Inclusion Now 66

Ofsted emphasis on ‘improving’ school standards undermines inclusion

Inclusive schools, like Melody Powell’s previous one, are downgraded because they don’t meet traditional tick boxes. Melody and ALLFIE’s Michelle Daley highlight school intake discrimination.

Head and shoulders photographs of the article Authors, Michelle Daley and Melody Powell.

Ofsted states on the GOV.UK website that their aim is “to improve lives by raising standards in education”. However, when it comes to accessibility and inclusion, it seems that these raised standards can be more detrimental to pupils’ lives. For example, highly rated schools often have the bare minimum for Disabled students, as they focus on ticking all the inspection framework boxes rather than considering individual students’ needs as a stand-alone priority.

Melody says:

“In my experience within mainstream secondary education, the local school I started at had an ‘outstanding’ rating from Ofsted; however, my time there was far from outstanding. I only ever had trouble when it came to getting any of my needs met, and it seemed the school couldn’t understand why what they had to offer wasn’t enough for me.”

“So, after fighting a losing battle, I moved to a different school. This one had a bad reputation in relation to Ofsted reviews; they were seen as a school full of badly behaved pupils, as they often took students that other schools had let down. Despite how this school was perceived, we felt they were worth trying because of our positive experience talking with the teachers and assistants. I’m so glad we didn’t judge them purely on their Ofsted rating. They were the most supportive and understanding school; they helped me and many other Young Disabled people to achieve our potential as they were always willing to adapt to our needs.” (Melody Powell)

Melody’s argument is backed up by ALLFIE’s own campaign for inclusive education, for example, work around attainment and government league tables, which show that Disabled people are being punished by the impact of targets around achievements and performance tables:

“The government’s league tables support educational inequality, but also helps to maintain the social-economic gap within society. There is huge pressure on schools to aspire to be at the top of the league table. This encourages schools to not take Disabled children (with or without labels) and other children labelled as disadvantaged. It also encourages schools to compete against each other, but at the harm of all children and society.” (Michelle Daley, ALLFIE Director, virtual lecture to Japan-UK Inclusive Education Seminar at Nayoro City University 2022)

In 2019, the Independent newspaper reported that “Government league tables “punish” schools by ignoring pupils’ backgrounds” (Eleanor Busby, Independent: January 2019).

Five hundred schools’ positions changed on the league table “once pupil ethnicity, deprivation and special needs were taken into account, researchers found… 40 per cent of schools currently judged to be underperforming would no longer fall into this category if these factors were considered.” (Eleanor Busby, Independent: January 2019)

Schools that practice inclusive education in mainstream provisions, where diversity and belonging is nurtured, ensuring the whole school can thrive, are being punished and labelled as ‘under-performing’ because they do not discriminate in their intake based on characteristics and social background. Ofsted league tables contribute to increasing social class difference, ableism and other forms of discrimination in school intake by creating a value system. The discriminatory and unjust league tables publish information that reinforces structural, systemic inequality, and divided communities.

By Melody Powell (She/They) and Michelle Daley