School quality ratings are weak predictors of students’ achievement and wellbeing

Sophie von Stumm, Emily Smith-Woolley, Rosa Cheesman, Jean-Baptiste Pingault, Kathryn Asbury, Philip S. Dale, Becky Allen, Yulia Kovas, Robert Plomin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: In England, all state-funded schools are inspected by an independent government agency, the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted). Inspections aim to hold schools accountable and to promote the improvement of education, with the results made available to the public. Ofsted reports intend to index school quality, but their influence on students’ individual outcomes has not been previously studied. The aim of the current study was to explore the extent to which school quality, as indexed by Ofsted ratings, is associated with students’ educational achievement, well-being and school engagement. Methods: We use an England population-based sample of 4,391 individuals, for whom school performance at age 11 and GCSE grades at age 16 were accessed from the National Pupil Database, and who completed measures of well-being and school engagement at age 16. Results: We found that Ofsted ratings of secondary school quality accounted for 4% of the variance in students' educational achievement at age 16, which was further reduced to 1% of the variance after we accounted for prior school performance at age 11 and family socioeconomic status. Furthermore, Ofsted ratings were weak predictors of school engagement and student well-being, with an average correlation of.03. Conclusion: Our findings suggest that differences in school quality, as indexed by Ofsted ratings, have little relation to students’ individual outcomes. Accordingly, our results challenge the usefulness of Ofsted ratings as guides for parents and students when choosing secondary schools.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)339-348
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
S.v.S. is supported by a Jacobs Foundation Early Career Fellowship (2017–2019). R.C. is supported by an ESRC studentship. R.P. is supported by a Medical Research Council Professorship award (G19/2). The authors gratefully acknowledge the ongoing contribution of the participants in the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) and their families. TEDS is supported by a programme grant to R.P. from the UK Medical Research Council (MR/M021475/1 and previously G0901245), with additional support from the US National Institutes of Health (AG046938) and the European Commission (602768; 295366). Data for this study came from the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) and the National Pupil Database. Researchers can apply for access to both (TEDS:‐data‐access‐policy ; NPD:‐to‐access‐department‐for‐education‐dfe‐data‐extracts ). The authors have declared that they have no competing or potential conflicts of interest.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Ofsted
  • School quality
  • educational achievement
  • school engagement
  • well-being


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