Posted by: Alexandre Borovik | September 4, 2020

The not so coded language of Ofstead

There is a peculiar estblishment in the administrative system of English school education, Ofsted. Its full name is the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. It is a non-ministerial department of the UK government, reporting to Parliament (not to the Governement!). Ofsted is responsible for inspecting a range of educational institutions, including state schools and some independent schools. This is the only relatively independent part of the system; Ofsted inspectors are Her Majesty’s Inspectors. I had a chance to meet a few of them, and got great respect to them.

The not-so-coded language of Ofsted’s reports on particular schools (easily available on the Internet) appears to be directed at middle class parents. These examples are from 2017 — compare a few (state) schools in a big English city, just a mile away from each other:

School 1 [Ofsted’s assessment: Outstanding]: “Children enter the Reception classes with skills and abilities that are broadly as expected for their age. Excellent provision enables them to make very good progress and achieve in an outstanding manner. As a result, by the time they enter Year 1, standards are above average, and for a significant number of children they are exceptionally high. This is particularly the case in communication, language and literacy and in personal, social and emotional development…”

Translation of words “personal, social and emotional development”: children come from supportive well educated middle class families, and find in the school their tribe. What is behind the scene: the school is in (architectural) conservation area, parents pay through their noses for an address in the catchment area.

School 2 [Good]:
“Children enter the Nursery class with skills that are below those typically expected for their age, especially their mathematical, social and emotional skills.”

School 3 [Good]: “Pupils […] join Reception with communication and mathematics skills that are low for their age. They then make good progress and enter Year 1 at improved levels but which are still mostly below average.”

School 4 [Good]: “Pupils make good progress in Nursery and Reception from starting points which are below and sometimes well below expected levels. In most years, only half of the children reach the expected levels for their age by the end of the Reception Year.”

The reason of challenges School 4 is facing is explained in the Ofsted’s report: “The proportion supported through school action plus and with a statement of special educational needs is well above average.” “A well above-average proportion of the pupils are eligible for the pupil premium, which provides additional funding for children in local authority care and pupils known to be eligible for free school meals.” “A high number of pupils leave and join the school in all year groups at different times throughout the year.”

Intake makes all the difference, and, I conjecture, an increasing number of parents are desperate to stay above the educational waterline and are prepared to pay premium for an address in the catchment area of a desirable school . Pandemic should only increase the social differences in school education.

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