.”

Under their proposals, which are being considered by DfE officials, no school would be judged by Ofsted inspectors as outstanding unless they have shown they are improving progress of pupils from all backgrounds in their local area.

Under the plans, inspectors would only judge schools outstanding if they can demonstrate they are making efforts to attract the poorest children in their neighbourhoods, and that they are making progress in narrowing achievement gaps between vulnerable pupils and the rest.

Outstanding schools should also demonstrate to inspectors that they are working with neighbouring schools to help raise standards in their local area.

Earlier this month, Sir Kevan warned that the current funding allocated "does not come close to meeting the scale of the challenge" posed by months of school disruption and said he had "no option" but to quit.

In his resignation statement, Sir Kevan – appointed just four months ago – added that the Government’s rescue package betrayed "an undervaluation of the importance of education".

His resignation came less than 24 hours after Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, announced a new £1.4 billion cash injection for pupil tuition and teacher training but failed to give the green light for a more radical extension of the school day. It represented just one-tenth of the £15 billion funding that Sir Kevan said was necessary to help students catch up,

An Ofsted spokesperson said: “Our inspections already require schools to have an ambitious curriculum for pupils from poorer backgrounds, and those children must achieve highly in order for a school to be rated as outstanding.

 “We expect schools to give all pupils, particularly those who are disadvantaged or have [special educational needs and disabilities], the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life, or gain qualifications that allow them to meet their interests and aspirations.”

Tough inspections are vital to securing our children’s future

How do we create an education system hardwired to help all children make good progress in school writes Lee Elliot Major and Robert Halfon. 

It’s a question that countries across the world are wrestling with as they try to recover from the devastating disruption of the pandemic.

As Ministers prepare for the government’s spending review this autumn there are many compelling arguments for why schools and colleges should get a funding boost, but if they are serious about levelling up educational opportunities then they also need to reform the central levers that drive behaviour in schools.

No school should be judged by Ofsted inspectors as outstanding unless they have shown they are improving progress of pupils from all backgrounds in their local area.

Poorer children are less likely to attend outstanding schools, even if they live nearby. And while highly rated schools have better results overall, the gap between pupils entitled to free school meals and other pupils is the same in schools whether they are judged outstanding, good, satisfactory or inadequate.

In our view, inspectors should only judge schools outstanding if they can demonstrate that they are making efforts to attract the poorest children in their neighbourhoods, and that they are making progress in narrowing achievement gaps between vulnerable pupils and the rest.

They should also be collaborating with neighbouring schools to help raise standards elsewhere on their doorstep. Teams of inspectors should include at least one headteacher who has led a school with high numbers of poorer pupils.

Schools live or die by their Ofsted inspections. These changes would encourage outstanding schools to be engines of social justice and beacons of educational excellence.

Second, the quid pro quo for more money must be greater scrutiny over how funds are used. We should give freedom to head teachers to decide what’s best for the pupils in their own school, but we also need checks on how effectively the money has been deployed.

If the Treasury is to channel billions of extra pounds into school budgets, then schools will need to demonstrate they have invested this new money into evidence-informed approaches that have a strong record of working.

Third, we need to closely monitor the impact of the national tutoring programme. While one-to-one and group tutoring is one of education’s best bets, we also know the quality of instruction varies enormously. We need assurances that high quality tutoring is getting to the disadvantaged pupils that have lost most learning. If properly targeted, the programme should become a permanent fixture.

Even before the pandemic hit last year, efforts to help poorer pupils catch up were stalling. Now’s our chance to reset the education system. Failure to do so will blight the education of a whole generation.

Lee Elliot Major is Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter. Robert Halfon is chair of the House of Commons Education Select Committee

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