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Six of the Best to Burst the Hyper-Accountability Bubble

It’s likely 2019 will be a year were there is a continued focus on school accountability; Ofsted’s new framework will be published on the 16th January 2019 and the Timpson Review Report is also due.  Neither is likely to have any significant impact on the education system unless the Department for Education is willing to get radical.  Evolution is insufficient.

Without a revolutionary approach to accountability – a massive and long overdue reordering is required – then issues associated with workload and poor retention of teachers will not be reversed.  A Recruitment & Retention Strategy, due to be published this month by the Department for Education, will be another “so what?” announcement.

In the spirit of continuing to make a positive contribution to the debate here are six ideas I would love to see taken forward in 2019.

Stop grading schools as part of the inspection process; the variability, unreliability and lack of validity in the grades given continue to undermine the inspection and education system.  It would be so liberating to hear Amanda Spielman HMCI, as she launches the new framework, say, “Whilst our proposals retain the grading of schools and elements of their practice; there is an increasingly cogent and coherent argument for Ofsted to move to narrative-based and formative reports and away from grades.  We are open to this suggestion, for implementation in September 2019, and would invite people to bring forward their ideas.”

It seems it is almost heresy to say it but we desperately need to evaluate whether inspection is the best way to improve individual schools and/or the education system as a whole If it isn’t, what options would be better (imagine a curriculum focus built around career long professional development rather than cliff-edges, high stakes accountability).  How could we then use Ofsted, as a resource, to serve the needs of the education system?

For example, identify the schools that over time, across multiple measures, seem to be delivering a poor quality of education and are stuck in terms of leading and managing their own improvement journey.  Ofsted has identified 400-500 schools that have not improved on their twenty five year watch.  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.

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’s improvement journey.

For this to become a possibility we need to look at Safeguarding differently; politicians are understandably worried about extremism though the issues of neglect and abuse are far more prevalent.  Fundamentally, improving Safeguarding needs an audit not an inspection issue.  The latter is a one or two hour cursory glance every three to four years.  The former should become a process of continuous on-going vigilance and improvement.  Implement an annual Safeguarding Audit process in all schools carried out by external experts, similar to the financial audit process.

Move to a rolling three-year contextualised value added score (outliers capped; off rolled back in) as one way of assessing whether a school is providing an effective education.  This will help identify those schools in need of additional support and scrutiny.  It will also remove the burden and unnecessarily threatening accountability hammer that hangs over too many schools.

If the Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds MP stood up and announced these changes the Department’s various workload and recruitment & retention strategies may actually have a chance of positive impact.  Without them I genuinely fear for the education system in England.



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