Several UK schools are appealing against their Ofsted gradings after a new inspection rule causes previously ‘Outstanding’ schools to be rated as ‘requires improvement’.

Due to a larger emphasis placed on the curriculum and how it is taught, rather than pupil progress in terms of text and exam results, anecdotal evidence of what children say in the classroom appears to be taking centre stage, causing issues for otherwise well-performing schools.

Akroydon Primary Academy in Halifax is one school who has suffered setbacks from the change. Inspected in September 2019, the school was graded as ‘requires improvement’, despite a steep rise in the attainment of 11-year-olds for maths and English from 25% in 2017 to 70% – above the 65% national average. Four-year-olds who came into the reception class well below average had also reached the national average by the end of the year.

Although most teachers welcome more emphasis on what goes on in the classroom rather than just results, there is a growing alarm at Ofsted’s power to dictate what schools should teach, and doubt about whether inspectors are qualified to judge a full range of specialist subjects.

Michael Gosling, chief executive of Trinity multi-academy trust, which includes Akroydon Primary, said that despite a remarkable 45% rise in attainment, the lead inspector told him pupil progress data was not proof of impact.

“It’s as if your results don’t matter any more,” he said. “Just make sure you teach subjects the way Ofsted wants and talk coherently about your curriculum and you will get a good rating.”

Meanwhile, Parkinson Lane community school, just two miles away, was rated ‘requires improvement’ after having had four ‘Outstanding’ ratings under the same headteacher. With 282 pupils on its waiting list and the highest number of appeals to get a primary place in Calderdale, it has been awarded the prestigious ‘teaching school’ status and is the most popular primary in the local authority.

Pupils at Parkinson Lane score well above average for progress in maths and English, despite being in an area that’s within the top 10% in the country for deprivation and where English is spoken as a second language.

During its most recent inspection, children were said to have come back to class in tears after being questioned by Ofsted inspectors. Solid evidence from the local authority on how Trinity had transformed the school and positive results of an independent survey of parents were not looked at during the inspection.

Parkinson Lane Primary School

Children at Parkinson Lane Primary School.

Gosling said: “This is a framework written over a middle-class dinner table. Ofsted seems to think that if you can talk coherently about your curriculum then the results will look after themselves, but that is not going to happen in a school like ours, in areas of high deprivation.”

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman stands by the change in inspection criteria. She says that schools have been too focused on getting the best test and exam results to gain points in performance tables, which has led to many children missing out on a rich and varied curriculum.

Ofsted should be about accountability, not changing dramatically what goes on in schools.

Ofsted Inspector

However, concerns about this among schools, trusts and even inspectors themselves are mounting.

One inspector said: “Some schools have to build in the cultural capital that children don’t get at home, and that takes extra time.

“Outcomes matter to students, but now we are having to disregard strong evidence in favour of anecdotal and superficial judgement and that is a big step backwards.

“There is a sense that we are now the font of all knowledge about what it is worthwhile to teach and the order it should be taught in. Ofsted should be about accountability, not changing dramatically what goes on in schools.”

Both Gosling and Gugsy Ahmed, headteacher of Parkinson Lane primary for 19 years, have a track record of turning around failing schools. Gosling himself has been through 50 Ofsted inspections and has appealed his school’s latest rating.

“I’ve been in schools given all categories and this is the first time I have appealed,” he says.

“Ofsted will condemn thousands of children in deprived areas to poor outcomes.”

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