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Leadership, OFSTED, Redesigning Schools

#Imagine … Accountability, Intelligent and True

If there is little trust in the system then it’s difficult to put in place an intelligent accountability system.  If we haven’t actually agreed the key end points of education for our young people it is impossible.  The current accountability system isn’t working from the basis of agreed end points and lacks the necessary subsidiarity thinking to be considered intelligent – apart from that it’s OK.  Well there is the issue of validity and reliability of judgements but we’ve never bothered about that so why start now?  If we want to be great we need to reframe our thinking.

The Challenge

The Education System in England is good and has improved significantly over the past few decades.  The problem is that we are stuck at good and not really making the strides towards the great World Class Education system that we all want.  This is partly because there is too greater a degree of variability in the system.  The variability exists between schools, within schools and across years in the same school.

The Seventeen Camel Conundrum

A Father left his seventeen camels to his children.  His Will gave half to the eldest, a third to another & one ninth to the youngest.

After many years of squabbling & fighting they went to see a Wise One to resolve the issue…

…. You are that Wise One. What would you do?

My 18th Camel Mug

My 18th Camel Mug

The Wise One gave the children one more camel.  The children now had eighteen camels.  The eldest got half (nine camels), the next got a third (six camels) and the youngest got one ninth (two camels).  In total that is seventeen camels and so the Wise One got her camel back.

The children were helped to reframe the challenge.  That is what we are now called to do as leaders, if we are going to take the next step.

With thanks to Tony Purcell (@parkhouse27) who shared this story and presented me with my 18th Camel Mug.

Reframing Our Thinking – What Do We Value?

The current agreed end point, of our Education System, is achievement and that seems about it.  Achievement is defined, in detail, by Ofsted in its Subsidiary Guidance.  It dictates and drives our behaviour.  End points matter.  However, over the past decade this achievement end point has varied for schools.  In some schools it has produced some perverse behaviour.  The schools which mastered each of the measures were declared outstanding by Ofsted.  Some then struggled when the measure changed.  Think about the key measures which have been used over time.  These are the ones used during my fourteen years of headship.  They can drive very different types of behaviour.

  • 5+ A*-C (with students walking out with fifteen BTEC qualifications or more)
  • Contextual Value Added (put as many students on the SEN register as possible – context lowers their expected score – but don’t register anyone as EAL – their expected score is increased due to their language acquisition over time.  Do BTEC)
  • 5+ A*-CEM (ignore the most and least able, focus on the middle.  Narrow the curriculum to EM plus three more)
  • English Baccalaureate (Students must do this particular set of subjects to make the school look good)
Acknowledgement: Edward Monkton

Acknowledgement: Edward Monkton

Have we defined the end points of the education system correctly?  Is Achievement enough?

If we want a highly equitable system what elements would you include for sub-groups – achievement, level of NEET, entry to Russell Group Universities?

If we want a cohesive society – what are the end points for the education system?  How would you measure a community orientation, a philanthropic approach or a “generosity mentality” and willingness to have a bit less so others may have a bit more?  Cohesive societies tend to be more equal.

What do you want as the end points for your own children’s education?  Most parents say to me “to be happy and fulfilled” – what’s the metric?

Where Does Accountability Fit In?

Accountability systems define the who, how and when we are assess against the key end points.  Efforts are orientated towards end points and people are focussed on them.

The higher the stakes, in terms of the consequences in the accountability system for failure, the greater the focus.

Part of the reason we are in such a mess with Ofsted is they undertake inappropriate roles.  In the table below, I’ve removed Ofsted, from the Accountability framework.  They are becoming a toxic brand.  I doubt whether they will ever be able to gain respect again within the system.  A worry is that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate is beginning to be tarred with the same brush.  When I started teaching HMI seemed to be universally respected, I’m not sure this is still the case.  If we are to be pleased to see HMI they must seek to balance the challenge and support provided to help move the system on and benefit all children.  We need to move to a system where the challenge is shared by HMI and the support is provided by them.

Why aren’t HMI held accountable for low standards in the area they are responsible for?

Accountability must be based on a subsidiarity model.  That is the decision for determining quality should be delegated to the nearest appropriate body to the point of accountability.  Just looking at what we currently hold schools to account for we need to radically rethink our approach.  Imagine …

“School leaders” refers to both middle and senior leaders. The “middle tier” is the term used to describe the responsible body which could be a local authority, the directors of a multi academy trust or academy chain.

 The quality of teaching is a great example – this is for school leaders to determine, the middle tier to quality assure (check the rigour, validity and reliability of the school’s system for making judgements) and for HMI to learn from the best practice then transfer their findings through the system.

School leaders must make judgements about the quality of teaching not Ofsted.

The Trust Thing

As systems improve the “how” of accountability needs to change with it.  When the system is improving those operating within it have earned the right to greater autonomy.  If the system doesn’t adapt to what is happening then it becomes stuck, as in England.  Prior driving forces, Ofsted being an example during the 1990s, become restraining forces preventing the system moving forward.  Ofsted are now be a restraining force holding back improvement.

Acknowledgement: McKinsey (2010)

Acknowledgement: McKinsey (2010)

The main elements of the excellent education systems described above are:

  • Peer Led Support & Accountability
  • Greater Pedagogical Autonomy
  • Rotating educators throughout the system in order to spread learning
  • A system which sponsors and identifies examples of innovative practice within schools
  • A system which develops mechanisms to share these across schools

Have a look back at the Accountability Framework proposed above.  Have the key elements of excellent systems been appropriately represented in it?

Are schools too transparent at the moment?

What would be the impact of school’s inspection reports being for internal consumption only?

What would be the impact of moving the external accountability to the responsible body?  (Would be a local authority for maintained schools or Board of directors for a Multi Academy Trust or Academy Chain)

Only reporting the results of groups of schools linked to each responsible body? 

You need trust to take the next step.

The Possibility To Do Great Things

We can’t do great things if we are pre-occupied with doing good things.

There is inevitably an element of abandonment as we take the next step.  We need the freedom to do what we ought, what is good for our students, what will help us be a great Education System.  This is not a freedom to do what we want butt we must remove the current barriers, boundaries and fears.  There is a need to bring a greater coherence and alignment to the system if we are going to remove some of the chaos.  Reframing the accountability framework, including Ofsted and the qualifications system, will be a key part of this.


You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will be as one


The Other Posts in this Series:

#Imagine There’s No Ofsted, It’s Easy If You Try 

#Imagine All School Leaders, Living Life In Peace 

#Imagine All the Children, Challenged and Fulfilled 

#Imagine All the Teachers, Working Successfully

#Imagine There’s No Chaos, Coherence is the Key (To Be Published)


McKinsey (2010) How the World’s Most Improved School Systems Kept Getting Better


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