"Ofsted in the Spotlight: Unveiling the Factors Behind School Ratings"

With Ofsted ratings seemingly doomed, we take a closer look at the assessment system that haunts over schools across the country.

23rd February 2024

Ofsted ratings wield significant influence in the education landscape, yet the methodology behind them has long been a subject of debate. Teachers decry their simplicity, while parents embrace them for their straightforwardness. Recent scrutiny, including a call for a grading system overhaul after the tragic death of headteacher Ruth Perry, prompts us to explore the underlying factors that may influence these ratings. Despite criticisms, parents continue to rely on Ofsted ratings when choosing schools for their children and these ratings also play a crucial role in holding school leaders accountable. An “Outstanding” rating has been shown to increase house prices, by £100,000 on average,  as parents flock to the area to stand the best chance of getting their children a better education. However, a pressing question arises: are some schools destined for better Ofsted scores before an inspector even sets foot inside a school? If this is the case, what does this mean for the future of how our schools are regulated and assessed? 

Inspire Economics' recent analysis delves into data from over twenty thousand state-funded English schools, offering intriguing insights. The findings suggest that London schools are an average of 8 percentage points more likely to receive an "Outstanding" rating compared to schools in other regions. Statistical significance persists even after accounting for factors such as ethnic composition, economic disadvantage, and primary language spoken. Notably, selective and single-sex schools also show a higher likelihood of receiving an "Outstanding" rating.

Breaking down the data for primary and secondary schools reveals nuanced patterns. The London effect is more pronounced at the primary level, with early years provision attached to primary schools showing a 7 percentage point decrease in the likelihood of being rated "Outstanding." At the secondary level, no significant relationship was found with Ofsted ratings and school type or size. However, a curious finding indicates that having a sixth form makes schools 4 percentage points less likely to be rated "Outstanding". It is difficult to tell from the data, but a plausible hypothesis as to why schools with sixth forms and early years provision are less likely to be “Outstanding” is that they are over-stretching themselves and don’t receive adequate extra funding to cover the additional services. 

The stark difference in Ofsted ratings between London and the rest of the country raises questions about potential driving factors. The London Challenge program, improvements at primary levels cascading to secondary levels, higher prevalence of academies and free schools, and the Teach First program are posited as potential influencers. However, the factors driving the London disparity remain elusive and it is not possible to accurately capture the many societal and cultural differences London has with the rest of the country. .

As Ofsted ratings face increased scrutiny, this analysis prompts a re-evaluation of their utility. Is a one or two-word rating sufficient to judge a school's overall effectiveness? The research suggests that combining academic performance metrics with more descriptive assessments of school functions such as safeguarding, teaching, and leadership could provide a more comprehensive view. The intertwined relationship between academic results and Ofsted ratings casts doubt on their effectiveness if they merely reflect each other and this research challenges the simplicity of the current system. A more nuanced evaluation that considers various factors influencing school performance, beyond academic results, may provide a fairer and more informative assessment. As parents navigate the educational landscape, understanding the multifaceted nature of school ratings can contribute to more informed decision-making.

Graph shows the change in probability of being “Outstanding”, based on different school characteristics, than schools without that characteristic

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