Why you should ignore an Ofsted Outstanding Rated School....
Ok - it's a bit of a cheek and a headline grabber...apologies from the start.
Don’t get me wrong I do believe we need a guide of some sort and Ofsted is just that.
What I don't want you to do is discount perfectly brilliant schools that haven't had the gold stamp of Oustanding.
More importantly than anything I'd like you to be sure you are aware of all the information before you pay over the odds for a house in the catchment for an outstanding school without considering if that school is right for your child....
There are a few things to know so have a read, pop in your memory bank and consider them before assuming all is rosy with an outstanding school.
Questions to ask before you buy a house in the catchment for an Outstanding School
- When was the Ofsted inspection carried out (it might be 3 years or more since it had a full inspection). Have a look at previous reports and focus on the targets set - and then see how the school is working towards those targets.
- Has there been a headship change or many staff changes since the last report? It’s worth checking out the staff turnover. If more than a third of the teachers are leaving annually you might want to ask why. Is the school perhaps too focused on the results making it a place teachers don’t want to stay?
- How are they achieving their results and does that fit with your own values and image of education? Some outstanding schools might focus on things that won’t appeal to you.
- If you’ve reached the top in grading remember there are two outcomes next time - you stay there or you go down. To stay there takes a huge effort. If a head came into a school and worked towards outstanding there is a high chance are they are going to seek new opportunities and challenges elsewhere. Would you rather be at a school going up or going down?
- Do they offer the level of after school/wraparound care you need - these things count towards offering you an education that suits your family needs. It’s practical and may not play into the hands of the Ofsted but will matter to you.
- Is the Pastoral care up to scratch for your needs? Schools with exceptional pastoral care may attract more families with children with additional needs which might in turn bring their results down but may suit your desires for a school.
- Does it encourage grammar school or selective education for secondary choices? This might mean many of the children being tutored after year 4 and this can alter the results and might give the impression the teaching is better than it is.
- What is the Value-added score? In simple terms, it indicates how well a school has brought on pupils from one test level to another. It’s not without its own issues but it’s worth looking to see how children are doing. Sats scores are like Ofsted and to be read with a pinch of salt.
- Ofsted also relates to procedures not just teaching - such as safeguarding procedures or evidence of teaching (such as writing in books not just telling children how they have done). A school that is lower down the scale may have struggled with issues that don’t worry you at all so it's worth reading the report properly to see where the focus lies.
- Do you see evidence of enthusiasm, aspiration, and innovation in the teaching methods? It is often seen in schools aspiring to move up a grade and might potentially be lost in schools that have already achieved the top grading.
- Is the school oversubscribed? In an outstanding school, it is more likely to be oversubscribed and you might question whether your child would thrive in a smaller class?
- Do you know that schools get around 48 hours notice of an inspection and they usually have an idea when it’s due? You’ll hear many teachers working continuously once the call is received to get a school ready for the inspection, producing paperwork and policies that they know the inspection team will want to see. Rumours have been heard that disruptive children are removed from school premises and resources appear like magic for the inspection never to be seen again. It's just worth realising that whilst you may want to trust a report some schools really do know what is required to improve the grading and work very much towards providing that information.
There is no doubt that some Outstanding schools merit the praise, earn their place at the top and deliver on all levels but hopefully, this has shown you to look beyond the rating.
In truth nothing beats a visit, your gut instinct will do wonders...more than any report or results will ever tell you. It may be time-consuming but you really do need to visit.
You should also use our forums and the Facebook group to ask questions - we can put you in touch with locals who’ll give you the word on the street. Whilst that also has shortcomings together with your visit you’ll build up a picture of the school better than any public inspection. Ofsted has its place but it shouldn’t take priority for you when looking for schools.
If you have learned anything by getting through this very long article let it be to look beyond outstanding and consider the alternative options.