Editorial: Ofsted inspectors have chosen the wrong target

Naming and shaming educational authorities could easily be counterproductive


The good news about the latest Ofsted report into the nation's schools is that they are, according to the schools' inspectorate, getting better. Some 70 per cent of state primary schools are now rated outstanding or good, which is six per cent up on five years ago – though that still leaves almost 2.3 million children in schools deemed inadequate. What is more problematic is Ofsted's decision to address the continuing problems by shifting its focus from standards in individual failing schools to local education authorities.

For the first time the inspectors have decided to "name and shame" education authorities by ranking them according to the overall quality of education in their area. It is unclear what parents in Coventry, the poorest performing area, are supposed to do with the information that only 42 per cent of their school pupils are attending a good or outstanding school. They can hardly all move to Camden, the best performing area, where 92 per cent of pupils have potential access to such schools. This information which Ofsted intends should empower parents risks having precisely the opposite effect.

School leagues tables have been an important additional tool for parents choosing the right school for their children. They have their limitations; a focus on test results can distract attention from other important markers of children's progress and wellbeing. There is the risk of "teaching to the test" and ignoring the wider dimensions required for a good education. And the past two decades of school inspection have done little to disturb the truism that schools in affluent suburbs tend to do better than those in poorer inner-city areas. But external yardsticks have been an undoubted good.

Ranking education authorities is more tricky. For a start Ofsted includes in its calculations academy schools which lie outside local authority control. Holding a body accountable for the standards in schools over which it has no direct influence clearly throws up all manner of potential anomalies.

Moreover, the Ofsted report says that inconsistency or too much prescription in teaching are almost always at the root of an inadequate school. The responsibility for these factors is far more likely to be laid at the door of the headteacher than the education authority.

Teaching unions incline to the suspicion that the change is designed to provide a lever which the Government can use to push more schools to leave local authorities and become academies. That may be too Machiavellian, though the report does assert that "sponsored academies – with strong leadership and real expertise – are the best way to turn around struggling schools". But the tactic of increasing pressure on local authorities at the bottom of the table could backfire.

It risks further demoralising staff in schools already struggling to attract good teachers. Just as it is a bad idea to label a child early in their school career, risking undermining their self-esteem and resilience, so it may well be counter-productive to label an entire area as some kind of educational sink.

Good schools succeed because they have headteachers who demonstrate faith in their staff and pupils and make clear that high achievement is the aspiration or even the norm. By contrast one of the common factors in failing schools is the low expectations of head and staff alike. The lessons from that should apply in our education authorities too. Naming and shaming could easily be counterproductive. It is not the way forward.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Qualified Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Crawley: This independent Nursery is looking fo...

Merger and Acquisition Project Manager

£500 - £550 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £55 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN TAWe are looking to recrui...

Technical Manager – Heat Pumps

£40000 Per Annum dependent on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: They ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

A long way to go before we reach Dave Eggers's digital dystopia

Memphis Barker

August catch-up: dress to impress, words to use more often, and the end of the internet

John Rentoul
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis