Ofsted: The Annual Report

Today Ofsted (the agency responsible for inspecting schools and children’s services) launched its report for 2008/09.  It is mainly based on inspections and statutory visits between September 2008 and August 2009.

The report starts off by highlighting some areas for praise; in terms of schools 70% are judged as good or outstanding (these are the terms that Ofsted uses to judge schools when they are inspected as part of the inspection cycle, they are not without problems)  88% of initial teacher training providers are also deemed good or outstanding, and 63% of FE colleges were considered good or outstanding. 

Outside of schooling, many aspects of children’ s services have been praised.

So it’s all good news for children then?

Not quite.  The Report also highlights areas of concern.

Firstly, consider the following:

“schools with a high proportion of pupils from deprived backgrounds are still more likely to be inadequate. ”

To sociologists of education this is not a surprise.  Social class shapes educational experiences and outcomes.  But this observation does not just refer to the educational attainment of pupils from deprived backgrounds. It is based on Ofsted’s interpretation of how good a school is.  Could this mean that whether a school is judged to be good, outstanding or inadequate is related to the socio-economic background of the pupils it admits? 

Some sociological studies into school context have observed a similar connection.  Ruth Lupton in a 2005 article for the British Educational Research Journal observed that schools in poorer areas provided a ‘poorer’ level of education.  In another article  appearing in a 2006 edition of  the British Journal of Educational Studies Martin Thrupp along with Ruth Lupton highlight the influence of school context on processes not just the school’s educational outcomes. 

Perhaps the fact that Ofsted has found inadequate schools to be concentrated in areas with high levels of deprivation is not surprising.  Yet in the context of educational reforms introduced by the new Labour Government since 1997 which have been focused on tackling social exclusion and have been positioned as a means of promoting social mobility, the continuing connected between deprivation and poor educational performance should prompt concern about the effectiveness of those reforms.

Another key area highlighted in the Annual Report is the “‘stubborn core’ of inadequate teaching”  (note this does not say inadequate teachers).    Interestingly it was today’s Guardian that reported on “bad teachers”  while the Independent reported on the problem of “poor teaching”.   What this actually means, according to Ofsted is that a lot of teaching remains “satisfactory”, whereas it could be, “outstanding”.  It highlights that satisfactory teaching does not do enough to “inspire, challenge and extend children, young people and adult learners”. Not only does this relate to debates around the purposes of teaching and education but it focuses attention on teachers once again, and whether they should be blamed for the apparent ‘crisis’ over standards in education.