Good or Satisfactory: Can anyone tell?

The new Chief Inspector, employing his “Dirty Harry” persona has decreed that “satisfactory” is no longer satisfactory, that there are hundreds of coasting schools and thousands of headteachers whose leadership is not good enough.  Ministers, as ever, have to demonstrate their toughness by jumping on the bandwagon. Perhaps less predictably, Will Hutton joined in the assault talking about “the educational mediocrity that besets Britain” and “hundreds of underperforming schools”.

Perhaps we should start by going back to the inspection schedule. A satisfactory school is one in which “Pupils are progressing at least as well as all pupils nationally given their starting points.  Pupils generally learn well in most subjects, with no major weaknesses.  The standards of attainment of the majority of groups of pupils are likely to be in line with national averages for all pupils.”

Averages (Key Stage 2 maths, last time I looked) do seem to cause problems for journalists and apparently for Chief Inspectors. It’s quite a simple mathematical fact that not every school can be above average. In inspections “good” is a relative term meaning getting results better than quite a few others.  So it follows that there must always be a good many satisfactory schools and indeed some unsatisfactory ones. Someone has to be bottom of any league table. We’ll have to completely re-write the Ofsted criteria if “good” is now to become a threshold that any school can reach, regardless of how they compare with others.

And we need to understand that we absolutely do not know how many schools would be good if we did change from a norm referenced system to a criterion referenced one. Nor do we know how many would be mediocre.

That’s not to say that we should be making excuses for under-performance. And there have indeed been times when things have been tolerated that shouldn’t have been. But some thought needs to be given to how you measure and to how you improve things. Not many good teachers would start by telling a class that a quarter of them are useless and should be got rid of.  But apparently we think that that’s a sensible way of motivating heads and teachers.

What is less well realised is that all the structures that used to support teachers’ professional development are being demolished. Local authority advisory services are mostly gone. National Strategy teams are all gone. University education departments are under attack as trainee teachers are expected to learn on the job. All we’re left with is “schools supporting schools”. Certainly a valuable concept but is it enough on its own? And of course, lest we forget, academy status is an automatic route to improvement – isn’t it?

What is needed is an approach to performance management that focusses on improvement not punishment together with a professional and comprehensive framework for providing that support. If that kind of approach is the right one for pupils, isn’t it the right one for teachers too?


6 Comments on “Good or Satisfactory: Can anyone tell?”

  1. John Wilks says:

    Completely agree. Conscientious teachers are facing burn-out as they chase illusory (and often subjectively awarded) “outstanding” grades. The new OFSTED chief knows that he will be well rewarded for adopting an aggressive stance towards headteachers and their staffs.

  2. Paul says:

    I think I agree with most of that, Dr John, but could you just explain a bit more for us non-academics the bit about “norm-” and “criterion-referenced” measurements?
    Is that a bit like exams versus the driving test, i.e. you pass if you meet the standard, regardless of how other drivers perform?

    • johnebolt says:

      Norm referenced assessment is when you’re judged in comparison with others – as you are when judged against the national average performance of schools. Criterion referenced assessment is when you’re judged against a set standard – yes like the driving test. Schoool inspections may look like a criterion referenced assessment – but the key judgement is how your results compare with those of other schools.

  3. Paul909 says:

    The Conservative reforms are having, and will have, a major effect. As a Deputy Headteacher I can see that with their changes they are certainly having one effect that they would desire. Schools are really thinking ‘we’ve got to get our results up, no ifs or buts’ and that ‘rapid improvement is needed’. So Gove would no doubt see this as a real benefit of a more ‘marketised system’. However, I have a number of major concerns:

    1. The burn out of teachers which will benefit no one.
    2. The ‘Football Manager’ approach to school leadership – a bad Ofsted (or even what was ‘satisfactory’) Ofsted Report and you could be out.
    3. The narrowing of the curriculum. I accept there was game playing by many schools e.g. ‘Is the child predicted to get a B in the likes of French or History?’ if not get them to do a BTEC. But for many students a ‘traditional’ academic curriculum was not the best path.
    4. Everything the Government is doing benefits more middle class schools.
    5. Lets remember that with academies came a number of things leading to ‘improvement’ – the replacement of GCSEs by other qualifications, often new facilities, more money sloshing around, the ability to work towards a skewed intake, and often a higher rate of exclusions.
    6. With added pressure and less resources, a greater chance of a negative impact on student wellbeing and mental health.
    7. In many areas existing or new schools will not be able to respond quickly enough to demand / in the future some areas will not be profitable. For example, in a rural area a school that ‘requires improvement’ closes; the other schools take in those students, one of the other schools then deteriorates and students end up traveling miles to go to a school which is probably going to be little better than the one that was around the corner.
    8. With less coordination I can foresee problems with planning of school places and also potential issues of child protection. When will serious issues emerge at a free school where controls are not as strong as they might once have been,
    9. I could go on, but I would like to ask Government ministers who don’t send their children to state schools in the main. How would you feel if your child had a 66/67 year old teacher for English or Maths in a secondary school or a class teacher in a primary school whose ill health meant they were out of school as much as in?

  4. trevor fisher says:

    The key issue to start focussing in on with improvements and league tables is GAMING. The system is now focussed on beating the system, not educating the pupils. THis is happening in secondary schools, where the floor standards are constantly being raised, so getting the students to get through exams at grade C is the key

    And as John rightly says, in any system there will be performance below the average. It is impossible to have everyone above the average. If the OFSTED criteria no longer allow schools to be average, all must be above average, then it is impossible to achieve. And we are in a Kafkaesque situation.

    Hutton is no longer a credible witness, and has not been since he took the king’s shilling and began working for the most reactionary government in history. If anyone is interested, the ASCL have a useful table which show how many schools have been graded improving in the last 29 years. But unless we can get across the message that however many schools improve, some will be at the bottom statistically then improvement is a race for the bottom.

    Has anyone studied the soviet union recently? I am fascinated by the comparisons with stakhanovism in the old USSR but I threw away all my books in 1989.

    However gaming is what is happening. No real improvement, just give the inspectors what they want.

    trevor fisher

  5. trevor fisher says:

    Colleagues might also note that before he adopted his dirty harry persona, Wilshaw was talking about teacher burnout. Now he toes the party line

    Interesting contradiction here, he is smart enough to know about burn out.

    With all the data now flying about, has anyone seen any data on teacher burn out?

    And as for what we want We want Gove out. There is an epetition to this effect, suggest we all sign it. Type in epetitions into the search engine, it is in the education department section

    trevor fisher