10 Goals for OfSTED

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What areas for improvement would you ask of Ofsted?

The inspectorate does not improve the life chances of kids, teachers do … anyone who claims to defend Ofsted having the best interests of the child at heart has forgotten the true meaning of what it is to be a teacher. 

10 Goals for Ofsted:

To be able to choose – just 10 – areas for OfSTED to improve has been a challenge, making this post incredibly difficult to write.  

This excellent article from Tom Rogers has received much debate online:  ‘Ofsted’s approach, in which “outcomes” trump everything, has driven a disastrous dive in teacher wellbeing‘. Not everyone agreed with Rogers, with some teachers claiming that assessing ‘how good schools manage the well-being of their staff’ during an Ofsted inspection would have counter-productive results.

Although Ofsted has good intentions, it has come to the end of its usefulness in its current form, is being outstripped by changes transforming schools all over the country and is becoming an anachronism. (BenneWMark)

10. In, then out!

No, we’re not doing the ‘hokey-pokey‘ here, I’m talking about inspectors who are in-school-one-minute, out-the-next! Gone are the days of week-long inspections with 6 weeks notice, we now have an afternoon phone call to be ready and welcome inspectors with open arms the next day. However, with the latter model to help reduce anxiety and unnecessary preparation, we still have situations where schools can still predict when they may get inspected. We are still second-guessing.

Is it time for no-notice inspections across the board, whether you are an ‘Outstanding’ school or an ‘Inadequate’ one? Let’s be inspected ‘over time’ and stop this culture of predicting ‘when it will happen’ and ‘in-one-minute-out-the-next’ processes! Let’s keep whoever ends up being ‘on the inspection team in the same school’ over a period of time, and then re-visit that same school at its next inspection.

If Ofsted cannot make that happen, there will never be consistency.

9. “We are Outstanding!”

No more banners on the front of schools, letterheads or websites.

Who can blame schools in a system which such an increasingly data-driven industry, where outcomes are vital for admissions, budgeting and job security? All this makes the job harder to achieve and the high-stakes model makes it harder to recruit than ever before.

Please, anyone reading this: teacher, school leader or parent. Can we end the school banners on the front of gates and front pages of the press? We are only feeding the beast … Perhaps we can all be a bit more like headteacher Jarlath O’Brien who said: “I don’t give a shit about OfSTED, really!

Let’s pull it all down.

8. Sophistication:

We need an inspectorate that is more sophisticated in its approach. Ofsted’s repeated claim that inspection does not increase workload, is like your mother telling you that she ‘doesn’t need any presents this Christmas’!

It is so demonstrably untrue and evidence tells us inspection outcomes does feed the recruitment crisis.

shutterstock_490369804 isolated on white portrait of disappointed little blond girl wearing santa claus hat with big sad dark eyes, no jolly, no present Image ID:490369804 Copyright: juninatt

it’s like your mother telling you that she ‘doesn’t need any presents this Christmas!

How many school leaders can truly say they ignore OfSTED? Or even their mothers?

What is the purpose of Ofsted sampling school outcomes if we have league tables too? The Department for Education publishes school performance, isn’t that enough external scrutiny; ranked in order of brilliance and most improved, versus ‘you’ll be closed down if your kids do not get better examination results’. What school and school leadership team does not want to improve?

Come on, find me one …

We need a sophisticated inspectorate that holds schools to account, where ‘outcomes’ are not the be-all-and-end-all to a group of men and women popping into school for a couple of days to sample school life based on an evolving and more reliable methodology.

7. Evaluation:

Let’s end the culture of school leaders gathering any forms of evidence for an inspection. Yes, the mandatory and unforgivable self-evaluation detail has gone; now schools are free to evaluate themselves in whatever format they choose. It’s ludicrous that schools become focused on ‘pending inspections’ when they could be spending more of their time developing their staff and working with their students. Arguably, they should be doing this day-in-day-out already, but working in a school, we know this not to be true when an inspection is imminent.

I don’t care how good you or your school are, or how much a school leadership team says we just get on with the job, every teacher cares about being judged and this is why the anxiety levels are exacerbated when an inspection is due.

Teachers by default, care about the work they do.

Pioneering free schools, greater freedoms, more readily available research and social media are proving transformative, and Ofsted is struggling to respond. (BenneWMark)

6. Overall Judgement:

We need to eradicate poor decisions and have inspectors inspect inspection teams. Including, inspections with pre-RAISE online data for schools judged using invalidated data, versus a landscape against all other schools judged with validated data. It just doesn’t make sense to assess schools on different starting points.

If evidence suggests that lesson observations are unreliable and not valid, is there a high probability that Ofsted inspections and their outcomes are equally the same? I remember in May 2015 and I had a one-to-one with Ofsted and posed 9 Questions for Sean Harford: it was suggested that if humans are part of the process, then the result would always have 99% chance of reliability. Therefore, some incorrect judgements could be made.

