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Opinion: Parents put a lot of weight on Ofsted reports - so they need to be trusted

The then head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw, pictured in 2014. Since that year Norfolk's schools have improved their performance in Ofsted inspections, the judgements from which are still held in high esteem by parents. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

The then head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw, pictured in 2014. Since that year Norfolk's schools have improved their performance in Ofsted inspections, the judgements from which are still held in high esteem by parents. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

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The saying goes that a picture is worth 1,000 words. In the case of Ofsted judgements, one word is worth more than anything else – and you certainly don’t want that word to be “inadequate”.

For better or worse, Ofsted inspections hold a lot of sway in parents’ minds when choosing a school for their child.

The more rigorous will look beyond the headline judgements and scour the reports, ensuring schools will be able to offer the kind of education and experience they want for their offspring.

Schools and teachers cannot help but be aware of the massive power of Ofsted and its judgements.

Of course the inspections serve an important purpose: to ensure learning, safeguarding and management are up to scratch at our publicly-run education institutions and hold leaders to account when they are not.

But that comes with an enormous side helping of pressure, even for schools which are already highly ranked and confident in their abilities.

In this context, suggestions by headteachers in Norfolk that the attitude and approach of individual inspectors could queer the pitch are worrying.

But like anything which involves human input – and, perhaps more crucially, judgement – you can never ensure complete objectivity. All you can do is try and make sure people play by the rules.

And in the case of something as revered as an Ofsted ranking the need to do a good, fair job becomes more important.

Families rely on these judgements; some uproot their lives and move house because of them.

If I were an Ofsted inspector, that fact would make me as keen to do a good job as the staff being inspected would be to show me what a good job they do.

The teachers I spoke to with regard to the “inadequate” judgement at Great Yarmouth Primary Academy said, to a man, that all teachers want to do the absolute best they can for their pupils.

So when someone turns round and tells you you’re making a hash of it, of course it hurts – and that’s without thinking about the reputational damage done to a school ranked lower than good.

Ofsted inspectors should be acutely aware of the weight on their shoulders.

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