Challenging Ofsted Blogging Policies and Free Speech


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How do Ofsted decide what to publish on their blog, and what not to publish?

Ofsted have been ‘blogging’ thoughts, research and opinion on the Gov.uk website for a number of years; what policy do they use to approve/deny general public commentary?

Ofsted has a blog for schools and colleges and another for social care providers. They use a WordPress platform and offer guidance to those who write inside it, and advice for those who write a comment.

Over the last 2 years, I’ve been a regular commentator on Ofsted blog posts – 17 attempts in total. However, it appears that comments are approved at random and authors (of each post) take a selective approach at responding to members of the public. This is quite surprising in a period of time where our government value free speech.

In February 2021, Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson said, “in amongst the oddball, incorrect, challenging or downright offensive ideas will be found those that will transform our society and revolutionise our worldviews” (Higher education: free speech and academic freedom, page 4)

It’s clear that our organisations must also live up to this vision…

Analysis of Ofsted blog commentary

My last commentary was on the ‘Geography in outstanding’ primary schools‘ and you can read my analysis of this in full in the latter half of this post. This introduction is a summary of some of the blogs I have commented on, and if I have received a reply or not.

  1. Cognitive load theory (February 2019; comment approved; with reply)
  2. Subject curriculum groups (February 2019; comment approved; no reply)
  3. The draft education inspection framework (March 2019; comment approved; no reply)
  4. Inspecting of exempt outstanding schools (May 2019; comment approved; no reply)
  5. What is off-rolling? (May 2019; comment approved; no reply)
  6. Busting the ‘intent’ myth (July 2019; comment approved; no reply)
  7. Parent view (July 2019; comment approved; no reply)
  8. Inspecting under the EIF (July 2019; comment approved; with reply)
  9. Off-rolling (September 2019; comment approved; with reply)
  10. Deep dives (October 2019; comment approved; with reply)
  11. Ofsted latest statistics (December 2019; comment approved; with reply)
  12. Making curriculum decisions (February 2020; comment approved; with reply)
  13. Curriculum transition (February 2020, comment approved; with reply
  14. Our inspection handbook has changed (April 2021; comment approved; no reply)
  15. Spring term monitoring (April 2021; comment approved; no reply)
  16. History in outstanding’ primary schools (April 2021; comment approved; no reply)
  17. Geography in outstanding’ primary schools (May 2021; approved; with reply two weeks later)
  18. and, Our inspections of professional development for teachers – what to expect (June 2021; comment pending)

Worth noting, that some posts do not allow the general public to comment, whereas others do.

Key questions for Ofsted bloggers…

There are a few questions I’d like to pose:

  1. Does Ofsted have a blogger-policy?
  2. If so, what is the timeframe for approving and responding to comments?
  3. How did they choose who (or not) to reply to?
  4. Is it the ‘author’ of the blog post who manages the replies, or the Ofsted marketing team?
  5. How do ‘Ofsted bloggers’ determine who to reply to or not?
  6. If not, should Ofsted create a policy for its bloggers?
  7. How does Ofsted determine which blogs to have ‘comments on/off’?
  8. Should this decision-making be public knowledge?

The only information is this official guidance on the Gov.uk website, published in 2016 and last updated in May 2021.

Geography in ‘outstanding’ primary schools…

On Twitter I responded with “just under half of the schools did not meet the scope or ambition of the national curriculum. There is hope for everyone.” Then I offered a closer look at the schools sampled in the latest batch of Geography subject inspections (Jan-March 2020). This table shows:

  • a) location
  • b) date of the inspection
  • c) date last inspected as ‘Outstanding’
  • e) my colour coding

Ofsted Blog

School re-inspection periods of time

Initial analysis suggests that of the 23 primary schools inspected, one school was last inspected within 4 years 3. Eleven schools were last inspected between 4-8 years and another eleven schools last inspected 8+ years or more. The last time one ‘outstanding’ school was inspected was on 12th November 2008 with the average time between all schools, roughly April 2013.

Today, SchoolsWeek reported that Ofsted may temporarily extend inspection window to seven years!

Ofsted Blog

Inspection methodology and reliability

Ofsted wrote that they “only looked into one subject; the education inspection framework (2019) methodology requires a minimum of 3 subjects to be reviewed in order to draw out systemic features. This was not the purpose of these inspections.” 

It also states that “the inspections were carried out to enable Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector to better understand the quality of education” and in the next sentence, “…inspectors were not expected to evaluate or infer the quality of education in the school.”

I don’t know about you, but this is confusing.

Headlines reported:

  1. “Half of schools did NOT meet the “scope or ambition of the national curriculum”
  2. “Very few teachers had actually been trained in teaching geography…”
  3. As a result, teachers were “introducing errors”.

I actually decided to read one of the new inspection reports from the sample of schools provided. One  said the inspector “evaluated the curriculum plans for geography… visited lessons … looked at a selection of pupils’ books from the lessons visited with senior leaders…”

They “…looked at a small sample of pupils’ work from other year groups… spoke with three groups of pupils and also spoke with pupils informally during lessons.”

I’ve outlined before why I have a real problem with ‘informal’ conversations being used for inspections with or without SLT alongside. This is not a reliable research method and currently, should not be used for inspections unless work scrutiny and pupil conversations are modified.

How many questions were asked? Were the questions consistently used between groups of pupils? Where “Pupils often struggled to recall places they had studied…”, which year groups struggled? How was prior knowledge evaluated by the inspector to ‘infer’ this?

How can we improve reliability, and public commentary?

Whilst it’s great to signpost best practice, no professional can reliable assess what is happening in a school over one day. This current model is weak and must change. For a school to receive a Section 5 inspection, judged Outstanding ~13 years ago, to have a one-day subject inspection to “better understand the quality of education in specific subjects…” but not to infer the quality of education” is not value for money.

I do not expect Ofsted to reply to my Twitter commentary. They have better things to do, however, all of us have a right to ask pointed questions, particularly on the Ofsted blog – and expect a reply.

My latest comment is below. If it is approved by Ofsted for publication, it should appear on this hyperlink. If that hyperlink remains blank, then Ofsted yet again have a) refused to publish my comment b) ignoring it or c) are pondering how to respond.

I don’t think it’s a matter of the pandemic getting in the way, as other commentary has been published alongside.

Ofsted blog

 

Ofsted is a public organisation, paid for by taxpayers. It belongs to you and me and those who are affected by it. That means we all have a duty to review its methods, performance and its policies…


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