When presenting I tend to be either meticulously well organised or go for a shoot from the hip, speak from the heart, wing it on the day kind of approach. Speaking at the Headteachers’ Roundtable Summit, on the 2nd February 2017, alongside Dr Becky Allen and Sean Harford I thought I’d better go for the former.
The Summit is a follow up to the Alternative Green Paper, Schools that Enable All to Thrive and Flourish, and is built around a series of provocations. The workshop I’m involved in is “The Future of Inspection: Universal or Desktop & Targeted”. It is deliberately framed to encourage debate.
Many people in favour of universal inspection sometimes try to close down the debate about the validity, reliability and variability in inspection outcomes. They see it as a tired old debate; it is an issue that goes to the core of Ofsted’s work. I would argue that Ofsted outcomes are too unreliable; I may be right or I may be wrong. After more than two decades of inspection we still have no idea and that is unacceptable. I also question the validity of conclusions drawn in inspection judgements and worry about the variability of teams; which one will we get? My experiences of Ofsted inspections and inspectors are chalk and cheese.
Amanda Spielman’s comments with respect to the overall inspection verdicts not being fair on headteachers could easily be extended to “not fair on schools”. With the amount of data available and its analysis increasingly questioning whether inspection is judging a school’s effectiveness or its intake, it is time to take stock. Rather than a huff and puff approach to rejecting all criticism of the inspection process; expect a more considered thoughtful and analytical response from the inspectorate in the years ahead. Are the judgments we are making valid? Can we actually say this school is providing a better quality of education than this one? The move towards contextual value added is a reasonable response to these questions in terms of learning gains associated with the curriculum.
What will be more interesting is whether we have metrics for assessing other desirable outcomes of education. I don’t accept that an inspector’s “professional judgement” is a reasonable assessment method; it’s like teacher assessment of writing in accountability terms. It is riddled with the same bias, preferences and dangers; confusing a school full of affluent children as one that has good behaviour systems is all too easy. We all have these biases and limitations in making judgments. We may have to agree to spend a lot of time and money putting in place suitable objective metrics or decide we can use our time and money in better ways. It may not be manageable or possible to accurately assess all desirable outcomes of education through an inspection framework. I’m OK with that. Inspection should only make judgments that are valid and reliable; otherwise, no judgement at all is my preference.
Talking of money; a £31 million hole in your budget is a fabulous opportunity to rethink how you are going to do the business of inspection. It absolutely screams at you, “We can’t go on as we did before; how are we going to inspect schools now?” At a secondary level, a three year contextual value added measure based on progress from Key Stage 2 to GCSE, as assessed by Progress 8 is sensible. At a primary level until we have a consistent secure baseline assessment there are difficulties. Inspection can be done from a desktop; reliable (we can measure this and give the statistical parameters), consistent (no longer dependent on subjective judgements) and valid in terms of a school’s effectiveness in delivering a curriculum of up to eight subjects as measured by terminal examinations.
Using a pre-determined standard, for example, at a secondary level a three year Progress 8 of -0.5 or higher you can essentially tell the vast majority of schools they will not be inspected and to carry on doing a good job. The standard can become more stringent over time.
By the time we meet in February 2017, I wonder whether the newspaper headlines I’m using will have changed and moved the debate on. Headteachers’ Roundtable core message will not have changed. We need a valid, reliable and consistent inspection service which recognises the good work done by many schools and leaves them alone to get on with it. Scarce inspection resources should be focused on the few persistently underperforming schools and focused more on improvement; our schools, staff and pupils deserve nothing less.
If you would like to join us at the summit click the image below to find out all the details.