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Ofsted #MythBuster – Speaking Truth to Power

If you amend the title slightly – speaking truth to power, discuss – you end up with the type of question I might ask when helping some of our Sixth Formers prepare for a university interview. They tend to dive straight in rather than dissecting the statement and starting a discussion around the two axes of the question; truth and power.

“Anyone who assumes that the high value I place on evidence and data means that I am reluctant to speak truth to power will find themselves mistaken. In fact, it is the use of robust evidence and data that gives Ofsted the authority to challenge, on behalf of the minority of children who are being let down.”

The above quote is taken from Amanda Spielman’s speech at the 2017 ASCL Conference; it may have been better to state, “We will never knowingly or willingly say things which are incorrect, however, we do not and cannot speak absolute truth. It’s impossible and we recognise this as an organisation. When inspectors have literally been in a school for a couple of hours they are having the best punt they can at what has occurred in the tens/hundreds of thousands of hours of teaching they have not seen. In reality, this is now an untenable position for us.”
Ofsted doesn’t just speak to the powerful; it also speaks to schools, school leaders, teachers and support staff who feel increasingly powerless as the inspection machine rolls over them. Bus loads (note the plural) of school leaders and many teachers have lost their job due the over bloated, ill-informed accountability system we have in place. There has to be a bottom line; this is part of us being responsible as a profession and school leaders. But responsibility cuts two ways; to both our children and our staff. Without the latter the former are improverished.

I do not speak from an appointed position of authority about other schools. I do not speak for the powerless; I have no such mandate. I do not and never have spoken absolute truth; I just give a perspective in the most honest way I can. This is based on my experiences, limited as they are, and my beliefs or if you prefer biases. I’ll try to use evidence, with it its limitations, to inform that perspective.

Photo Credit: Bob~Barley Time via Flickr cc

In “Creating the Schools Our Children Need”, Dylan Wiliam looks at the folly of school improvement policies based on sacking poor teachers. It is unbelievably difficult to identify, with any certainty, the poorest performing teachers; unless you have eleven or so years on your hands.

Good teachers have bad days and bad teachers have good days; the same teacher will appear better in front of “a class of highly motivated, well-prepared students from affluent backgrounds. It is very hard, if not impossible, to distinguish between motivated students being badly taught and less motivated students being well taught”; teachers will tend towards short term gains in performance, on selected measures, potentially at the cost of longer term learning; depending upon the method you use to assess teacher quality the same teacher may will be very differently graded/ranked; even when we can identify and remove poor teachers the system only improves if we can appoint more capable ones – at the moment were struggling to train and appoint enough; the overall improvement is alarmingly small – removing a quarter of teachers who were in the lowest performing quartile for two consecutive years and the extra days of learning is 1.5 days. That’s removing a quarter of teachers for a one and a half day improvement in a full school year!

We are more likely to remove good teachers from the system than poor teachers using this type of approach. The same is true of school improvement based on Ofsted grading or performance tables; schools full of affluent able students look better than they are; serendipity has a part to play – the day you are visited; the team who visit you and which year you are visited. If you’re thinking of the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes then you are not far off.

#Solution4 – Implement an annual Safeguarding Audit process in all schools and stop the routine inspection of schools.

#Solution5 – Identify the few schools that over time, across multiple measures, seem to be delivering a poor quality of education and are stuck in terms of leading and manging their own improvement journey. Wrap a HMI team around the school, who visit multiple times over a year, to help co-construct the potential reasons for the poor performance and approaches required to resolve them. The same HMI team sticks with the school for the following years to see the effective implementation of an agreed plan.

#Solution6 – Where there is no improvement and little hope of it then the Regional School Commissioner would re-broker the governance arrangement for the school; maintained to academy or vice versa for as long as we have these different designations. The new governors would have a detailed longitudinal report and access to the HMI Team at the start of the new phase of the school improvement journey.

Here are three previously proposed solutions from the first Ofsted #mythbuster blog, Consistency and Contextualisation:

#Solution1 – Move to a multi-year contextualised value added score (outliers capped; off rolled back in) as one way of assessing whether a school is providing an effective education; agree a national attainment measure for pupils from a disadvantaged background as a way of helping evaluate education’s contribution to social mobility.

#Solution 2 – Stop grading schools as part of the inspection process; there is far too great a chance of variability, unreliability and lack of validity in the conclusions drawn.

#Solution3 – Let’s think long and hard about whether inspection is the best way to improve a school; if it isn’t what options would be better and how can we use Ofsted as a resource to serve the needs of the education system?



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