Satisfactory schools told to improve

Schools which fail to improve within six years of being classed “satisfactory” should be relabelled inconsistent and pushed harder to improve, a report says. The Royal Society of Arts report says half of the 40% of England’s schools classed as “satisfactory” failed to improve within two Ofsted inspections. The figures also showed that disadvantaged pupils were more likely to attend “satisfactory” schools than their more affluent counterparts, with a higher proportion in Yorkshire and Humber, East Midlands and the East of England.

The report author, Professor Becky Francis, said: “Given the larger proportion of ‘satisfactory’ schools compared to failing schools, they are having a more widespread impact on outcomes for disadvantaged children than are failing schools. These schools need to be directly supported to improve and to be held accountable for doing so.” She added: “It seems to me to be genuinely quite preposterous that we have a very high quality inspection system but very little framework to ensure schools improve.”

The issue of “coasting schools” has recently been highlighted by the prime minister and by Ofsted’s incoming chief inspector, Sir Michael Willshaw. Sir Michael said he wanted to replace the word “satisfactory” in Ofsted inspections with a clearer explanation of why a school could not be called “good”.

The RSA suggested heads of “satisfactory” schools should be be required to draw up plan outlining how areas of weakness would be addressed, and to submit regular updates on progress. “Let’s not waste any time playing with labels – the goalposts change all the time and the inspection process is inconsistent – let’s just help every school on its journey to being great.” Brian Lightman, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was “seriously misleading” for Ofsted to interpret the term satisfactory as the opposite of its dictionary definition.