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School Inspections and School Choice

In the past decades, politicians worldwide have introduced various systems to hold schools accountable. In England, test-based accountability is combined with an independent, highstakes inspection regime (Ofsted), which continues to generate strong debate. CfEE recently convened a seminar, together with One Education, to consider the role of Ofsted and the accountability system more generally. Our speaker was Dr Iftikhar Hussain, who spoke about his research on the functioning of England’s inspection system, including his analysis of the extent to which parents use and value the information provided by Ofsted.

One way to study whether inspections are deemed useful by parents is to analyse the effects of ratings on house prices and the likelihood that parents choose the nearest school. Dr Hussain's research has found that inspection ratings are related to parental and pupil satisfaction, over and above what is explained by test scores. A one-grade improvement predicts 0.10 standard deviations higher parental satisfaction/pupils’ ratings of teaching practices.

Despite this, it remains debatable whether it justifies the costs and (unintended) consequences of inspections. For example, Dr Hussain explained that higher inspection ratings cause prices of nearby houses to increase, suggesting parents are willing to pay for higher Ofsted ratings. A one-grade improvement raises house prices by 0.5%. However, effects are concentrated among schools with a low proportion of FSM children.

Similarly, evidence from one London borough indicates that parents are more likely to choose a local school when its Ofsted grade improves: a one grade improvement raises the probability that parents choose the local school by 5 percentage points. The effect decreases as the shares of FSM pupils in the local school rises and are also mostly concentrated among non-FSM families in general.

Overall, the results suggest that disadvantaged parents are less likely to react to changes in Ofsted ratings. This is inline with previous research (for example Wespieser et al) which shows when analysed by household income, location, well-qualified teachers and community links are more important to parents with a lower household income whilst discipline, exam results and the effectiveness of the school’s senior leadership team (i.e. issues that are more aligend with the Ofsted framework) are more important to parents with a higher household income.

Policymakers should consider interventions to aid parents from poorer backgrounds to make better use of school-quality information when choosing schools.

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