Weasel Words in Education Part 4: Robust

There are robust systems in place for the safe recruitment of staff, which assess their suitability to work with young people.

–OFSTED report (selected randomly), Oct 2013. p.6


In [a number of the] schools visited where science achievement had recently improved [there had been a] robust review by senior leaders, leading to a reduction in weaker teaching

OFSTED, Maintaining Curiosity in Science, November 2013. p.26 [emphasis added]

“Robust” is an increasingly common word in educational circles these days.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. As a physicist, I would argue that a nice graph is worth at least five thousand.


It certainly seems that the setting up of Ofsted has significantly increased the usage of the word “robust”. In fact, the phrase “to infinity and beyond!” springs to mind when we view the precipitous increase after 1984. Now, it might be argued that this is merely conincidental: after all, correlation is not proof of causation.

This is true. But just for the record, an advanced Google search for the word “robust” on just the Ofsted website alone gets 87300 hits. (A similar search of the Ofgem website returns just 5790 results). When Google release a more up-to-date dataset, it will be interesting to see if the usage of “robust” will have increased or decreased during Sir Michael Wilshaw’s tenure. I know what possibility I’ll be putting my money on.

Robust adj.
When used in an educational context:
1. [of systems or processes] able to withstand or overcome adverse conditions
2. [of SLT or other interventions] uncompromising and forceful

What it actually means in practice:

    Robust adj.

  1. A system or process that is explained at tedious length in the staff handbook and that has least one desultory paper trail so that we can pretend that this thing happens as a matter of course: (A custom more honoured in speech than in observance, you might say.)
  2. A meeting during which SLT got (a) shouty; or (b) offered “support” that turned out to be profoundly unsupportive; or (c) both


As a final thought, UK education seems to be in the hands of people who like to use the word “robust” a lot. H’mmm, I feel a song coming on . . .

# If there’s something weird
# and it don’t look good
# Who ya gonna call?
# ROBUSTers!!!


2 thoughts on “Weasel Words in Education Part 4: Robust

  1. ijstock July 15, 2014 / 6:15 pm

    Yep – anything can be Robust – even the defence of patently loony ideas. And I can think of a more appropriate word for most of the paper-chases that use the word: COMbust.

    Incidentally, I think Ofsted was established in 1992 – after I started teaching. I saw that 1984 date, but I think it is wrong.

    • e=mc2andallthat July 15, 2014 / 10:39 pm

      Or as Douglas Adams might suggest: let them be buried in soft peat for three months and then recycled as firelighters!

      According to Wikipedia (!), an entity called Ofsted was formed on 25 May 1984, but its current incarnation began in 1992.

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