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13/12/2017 12:20 GMT | Updated 14/12/2017 09:29 GMT

Ofsted Annual Report: What Does It Mean If Your Child Is In A Failing School?

What happens if a school is failing for a long period?

Ofsted reports are a periodic chance for parents to check up on how their child’s school is performing (and the reason why house prices are much more expensive than you would have liked). 

But if Ofsted’s findings for your child’s school aren’t glowing, how concerned should parents be?

The latest annual report, released today, found that 90% of all primary schools and 79% of secondaries in England are currently judged good or outstanding.

However, 80 primaries and 50 secondaries in England have not reached the bar of ‘good’ at any point since 2005.

“While it is good news that standards are improving on a national level, it just isn’t acceptable that there are 130 schools that are in this position,” said Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, a charity dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement.

So what does this mean for your child’s school?

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What do Ofsted reports look for at my child’s school?

By law, Ofsted [Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills] must inspect schools and produce individual reports with the aim of providing information to parents, promoting improvement and holding schools to account.

Founded in 1992, the annual report is the government’s yearly review into the state of the nation’s schools (including most private schools as well as state education), early years centres and higher education.

The annual report is underpinned by data from almost 25,000 inspections and covers key findings and overall shifts in standards across the country. 

How are parents involved in Ofsted reports?

If you are the registered parent of a child at the school, the government allows you to submit your views on your child’s school during the Ofsted inspection.

You will know this is happening because the school will send a letter notifying you of the dates, and then you can use the ‘Parent View’ tool to submit views. 

You may also have the chance to speak to the inspectors during the inspection, for example at the start of the school day (although, bear in mind they cannot settle individual disputes between parents and school).

What results do Ofsted give?

Inspectors look at four main areas - pupil achievement, quality of teaching, behaviour and safety of pupils and quality of leadership/management.

They give the school an overall grade from one to four - with one ranked as outstanding, two as good, three as requires improvement, and four as failing.

Outstanding and good schools are then not inspected for another three years (this changed from every five years in September 2015). 

What does an inadequate rating mean for my child’s school?

If inspectors judge a school to be inadequate, it will be placed in one of the following two categories of concern - ‘special measures’ or ‘serious weakness’.

‘Special measures’ means the school is failing to provide its pupils with an acceptable standard of education, and is not showing the capacity to make the improvements needed.

‘Serious weaknesses’ means that one or more of the key areas of the school’s performance require significant improvement, but leaders and managers have demonstrated the capacity to improve.

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So what happens next? 

A school judged as inadequate, and placed in either the ‘special measures’ or ‘serious weaknesses’ category will be instructed to become an academy by the Secretary of State for Education. 

Not all academies will have received an inadequate Ofsted report - some are self-nominated. 

Academies and free schools are state-funded, non-fee-paying schools in England, independent of local authorities. They have more freedom over curriculum, school policies, uniform, hours and term dates.

Schools that get an inadequate rating are made into academies as this means they can be sponsored by a multi-academy trust with experience of running a number of similar schools.

Inspectors will then re-inspect a school that has been judged as having serious weaknesses within 18 months of its last standard two day inspection.

But what happens if the school is failing for a long period? 

Today’s annual report revealed a core of 80 primary schools and 50 secondaries inspected this year have not been rated good at any point since 2005.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, said: “What we’re seeing is that an enormous amount of help has been pointed at these schools in different ways, but somehow it doesn’t seem to be hitting the spot, it’s not necessarily getting through and changing what happens in the workplace.”

Spielman questioned the practice of grouping failing schools under multi-academy trusts that are “spread too thinly”.

“The solution to the problem of school underperformance is often to look to the strongest providers and most accomplished professionals to effect change,” she said.

“In education, we are seeing that these institutions and individuals are spread too thinly.

“The system is asking a lot of the best multi-academy trusts and school leaders. It is not clear that a small group of large, high-performing trusts has the capacity to provide all the help that is needed.”

Ofsted’s report stressed that: “the lack of change does not mean there is a lack of desire to improve”.

“Instead, these are schools where the demand on the leadership team is especially great,” the inspectors reported.

“Improvement is difficult to sustain over the longer term without additional, external support. Too often, leaders and teachers in these schools burn out and leave, and the cycle begins again.”

HuffPost UK has asked the Department for Education about strategy for long-term failure and at what point a school will be closed, and is awaiting their response. 

There is no mechanism for an academy to return to local authority control.

But the government says academies that are continuously deemed failing or underperforming may be transferred to another sponsor (known as re-brokering), which gives them a three-year respite from further inspections, or subject to other intervention from the relevant Regional Schools Commissioner.  

The latest Ofsted report questioned whether this respite from inspections was wise and proposed earlier “monitoring inspections”.

“We recognise that new teams need time to make improvements, particularly following academisation,” Spielman wrote.

“However, at first inspection we have too often found the schools to require improvement or be inadequate. Similarly, many schools languish for months waiting to be rebrokered and overseen by a sponsor.

“A full inspection too early may be unhelpful. However, we will now be carrying out monitoring inspections for these schools at an earlier stage to ensure swifter improvement.”

Help has been pointed at these schools in different ways but somehow it doesn’t seem to be hitting the spot..."

How much of an impact does Ofsted have on my child’s future?

Is there a tangible link between Ofsted results and exam results?

Collins told HuffPost UK: “As might be expected, GCSE results for all pupils are higher in schools with better Ofsted rating.”

However, although Ofsted results correlate to high achieving exam results, it has long been acknowledged by charities in the field, that economic backgrounds play a big role. 

Those pupils already deemed to be ‘disadvantaged’, defined as those eligible for pupil premium funds (approximately 20% of all students in the UK) do not have their prospects improved by higher ratings, according to Collins.

“When you look at the attainment gap - the difference between how well disadvantaged pupils do compared to their classmates – it’s just as big in schools rated ‘outstanding’ as it is in school that are ‘inadequate’,” he said.

In other words, good schools are only better for those students already in economically stronger positions to start with.

“While wanting ‘more good schools’ is understandable, it won’t be enough to close the attainment gap and level the playing field for disadvantaged pupils,” says Collins.

He adds: “Children deserve to be well-served by the education system no matter where they live and no matter what their background.”

What is being done to help these children?

Following the annual report on 13 December, education secretary Justine Greening pledged to create a £23,000,000 fund to support bright children from poorer backgrounds, who might otherwise struggle to reach their full potential. 

The ‘Future Talent Fund’ aims to reverse the trend in which socioeconomic background determines pupil’s prospects, regardless of their ability. 

HuffPost UK has contacted the Department For Education for further statistics on schools that fail Ofsted reports, being closed, and will update this article with a response.