Sometimes there is a moment in time, a chance to create substantial change. You either grab it or wave it goodbye and the opportunity passes you by. It may not look anything special at the time but hidden beneath the grit is a pearl of great price. Carpe Diem.
Twitter Bombing Ofsted
There is no doubt that social media is having an impact on Ofsted and its functioning. The increased transparency is calling into question some more debatable practice and the variability within the system. The actual Twitter bombing I’m referring to was me butting into a conversation a month or so ago. A bit like photo bombing a picture, I feel I gate crashed the meeting.
There were a number of people typing away this morning who will produce a far better record of what was said than my scribbles could ever afford. What I hope to do is pick up some of the immediate issues and reflect on an opportunity to fundamentally change the inspection process, over time as Ofsted like to say, and in turn redefine the relationship between schools and the accountability process.
Ofsted & Levels: Learning Not Levels Moves Centre Stage
One of the things taxing school leaders and teachers currently is how Ofsted will assess progress without levels. Part of the challenge here is to totally change mindset and rethink our concept of data. Data has been associated with producing a number or letter, current and projected, to feed upwards into the data churning machine. What these grades actually mean in terms of what a student knows or didn’t know was often poorly correlated. Accountability not learning has driven the data process.
Now, change mindset and think about data from a learning perspective. The teacher, department or school defines what it expects a student to learn by the end of an academic year. This can be refined to the end of terms, half terms and units of work. The learning is defined in terms of knowledge and skills. Having assessed the starting point for each child the teacher’s job is to close the gap between the starting and end point. The progress becomes a measure of the knowledge or skills gained. Learning and the child move back centre stage.
The expectation is that inspectors will ask schools about their curriculum and what the school expect students to learn? Inspectors then look in books and speak to students to see what they actually know. For example, if you expect children to know certain times tables or key concepts by the end of the year, how have you assessed whether they do or do not know them? How many children do know them? What are you doing about those who don’t and are in danger of falling behind?
I imagine the data industry, inside and outside of schools, may actually go into decline for the first time in decades.
This Year’s Volatility: Wo/Man Up!
These are some of the immediate concerns people sent me to ask Mike Cladingbowl about:
GCSE results were a bit all over the place this year. In official language they were volatile. Comparison between 2013 and 2014 results is not sensible or valid and Ofqual have stated as much. However, the concern is how long before an Ofsted inspection team look at a three year trend including 2014 results and conclude, “This school is going backwards and requires improvement/is inadequate”. The most recent results are often the most powerful in an inspection. Imagine being an academy who converted in September 2013 and due for inspection in Spring Term 2015 on the back of one set of GCSE results.
Apparently, Ofsted Inspectors have not been holidaying on the moon this year. Before they come into schools they will be aware of the volatility of results nationally. Mike was very clear, “Tell your story”. This may actually be easier prior to any official data coming out in mid-October about the national average for 5+A*-CEM or RAISE a few months later. Be confident, you know your school and students better than the inspection team. Build a relationship with the inspection team, know what the school has done well and be clear the next set of improvements you will put in place. Complain if the team or inspectors get it wrong.
“Inconsistent Within Reason”
I wrote this down straight away, this is what Mike actually said. Part of my angst with Ofsted is around reliability and validity of their grading. From the beginning Mike seemed not overly concerned with this, though there will be a consultation on possible methodologies during the coming term. It felt a little bit, Mike the English Teacher (good with the words but not the numbers) talking to Stephen the Scientist (good with the numbers but gets help with the words). There was actually something much deeper going on – at least in Mike’s mind. There may be a new narrative beginning to develop in some important parts of the Ofsted organisation. This is about “curiosity and common sense”. Don’t just look at the numbers, contextualise the inspection, listen to the school’s story and see what’s happening. Are class rooms orderly? Are books marked and useful feedback given? Do children feel safe and enjoy school? You sense there is a concern that we may have made this whole inspection thing a bit too complex.
We look at every brush stroke but have lost the holistic sense of what the picture looks like.
The idea of “developing a narrative” around a school can already be seen in embryonic form and it is possible to extrapolated this. The lesson grade box may still be on the evidence form (cost of reprinting them all is too much) but it should not under any circumstances be used. So instead of grading lessons you have a description of a series of lessons produced. Instead of individual teachers receiving their lesson feedback, feedback may be given to the English Department, for example, as part of a discursive process within the inspection.
If we are moving towards a more dialogical approach to inspection is there any sense in retaining grading for the individual strands or overall report? Fanciful thinking, read on.
The announcement of a consultation on a new short inspection for good schools didn’t exactly impress me. My rational was, “Leave them alone, they’re doing just fine without you!” Having listened to discussions today and with a generally optimistic approach to life I’m now a convert. I’m now going to become a zealot for the change.
The consultation document, which will probably come out next term, will have a number of elements including a consultation on the inspection of good schools. I believe the proposal will be a three yearly “frank, full and professional dialogue” between the school and a HMI on the school’s strengths and future areas for development/improvement. The outcome, if the school is continuing to provide a good education, will be a letter reporting on the visit. No grades just a straight forward narrative. Currently just over half of schools receiving a good grade overall. Imagine the impact of this approach over the period of a few years. Being graded by Ofsted may no longer be the norm.
Significant concerns may lead to a full inspection or the school may request a full inspection if it feels it could attain outstanding. With respect to the latter if we move to a more narrative approach the outstanding grading may disappear – the school is providing an effective education or it is not. Some parts of Ofsted may be thinking the unthinkable.
The time going into a general election is politically about being popular. If you don’t get votes you won’t be in power. If twitter had mused six months ago that Michael Gove would have been removed from his post, as Secretary of State for Education, because he was alienating the profession not many people would have believed it. The consultation next term may just have come at a very opportune time for the profession. Sieze the day, take the time to respond. September 2015 may see yet another new handbook but this one might be taking us down a radically different path.
Ahead of the Curve
There was so much of what Mike said this morning that just sounded like plain old common sense. He spoke plain English not Greek. I still have lots of concerns particularly around the actual practice of individual teams in the coming months but feel far too positive at the moment to worry about repeating them. They are all pretty much in the blog The Ofsted Collection anyway.
There is a considerable amount of time being put into training inspectors and asking them to use their common sense and professional judgement rather than producing pages of documentation and guidance. The latest handbook is a considerable thinner document without legions of guidance documents supporting it. Increasing numbers of current school leaders are now on inspection teams. I think Ofsted may have sensibly lost the CV I sent into them a few months ago.
The changes may actually bring about a redefining of the accountability relationship between schools and Ofsted. The involvement of HMI in schools that require improvement is a first step, as long as the school leaders and HMI are held equally accountable for the outcomes. To put it bluntly, both congratulated or both sacked. That’s what true partnership means.
Thank to Mike Cladingbowl for organising the meeting. He generously gave three hours of his time. We were only scheduled for an hour and a half. Great to meet up with some more of the twitterati: @debrakidd, @cherrylkd, @chrismcd53, @thought_weavers, @Mishwood1, @jordyjax and @rosederbyshire.
The current culture isn’t there yet. However, we are planting seeds that will one day grow. Roll on the harvest.