A MAJOR study calls in to doubt the usefulness of Ofsted ratings as guides for parents and students when choosing a secondary school.

The study, led by the University of York, 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.

The researchers also found that Ofsted ratings had almost no bearing on student wellbeing or enjoyment of school life, with students attending schools with the worst Ofsted ratings reporting similar levels of happiness, bullying, future aspirations, satisfaction with school, and ambition as those students attending schools with the highest Ofsted ratings.

Lead author of the study, Prof Sophie von Stumm, from the Department of Education at the University of 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?”

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

Head of School at York High Rod Sims, said: "It is no surprise that Ofsted ratings are not an accurate reflection of a school.

"They are a snapshot taken at a moment in time for example our Inadequate rating was based on our results in 2016. At the time they were beneath national floor standards and we were in the bottom 10 per cent for outcomes nationally.

"York High has made significant improvements since then and before the closure of schools we expected our Year 11 results to be in the top 50 per cent nationally. When were badged as inadequate the rating we had for personal development and well being was good, we are one of those schools."

Meanwhile Brian Crosby, CEO of Hope Learning Trust, which includes Manor CE and Vale of York Academies in York, said: "The study would need to be looked at very carefully, however it doesn’t appear to reflect what we as a Trust have found. In our experience, schools with low Ofsted ratings have low staff morale, poor behaviour, low aspirations and high levels of absenteeism amongst students and staff. We have seen schools transformed into happy learning schools where children thrive."  

A spokesman for Ofsted 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. 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.”

The study called School Quality Ratings are Weak Predictors of Students’ achievement and wellbeing is published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (JCPP).