Ofsted ratings can seemingly make or break schools and parent's often pay great attention to them, but how much do they actually matter when it comes to the outcomes and experience of pupils? Well, according to a recent study lead by the University of York, not much at all!

The study found that secondary school Ofsted ratings had almost no bearing on pupils' wellbeing or enjoyment of school life, with pupils attending schools rated as "inadequate" by Ofsted reporting similar levels of happiness, bullying, future aspirations, satisfaction with school and ambition as those attending schools rated as "outstanding". Which will likely be quite surprising to many.

The study looked at data from just under 4,400 pupils in England. The data included information on family background, academic grades at age 11 and 16 and the results of questionnaires investigating levels of wellbeing and school engagement.

Roughly in line with national averages, 27% of the young people in the study attended an “Outstanding” school, 47% attended a “Good” school, 22% attended a “Requires Improvement” school, and four percent attended a school rated as “Inadequate”.

When it comes to pupil outcomes, the study suggests that Ofsted ratings of secondary school quality account for less than one percent of the differences in students’ educational achievement at age 16. For example, if one student attending a school rated “good” achieves an A at GCSE and another student from a school that “requires improvement” gets a B – the study reveals that only one tenth of the difference in their grades can be attributed to the school rating.

"Overall, our findings suggest that individual student outcomes [at secondary school] are largely independent of schools’ Ofsted rated quality"

Professor Sophie von Stumm, Department of Education, York University

The report also said that "Ofsted-rated school quality was a weak predictor of student wellbeing and student engagement".

Lead author of the study, Professor Sophie von Stumm, from the department of education at York, said: “We have found that the factors parents care about most when selecting a school – their child’s educational achievement and wellbeing – are negligibly predicted by Ofsted ratings."

“If Ofsted ratings don’t predict students’ achievement and wellbeing, we need to reconsider just how helpful they are in general. Ofsted inspections are extremely stressful for teachers – causing problems for recruitment and retention in the profession, and they are also very costly to the taxpayer, with the bill per visit coming in at around £7,000 per school on average."

“Parents often go to great lengths to secure a place at an ‘outstanding’ school for their children – either by moving house or commuting long distances. Our research suggests these investments don’t really achieve what they are aimed at – good grades and well-being for children."

"So parents should ask themselves: is an 'outstanding' school really worth spending an hour commuting each day rather than using the time to play or read?”

"Due to high demand for places, schools rated ‘outstanding’ can be more selective about the pupils they enrol. They are also often situated in more affluent neighbourhoods with families of higher socioeconomic status."

"We know from previous research that children’s early years school performance and family background are two of the strongest predictors of their later educational achievement."

“This finding suggests that even the small benefits of school quality for students’ individual outcomes can be largely attributed to schools’ selection of student intake, not to their influence on academic progress or ‘added value’."

An Ofsted spokesperson said:

"It’s not our ratings that impact on outcomes for pupils, it’s the quality of education that a school provides, which is down to the hard work of the staff. Our judgments recognise the schools that are changing lives – and we’ve found a close link between the progress pupils make at a school and its Ofsted rating. But above all, our inspection reports focus on what parents care most about: what it is like to be a child at a school, and what the school does well or could do better. And 8 out of 10 parents tell us they find our work useful."


Food for thought...

Author: Lewis Tandy

School quality ratings are weak predictors of students’ achievement and wellbeing is published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (JCPP).