New data suggest that the influence of Ofsted judgements on parents’ decisions has been overstated. And the picture is even worse for that other pillar of school accountability – league tables.
YouGov poll findings seen by i show that almost two-thirds of parents don’t consider Ofsted reports when deciding where to send their children to school. And nearly three quarters pay no attention to performance tables that rank schools according to their exam and test results.
A parents’ charity has suggested that the rejection of Ofsted as a source of information for most parents is understandable as the inspectorate’s reports “need to come with some sort of health warning” and should be taken with “a pinch of salt”.
The new poll, carried out for the University of Exeter last month, asked parents to state all the factors that had influenced them in deciding where they sent their child to school. Among the representative sample of more than 650 respondents in England, only 37 per cent said they had “looked at reports from Ofsted”. And only 27 per cent said they had “looked at school performance tables”.
It is true that “sharp-elbowed” middle-class parents are more likely to read Ofsted reports, but even there, a majority do not. According to the data, only 41 per cent of those in the A, B and C1 social grades looked at the reports.
For those in the C2, D and E grades – effectively working-class parents – the figure is 24 per cent.
For Lee Elliot Major, a professor of social mobility at Exeter, the data shows that parents need to be empowered with more high-quality information so they can make the right decisions about their children’s education.
“What is clear is the system of advice and information aimed at helping parents make informed choices about which school to send their children to is ignored by the majority of parents,” he says.
He wants the Government to work with councils and schools to develop “parent power plans” – guides in easily accessible language spelling out the things parents must know about their child’s learning, including how to choose a school.
“During the year before entering primary or secondary school, pupils and parents would be given a pamphlet of accessible summaries of local schools and a list of questions they should be asking at open days,” he says.
Professor Elliot Major also wants Ofsted to produce “more parent-friendly, one-page summaries of the key points from inspection reports”, with all parents receiving the information via letters and texts.
John Jolly, the chief executive of the parents’ charity Parentkind, says that choosing a school is a “very complicated” decision for families, influenced by a “whole range of different factors”. School visits, geography and local reputation all play a role.
While Ofsted reports are worth parents reading, he thinks they “need to be taken with a pinch of salt” adding that “part of that is around ‘when were they last done?’”
For 10 years, schools previously rated outstanding by Ofsted were exempt from routine reinspection – a rule which only came to an end in September 2021. By October 2019, more than 1,000 outstanding schools had not been visited by Ofsted in a decade.
Mr Jolly thinks that even if an inspection report is a couple of years old, it could be out of date. “I do think they need to come with some sort of health warning,” he says.
He agrees that parents need more accessible information, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, because the current system is “better gamed by the middle classes”.
“We really need Ofsted to think about how their reports add value for parents, and how parents are encouraged to comment in terms of those reports,” Mr Jolly said.
Changes to the school league tables – currently suspended due to Covid – made five years ago may help to explain the lack of interest in them from parents. More measures have been included to give a fuller picture of school performance. But they may have also made the tables less digestible.
Secondary league tables are no longer based just on an easily understandable percentage of pupils gaining five “good” GCSEs including English and maths. The main component is now an opaque index of the progress made by students, relative to those in other schools, known as Progress 8.
After a hiatus during the depths of the pandemic, Ofsted has now resumed routine inspections of schools, while the Government plans to bring back secondary school league tables next year – those for primary schools will return in 2023.
The decisions have proved deeply unpopular with headteachers and teaching unions. The survey findings showing most parents’ lack of interest in inspection reports and league tables could strengthen the hand of those wanting to clip the wings of Ofsted and do away with the tables.
However, the Government insists they still play a key role. A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want to help parents choose schools which support their children to thrive, and we know that parents consistently say that Ofsted inspections are one of the key considerations when choosing a school.
“Performance tables give parents and students clear, transparent information so they can easily compare schools, and we will gradually return to full school and college accountability, following the adapted arrangements in the last two years to recognise the impact of the pandemic.”
An Ofsted spokesperson said: “Many parents use our inspection reports to help them choose a school, along with other important factors. They offer reassurance about the education children are receiving now, and inform choices about their next steps.
“According to our last Parent’s Annual Survey, eight out of 10 parents know the grade of their child’s school and over two-thirds of parents said that Ofsted was a valuable source of information on education.”
A study in 2016 found a link between Ofsted ratings and house prices. For each one grade movement in Ofsted rating, an increase in house price of around 0.5 per cent was identified. The link was strongest for schools in the wealthiest areas, where a rise in the rating led to a 1.5 per cent rise in house prices. For schools serving the poorest households, Ofsted ratings had no impact on local house prices.
Source: i on MSN