Ofsted accountability & New Schools Network report – expert reaction

The New Schools Network, an independent charity set up to help advise and support the setting up of free schools, has published a report in which it “casts doubt over the accuracy of Ofsted judgements.” They say that more than a third of primary schools rated as good or outstanding by Ofsted, fail to make sure children are leave understanding the basics of literacy and maths.

In the report, Nick Timothy, Director of New Schools Network, said, “Strong accountability is critical to the success of our schools system. Free schools and academies are already more accountable than maintained schools. They are accountable to the Education Funding Agency for their finances, to Regional Schools Commissioners for their performance, and they’re accountable to central government which can, in extremis, close them down.”

Simon Burgess, Professor of Economics and Director, Centre for Market and Public Organisation, University of Bristol, has researched accountability and gave this expert reaction:

“Strong accountability is a key facet of a good education system. Research evidence shows that the nature of the accountability system is important for school performance.

In England, this is delivered by a twin track approach of OFSTED reports and school performance tables. These two describe school performance in different ways. The OFSTED reports are based on relatively infrequent visits for many schools, especially the high performing ones, whereas the test-based performance data come round every year. OFSTED reports also try to paint a broader picture of the school including its leadership and ethos, and the behaviour of its pupils. This information is helpful in assessing the likely evolution of the school’s performance.

So while we definitely need the standardised, objective, and regular information from the test scores, the OFSTED reports cannot be dismissed as an “inaccurate” measure of that performance, because exactly mimicking the test scores is not what they are trying to do. OFSTED judgements and school performance scores correlate well in the data, but they are measuring different things and so are going to differ

It is certainly true that the accountability system is more fragmented now with the Regional School Commissioners only responsible for some schools. There is a good case for a more coherent and uniform accountability system, covering all schools. But it is misleading to portray regular primary schools that are not academies as somehow not facing an accountability system. “

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