Ofsted wants a fairer way to judge schools in 2019. I’m not convinced and there are more questions to be answered.
I was struck by Amanda Spielman’s interview on BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning. Articulate, earnest and confident, Spielman outlined what the future will likely be for the revised Inspection framework in 2019. But listening to her, why was I becoming more irritated and annoyed by what she was saying as an accomplished school leader? Why was this? Let’s consider the thrust of her argument:
Spielman’s main points
- We don’t want schools to be just judged on outcomes (data) but an overarching ‘Quality of education measure.’
- We want inspections to be fair.
- We want a broad curriculum which is not narrow and designed for tests or external accountability measures. No mention of an ‘ambitious’ curriculum peddled by Ofsted recently?
- We want all schools to have a curriculum with academic rigour
- We don’t want teachers to be ‘data experts’ but experts in the field of pedagogy and subject knowledge.
So, in this short blog, I want to deconstruct these ideas a little and ask a set of further questions for Ofsted to consider.
We don’t want schools to be just judged on just outcomes (data) but an overarching ‘Quality of education measure.’
So, the emphasis is less on outcomes and more on curriculum content by this statement. But then she says that outcomes are still important. It seems to me that Ofsted ‘want their cake and eat it’ by that I mean they still want to judge schools by outcomes based on what I and many others would term ‘flawed’ data methodologies and at the same time have schools commit to a ‘Curriculum’ they deem valid and ambitious. This I feel is very dangerous. The whole point of our ‘academies’ model is to allow leaders greater freedoms and autonomy in running their schools. Now instead of manipulating the curriculum offer to get a brilliant P8 score, leaders will now be manipulating the curriculum to get err…an even great P8 score and ensure that their curriculum offer is deep, rich, ambitious and most importantly compliant with what inspectors judge to be an adequate curriculum. It’s a recipe for disaster. You can just see all Heads re-writing their prospectuses. We offer a deep, rich curriculum…. the neighbouring school’s prospectus…we offer a very deep and very rich curriculum……. you get my point!
So how will quality of education be measured? Well, here there was scant detail, but I expect it will be leaked out in the next few weeks in a piecemeal manner by an Ofsted colleague.
In my view, Ofsted should consider carefully this notion of education? Because it is an opportunity for Ofsted to really get to grips that schools are not exam factories but places where education doesn’t just happen but where innovative ideas are formed and created. Ofsted needs to, in my mind, maybe just judge a school on quality of education. Wouldn’t it be good if Ofsted report just stated:
School A is providing a GOOD quality of education. School B is providing a quality of education that is not yet GOOD. .
That’s it. No more, no less. Am, I dreaming? Such a judgement would not vilify schools but give them the foundation to improve. Staff will be attracted to a school that is not in special measures or deemed inadequate.
We want inspections to be fair.
This really irritated and annoyed me. Her statement acknowledged that previous inspections have been unfair. And yes, there is growing evidence that previous inspections have been unfair. I know this myself as a former Headteacher who had two very different Ofsted experiences in 2017. Ofsted has some fundamental problems and one is the abundance of flawed inspectors and lack of consistency and understanding of their own framework.
Should Spielman apologise to all the Headteachers whose careers were ruined by a bad inspection due to poor data? Should she apologise for the inferior quality of some Inspectors who have used data in its simplest, crude form to inflict damage on a school? Should she apologise for the existing framework which has put data central to its emphasis and consequently has encouraged schools to narrow the curriculum and ‘game’ the system?
School leaders don’t just want Ofsted to be fair, they want the inspectors to have a moral compass and judge on convincing evidence that is clear to view and understood without bias or subjectivity.
We want a broad curriculum which is not narrow and designed for tests or external accountability measures. No mention of an ‘ambitious’ curriculum peddled by Ofsted recently?
Well, here Ofsted need to reflect on their previous work. If they had not pursued schools down the data line with their dashboards and such, schools would not have taken the action to focus on key subjects at the expense of a broader education. Ofsted are to blame here as well as the leaders in schools who have shown no ‘backbone’ to fight back as a unified group but have meekly invested in data systems and created a toxic climate for learning in their own schools. Yes, leaders are to blame too and their crude efforts to game the system be it through using ‘quick fix’ qualifications or through ‘off-rolling’ have failed thousands of children. And what is an ‘ambitious’ curriculum? I’ve asked Ofsted about this and been told to wait and see. Well, I will wait, because I am polite, but I won’t forget Ofsted. For me, there is a fundamental problem in judging what constitutes an ambitious curriculum? It is subjective and therefore can it really be used in an Inspection framework supposed to be fair and free from bias?
We want all schools to have a curriculum with academic rigour
It’s as if I have been working in a parallel universe. This notion of lack of rigour is nonsense. Teachers every day demonstrate high expectations and curriculum offer is rigorous. Just look at the recent GCSE exams that have been made more challenging ……well I say that with caution. They are certainly more challenging for the History teacher who needs to speak at an express-train rate to cover the curriculum and they have certainly been challenging for youngsters – just ask them. But by setting high challenge and then lowering grade boundaries are we just having a ‘laugh’ at the expense of the mental health of our teachers and children to prove things are tougher? I could write another blog just on this…..but that’s for another time. This academic stuff is just empty rhetoric. Our curriculum is academic. We have decimated vocational learning (which by the way can be academic too) and we don’t value vocational learning as a country. (We do so at our peril economically by the way!)
We don’t want teachers to be ‘data experts’ but experts in the field of pedagogy and subject knowledge.
Tell the headteachers and CEOS who are hell bent in measuring everything. Tell the governors who want data, tell the trustees who are clueless about data often and need a smiley table to make sweeping judgments on a school. This is the reality in many of our schools today. To shift away from data driving everything will require Ofsted to really come down hard on schools who use flawed data to whip their teachers to get more ‘progress’
So here are my main questions for Amanda Spielman:
- What criteria will you use to define ‘Quality of Education?’
- What is their definition of an ambitious curriculum?
- How will you train your inspectors to be fully compliant with the new framework and new emphasis?
- How will you demonstrate that your thoughts on curriculum are not just from a narrow, influential set of players in the MAT environment ?
- How do you square your requirement for a broad curriculum with a current recruitment and funding crisis in education?
- When will you reform your complaints process which is widely acknowledged as not fit for purpose by any measure.
Spielman’s announcement today is to be cautiously welcomed. It is good news that she sees the damage caused by a data driven system. I am pleased that there is a recognition that the current inspection system is not fit for purpose. I look forward to contributing to the consultation in January 2019.