How can we improve the education system in England?
Throughout the past 12 months, one of the most fascinating opportunities presented to me was to sit on the Accountability Commission group for NAHT in March to July 2018; to develop a new vision for the future of school accountability. Here I present a summary for the busy classroom teacher.
The group was chaired by Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of NAHT and comprised leading educationalists, academics and school leaders. The aim? To create an education system that rivals the best in the world – without the current incentives and sanctions that are working against this goal.
Together we recognised the range and importance of all forms of accountability, including financial oversight and governance and in particular the role of governing boards and Trusts. The focus was on the current system that was considered to have the greatest negative impact on schools and pupils: the use of performance data and the role of the inspectorate.
The current problems we believe limit the potential of our education system are:
- The current accountability system limits ambition
- Incentivises self-interest
- Deters talented staff from working in more deprived communities
- Narrows the curriculum and encourages teaching to the test
- Diverts attention from teaching and learning
- Drives good people from the profession
- Provides less assurance of standards.
We drew on a wide range of evidence to establish a secure case for change, reviewing published data, research and testimony, including the Chief Inspector of Schools, Amanda Spielman; former Schools Minister, The Right Hon. the Lord Knight of Weymouth; and OECD director, Andreas Schleicher.
To guide our considerations, we established a set of guiding principles which I share below:
- Judge schools on the impact they have, in helping to ensure that all pupils make the progress they should
- Refer to all schools, irrespective of circumstance or context
- Accept the inherent limitations of data for accountability purposes
- Identify signs of failure or decline
- Encourage school leaders to take responsibility for their own school improvement
- Incentivise, encourage and value collective responsibility for pupil outcomes across schools
- Be transparent and. provide parents with easy to understand information
- Reduce workload and relieve the anxiety associated with accountability for pupils, teachers and school leaders.
You can read a summary of the nine recommendations below.
- Comparative performance data should be used by Ofsted to inform judgements of school effectiveness.
- The DfE should use a ‘requires improvement’ judgement as the trigger for funded support and as a replacement for floor and coasting standards.
- Ofsted should adopt a new role, focused on identifying failure and providing stronger diagnostic insight for schools that are struggling.
- The DfE should end the exemption from inspection for previously ‘outstanding’ schools and commit Ofsted to inspect all schools on a transparent cycle of inspection.
- The ‘outstanding’ judgement should be replaced with a more robust system for identifying specific excellence within the sector, to increase the take-up of highly effective, evidence-based practice.
- Ofsted should commission research to determine the format and nature of inspection required, in order to provide reliable judgements and reciprocal benefits for schools.
- Existing peer review programmes should be evaluated to identify characteristics of effective practice in order to develop national accreditation arrangements.
- An invitation should be extended to the Chartered College of Teaching, through the Leadership Development Advisory Group, to produce alternative national standards for head teachers that better reflect the professional behaviours, practice and knowledge required for achieving excellence.
- The DfE should extend the career progression strategy to support recently appointed head teachers in the critical first years of headship.
When can we achieve this?
If we all want a world-class education system in England, it’s easy to outline how. Doing the actual work is another matter.
The simple question to ask is, do we want a world-class system, or do we need it? Because there is a big difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’. Of course, we all recognise the need to have a great education system, but I don’t believe everybody wants it – and here lies the issue.
The Department for Education will report and offer in their keynote speeches “that we need a world-class education system”, but if they truly wanted to deliver this, then they would start implementing many of the recommendations above in build in future sustainability for all governments.
The wisdom shared by a collective group of educationalists who, not only have over 500+ years of educational experiences between them, but from giving up their free time to publish this report alongside the NAHT, clearly ‘want’ to do something about it. How we do this together, starts from leadership at the very top to trust us to get on with the job in hand.
Why? Because we not only want it for ourselves and for our colleagues, but we want it for our pupils, our parents and for all of our communities. All of them. And only then, will we truly be able to consider our profession, world-class.