Campaign against Ofsted's Damaging 4 point grading scale

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Today we launch a national campaign calling on Ofsted to drop its damaging 4 point grades.  Labelling schools and colleges "outstanding", "good", "requires improvement" or "inadequate" is an example of unintelligent accountability.

We are calling on parents, governors, students, teachers, academics and concerned citizens to sign this petition calling on Ofsted to drop its damaging grades before they do any more damage.

Ofsted's public consultation on its new Education Inspection Framework closes on 5 April, but Ofsted wants its grading scale to be non-negotiable.  This is unacceptable if the consultation is to be open and honest.

The arguments against the grades are plentiful, powerful and persuasive.  Here are ten of them:

1  Most researchers and experienced professionals do not accept either the validity (does the grade measure what it claims to?) or the reliability (is the grade consistent over time?) of these grades, particularly for schools and colleges serving disadvantaged areas.

2  Ofsted proposes that one inspector should spend only two days inspecting a complex, social institution such as a primary school.  A school's fate should not depend on the impressionistic evaluations of one individual, especially when related to a crude four point scale.

3 Ofsted's review of research admits that schools, especially poor performing ones, "tend to show great variety in effectiveness." How can inspectors pin one label on a school when some parts will be "outstanding", others "inadequate" and still others "good" or "requires improvement"?

4  All the grades are crude simplifications but the bottom two - "requires improvement" and "inadequate" -  make it even more difficult for schools and colleges to recruit or retain teachers and students, especially in disadvantaged areas.

5  The bottom two judgements make recipients feel humiliated rather than supported.  Ofsted would censure a teacher who treated students in this way, so why does Ofsted behave similarly to schools and colleges?

6 Ofsted dropped the grading of lessons because of the evidence against it.  The weight of argument against grading institutions is even greater.

7 The grades matter so much that they add substantially to teachers' workloads so that many leave the profession.

8 All four grades push schools and colleges to become, against their better judgement and values, exam and skills factories that prioritise teaching to the test and that contribute to high levels of student and teacher stress.

9  One adjective applied to any of the new, mega FE colleges with 30,000 students and 30 departments is an absurdity, because it cannot reflect their complexity, internal variety or differing contexts.

10  Ofsted currently spends £60 million per year on the inspection of schools and colleges, but the real cost is much higher as teachers spend time and money preparing for inspection and complying with its ever changing demands.

There are tried and tested alternatives.  Inspectors could produce a more detailed narrative about each institution, celebrating its strengths and how they could be built on; and identifying weaknesses and a plan to deal with them.

Together these arguments present an overwhelming case for dropping the grades so we call upon the Chief Inspector to abandon them.  If she wants Ofsted to become a genuine force for improvement, this is the essential first step.  Without it, her other welcome reforms will come to nothing.

Please bring this petition to the notice of all those you think will agree with it and get them to sign it. 

Frank Coffield

Emeritus Professor of Education

UCL Institute of Education

London University

Titus Alexander FRSA

Trainer