How Ofsted Grading Criteria Can Be Manipulated 4

This is the fourth post in a series, where I look at the generic grade descriptors from Ofsted, and show you exactly how vague they are, and how grades are based more on personal opinion rather than actual evidence. As with previous sections of the criteria, it was difficult to split the descriptors up into comparable sentences, and this fourth section was particularly jumbled.

4. Grade Descriptors: quality of leadership and management

Outstanding: Key leaders focus relentlessly on improving teaching and learning, resulting in teaching that is likely to be outstanding and at least consistently good.
Good: Key leaders and managers consistently communicate high expectations and ambition in the subject.
Satisfactory: Key leaders and managers provide a concerted approach to improvement in the subject.
Inadequate: Capacity for further improvement is limited because current leaders and managers have been ineffective in securing essential improvements.

In the first instance, I notice that in order for a head of department to achieve an outstanding, all the teachers in that subject need to have achieved a ‘good’. This creates a situation where HODs are putting enough pressure to be counted as bullying on teachers who fall below this standard.

I’m also very confused by the difference between the grades of good and satisfactory, the former requiring managers to ‘consistently communicate high expectations and ambition’ and the latter ‘a concerted approach to improvement’. I just don’t see a clear path from bad approaches to improvement to good approaches there. I’m no Ofsted inspector, but I’m also not stupid, and this lack of clarity would allow someone to manipulate an inspection result very easily. Perhaps if the good descriptor said something along the lines of, ‘an effective approach to improvement’ it would be much more linear.

Outstanding: Actions are based on a deep and accurate understanding of performance in the subject.
Good: Planned actions based on accurate self-evaluation to overcome weaknesses have been concerted and effective. As a result, achievement has improved or consolidated previous good performance.
Satisfactory: Planned actions by leaders and managers have improved the quality of teaching so that very little is inadequate.
Inadequate: Leaders and managers are not taking effective steps to secure satisfactory and better teaching for all groups of pupils, including disabled pupils and those who have special educational needs.

What’s with the use of the word ‘concerted’ all the time? Not only that, but here it’s jumped from the satisfactory grade to the good. If someone is being ‘concerted’ then you can argue that they are either satisfactory or good, whichever one the observer feels like. And if everyone has got to achieve good, then this will make or break whoever you are assessing.

Again it’s difficult to see a clear path from inadequate to outstanding, as the language changes around so much between grades. A ‘deep and accurate understanding of performance’ in outstanding becomes ‘accurate self-evaluation to improve weaknesses’ in good: would good not better be described as simply ‘an accurate understanding of performance’? You can then clearly see that in order to achieve an outstanding grade, you need to deepen your understanding of how your subject is performing.

Outstanding: The pursuit of excellence in all activities relating to the subject is demonstrated by an uncompromising and highly successful drive to strongly improve achievement, or maintain the highest levels of achievement, for all pupils including disabled pupils and those who have special educational needs, over a sustained period of time.
Good: They model good practice and demonstrably work to monitor, improve and support teaching, encouraging the enthusiasm of staff and channelling their efforts and skills to good effect. As a result, teaching is improving and is at least satisfactory, with much that is good.
Satisfactory: Capacity to secure improvements in the subject is demonstrated by a trend of sustained improvement in achievement although a few significant weaknesses remain.
Inadequate: Despite remedying a few small areas of weakness, perhaps recently, improvements are fragile, too slow or depend on external support.

Now the grades seemed to have jumped again, so that in order to achieve a good, then most teaching needs to be good. That’s how I see it anyway, but you could also interpret what’s written here as the teaching needs to be satisfactory in order to achieve a good as a head of department.

I’m also concerned that SEN students only appear in the outstanding criteria. The wording for that particular grade also contains the word ‘uncompromising’, which I think encourages HODs to again put as much pressure on teachers as they possibly can. I’ve seen and heard of a lot of inhumane, bullying and unreasonable behaviour towards teachers, all done in the name of high standards, and it’s exactly that zero-tolerance approach that has caused it.

If you want to read the full Ofsted grade descriptors they can be found at this link.

Do you agree that these descriptors are worded in a confusing and unclear manner? Do you think they imply that managers need to relentlessly expect more and more of teachers, no matter what the human cost? Please comment below.


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