Is The Fear Narrative Out Of Proportion?

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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Is the inspection ‘fear narrative’ out of proportion claims OfSTED’s chief, Amanda Spielman?

In an article published in The Guardian, Peter Wilby interviews Amanda Spielman one year into her role as chief of watchdog service for schools; he publishes some interesting quotes from Spielman I’d like to unpick.

Does Spielman actually know what her organisation does to a teacher’s career?

1. Opinion

“It is not a job where you simply throw opinions around … The last thing a chief inspector should be is a crusader.” 

Should the lead inspector be mindful of her opinions? Public servants have a duty to maintain a ‘view on behalf of the people’. This is an impossible task. If the top person says it, then there’s a danger 25,000 schools will follow suit.

2. League Tables

“Ofsted and league tables were created 25 years ago to complement each other. Somewhere along the line, that got lost. The inspectorate has slid into intensifying performance measures rather than complementing them … We’re developing a new inspection framework to get back to complementarity.”

Are schools gaming the system? Yes. Teaching to the test or taking less academic children out of exams in order to protect your livelihood, and the OfSTED status of your school, is very much a reality for many. Judge me in this way and I will jump those hoops!

3. A Gentler Inspection

“The fear narrative is a bit out of proportion. You can’t come up with even one busload of heads who lose their jobs because of an inspection.”

In my twenty years of teaching, I have lived 9 OfSTED inspections from ‘outstanding’ to ‘special measures’. Not once has anyone I have worked with, ever received the news of an inspection team arriving on-site with their arms open wide. Perhaps it’s just me? Maybe it’s a ‘London thing’? Maybe it’s the fear of reprisal for being judged?

It’s a distraction to the day job, and when you work in a challenging school, the stakes are incredibly high for not just the school – but for your livelihood. This is the reality for many teachers working in challenging schools across England. It is not a level playing field.

Bloggers (like me and others) are being cited by Spielman, Nick Gibb and other politicians more and more frequently. We [bloggers] are very much in the social media minority in the education sector, but why are we being quoted more and more? Well, apart from politicians becoming more digitally connected to their voting public, we are becoming extremely influential in supporting and challenging the education narrative. We all know we have a responsibility to offer something to our readers – to encourage new teachers to the profession – and I suspect most content is the truth, rather than fabricated.

This is why blogs [opinion] are popular. They resonate.

It is my belief that OfSTED cannot fight these ‘online fires’ of opinion. And it is certainly not out of proportion. To move forward, the inspection watchdog must activate a teacher view service (similar to parent view) as part of the inspection process to support the teacher recruitment and retention crisis. They must seek out the true evidence of what it means to work in a school.

4. Evidence Trails

“I go along to quite a few inspections and the heart sinks when the head whips out the ‘Ofsted folder’.”

Crikey! Spielman attends schools on an ‘actual’ inspection? No pressure there then for those headteachers! I suspect these schools in which she attends will require less high-stake decisions; there may be a selection process for Spielman to test policy on the ground, or maybe she makes the final call in a difficult decision. I’d be curious to know.

Producing ‘endless folders of evidence’ is systematic of a broken inspection process; one that is trying desperately to fix itself.

Teachers enter into the teaching profession for love of a subject and the thought of working with children; changing and shaping lives and the future generation. Alongside this altruistic desire, is the basic need to make a living, to feed your family and of course, to carve out a successful career.

School inspection ends the careers for many teachers and school leaders, and the sooner OfSTED wakes up to this reality, the better for our profession as a whole.

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