Ofsted: Can’t get no…(no no no)

John Clare reports in the Telegraph on a bizarre report from Ofsted (a body that regulates standards in UK schools.)

What exactly does Ofsted mean by “satisfactory”: good enough or not good enough?
Bizarrely, it could be either – or even both. Take, for example, this Alice in Wonderland sentence from Ofsted’s recent report on Toynbee School in Eastleigh, Hants: “There is too much satisfactory teaching, which has resulted in students making satisfactory progress overall.” The curriculum, the report adds, is “satisfactory” as are achievement and standards and leadership and management; the school also offers “satisfactory” value for money. In which sense (if any), though, it is impossible to tell.

Even though this reads like hilarious nonsense, it’s easy to see what’s going on. Ofsted will have some kind of scale that goes something like “fantastic, good, satisfactory, unacceptable”. The school gets lots of “satisfactory”s and the writer thinks that it should be doing better.

This is one place where some kind of local holism story about the meaning of Ofsted’s use of “satisfactory” seems to make a lot of sense. “Satisfactory” here gets its meaning in part from its place in the scale. If the scale was two valued, “satisfactory, unsatisfactory” then calling teaching “satisfactory” would say something different. Similarly if the scale was “super fantasic, fantastic, very good, good, fairly good, satisfactory, poor.”

I’m inclined to think the “real” (everyday, non-Ofsted) meaning of “satisfactory” does play some role in constraining where the word can appear in the scale though. A scale that reads “good, satisfactory” is not a scale in which “satisfactory” is a terrible grade, it’s just a dodgy grading scale.