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Accountability, Leadership, OFSTED

Let’s Go Big or Go Home: Laying the Foundations of Workload Reform

Workload reduction isn’t one thing; it’s different things to different people.  Planning, marking, data and making resources could be a burden or a core part of their professional work; it may vary depending on the level of collaboration and extent of autonomy allowed.

If we are to really address workload we will need to think big; tinkering is likely to lead to greater rather than less frustration, within the profession.  There are some quick wins – 3 Workload Busters for @educationgovuk – but laying the foundations of substantive workload reform will require more radical thinking with long term thoughtful implementation.

It would help if we could collectively agree on the problem or at least get a majority view.  Here is my starter for 10: the accountability system is collectively driving too much of the wrong type of work; teachers’ contact ratio – the amount of time actually spent in front of a class – is currently too high; we are wasting each other’s time implementing too many things, including things which have little impact, and we exacerbate the problem by providing poor quality irrelevant CPD.  A lack of funding for services associated with children who have acute or chronic high needs – educational, social and mental health – is sapping teachers’ time and energy.

Performance Tables

Politically these tables are considered important; working with the grain of the current system we are more likely to be able to change them than get rid of them all together.

For example, most of the measures in the secondary performance tables measure pretty much the same thing; the destinations data is the exception.  A school effectiveness measure should be based on Progress 8 but amended to be multi-year, contextualised, outliers removed and off rolled pupils added back in.  This would address some of the perverse behaviours currently seen in the system.  There could be an attainment measure added focussed on a national priority; for example, the attainment of white disadvantaged children.  This specific measure would be in place for a decade and viewed at a school but more importantly a national level and finally an inclusion measure.

There are other things we value in education; we may have to accept that measuring them may not be efficient or reliable or may lead to counterproductive/unforeseen side effects.  It may just be better to accept this for the time being.

Don’t Inspect, Audit Safeguarding

This may seem an odd one but stay with me for the moment.  Safeguarding our young people against extremism, neglect and abuse will sadly be need for many decades to come.  A lightening strike, as part of an inspection process, many years apart, isn’t the correct approach.  An external audit style approach with checks plus continual improvement and strengthening of a school’s approach is much more appropriate and effective.

The same legal requirement could be placed on any organisation that gathers children together.  This would allow the issue of unregistered schools to be more effectively and quickly addressed.  It may also bring an end to the standoff between Sunday Schools and Ofsted; continuously improving the safety of our children, yes but being inspected, no.

Radically Reform Ofsted

These two changes would provide the foundation for a radical change of Ofsted.  The need to visit every school would no longer be required.  Safeguarding is enhanced; standards with known measures of reliability may be checked; idiosyncratic inspection processes, it really does depend who turns up at the school gate, can be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Ofsted’s role would be limited to that of a regulator; rather than the mushrooming roles as a research organisation; publisher of papers and definer of the curriculum.  Visits to schools would only occur where the contextualised standards were poor over time; no need for any grades.  An in depth report, compiled over many months, as to what the deep rooted issues are.

I can’t see any real sustainable improvements in workload until we change the monitoring and surveillance culture we have developed both nationally and in schools.  More trust, greater professional responsibility and enhanced professional development all have a part to play in the culture we now need to build.

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