Please can we have a system – if we are to keep one – and move from the current four-graded system to just two overall judgements.

  • Good and
  • Not Yet Good.

That’s it!

You’re either okay or you’re not; removing the ‘outstanding’ label takes away the endless ‘perfection pressure’ out of the system and loosens up the shackles for schools to work to the best of their ability; to aim to be what every parents wants: a ‘good’ local school.

5. Peer-Led:

In the near future, I hope schools, school leaders and teachers are monitoring and evaluating in peer-to-peer networks, in a more developmental sense and not in the current ‘high-stakes’ format that we have come to associate Ofsted with today.

Rather than looking overseas, let’s look closer to home for Ofsted reforms and use the model from the Isle of Man: Geoff Moorcroft, the Director of Education says “School Self Review and Evaluation (SSRE) is raising standards for the benefit of pupils”. There is an example of a report here, which does contain ‘good’ statements and a concise conclusion. Yet, it is clearly written by the school’s headteacher based on external validation. It’s like an English school publishing their self-evaluation on their website.

All schools take part in SSRE, making judgments about themselves that are externally validated.

‘SSRE is an ongoing continual process, not just a one-off inspection. SSRE requires schools to evaluate what they are doing well and where they need to improve. The [external] validation either confirms a school’s judgments or helps it re-evaluate them – perhaps finding, for example, that a school has been overly self-critical or that it doesn’t quite yet have evidence to support a judgment … The main aim of the validation process is to provide professional support to schools to help them to refine their own judgments. (Moorcroft: July 2016)

The first SSRE cycle took place from 2008 to 2011 and a second cycle started in September 2013, is now complete. Clearly, England is behind with this process and I’m certain the Isle of Man is already making progress.

4. Teaching, Learning and Assessment:

In March 2106, the Department for Education published their White Paper: Education Excellence Everywhere. In the School Inspections section (page 107), the following paragraphs were noteworthy:

Ofsted will consult on removing the separate graded judgments on the quality of teaching, learning and assessment to help clarify that the focus of inspection is on outcomes and to reduce burdens on schools and teachers.

Originally I did champion the removal of teaching and learning from school inspections, but now I’ve taken a swift U-turn and want to campaign for its inclusion in any framework.

If we remove a judgement on ‘Teaching, Learning and Assessment’, this strengthens Ofsted to report on other sources of evidence to determine how teaching is operating day-to-day. They will be looking at ‘over-time’ outcomes. Most likely, this will be levels of progress, attainment and achievement, and thus, empowering inspections to look even closer at data and league tables in RAISE online reports, dashboards and the like.

If we truly want to take an innovative step forward, the Department of Education and Ofsted need to recognise, the data is only one aspect of looking at the successes of the ‘whole-child’. Until we are in a position to consider this, inspections will still force schools to game the system in terms of league tables, therefore supporting an unnecessary workload in preparation for impending inspections.

I mean, what school has not ‘gamed the system’ with examination entries to fend off Ofsted and protect the workforce? I know of large academy chains doing it still to this day …

3. Less high-stakes:

With decisions being less than favourable and increasing academy chains and their big-wigs sat in ivory towers, a poor decision – even when accurate – can lead to unnecessary culling and academy chains palming-off teachers and school leaders who have not made the desired benchmark.

An overall judgement of a school is just one aspect of evaluation in two days. We know Ofsted does not look at everything a school does, nor consider how far Ahmed and Sarah have come on since they last ate a hot dinner with their new foster parents. Data does not tell the overall picture of one child.

See ‘overall judgement’ goal no. 6 above for a solution.

2. Controls workload and workflow:

We already know that teachers in England work the longest hours and get paid the least.

Only a few years ago, information written in the School Inspection Handbook was translated and interpreted by 25,000 schools. Soon enough, rumours and Ofsted quick-wins became the norm. Learning styles, VAK and triple-marking made teachers jump through hoops, culling their creativity.

Today, gimmicks and fads are high on the agenda and OfSTED is working harder to eliminate preferences in inspection reports and dispel myths in their publications. More work needs to be done to report ‘rogue inspectors’ who still grade lessons, but Cladingbowl and Harford were very clear: teachers should report them.

Recent efforts to bust myths have been warmly received and we need more of them, much more regularly. I’m still astonished how few schools and teachers are aware of these helpful documents. If you are not following Ofsted’s blogs, then I highly suggest you do so and share them widely with your colleagues.

1. Bias:

We need inspections and inspectors to be free from preferences. This is difficult to achieve when humans are involved.

With preferences impacting on school inspection outcomes, I’m not quite sure how ‘final reports’ can refrain from advocating a particular style over any other which leads to a better or worse inspection outcome. If a school wishes to promote knowledge over skills, have students sit in rows repeating mantras or working in groups using iPads, that is their prerogative.

It should not be for Ofsted to comment on what they like to see. For me, a set of bullet points with little or no commentary would lead to less interpretation.


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