Wednesday 30 March 2016

The Alternative to OFSTED

Our accountability system is broken. It provides no real accountability to local parents, those parents who will lose their right to be involved in governing their children’s schools due to this government’s reforms. And at the same time, it gives little or no freedom to teachers to exercise their professional judgement.

I expect everyone reading this has stories of the impact of OFSTED on their local schools. I want to share just two local examples because to me they highlight where this madness leads.

Take the school in my area that was put into requires improvement a few years ago. They were assigned an HMI to support their improvement. At the end of her first meeting with the SLT, she took the head aside, closed the door and offered a word of advice. Put a couple of teachers on capability and lose them, she said. It will show them you’re serious about improvement. OFSTED like that.

When the head expressed some discomfort at the suggestion, the HMI replied, your choice but just remember, it’s their jobs or yours.

Or the school who, following an OFSTED visit were assigned a school improvement partner to support the development of marking across the school. Apparently, they could not possibly show consistency across their books because one of the Y6 teachers was using a different shade of green pen from her colleagues.

This has nothing to do with education.

Frankly, neither does the endless drilling in a narrow range of skills in order to pass tests, which provides no secure basis for future learning. All enforced by the fear generated by OFSTED.

We are clear in our opposition to this outmoded, outdated and unfit so-called accountability system.

But we must be equally clear as to the alternative.

Because there are those out there who are opposed to OFSTED for entirely the wrong reasons.

Apparently it is too child-centred.

Yes. Apparently, the problem with OFSTED is that, like some ageing hippy, it is still stuck in the 1960s and is dancing round our schools promoting free love and child-centred education.

Apparently, OFSTED’s focus on teachers’ teaching and children’s learning is a bit woolly. Inspectors don’t focus on the data enough. They spend too much time talking to teachers and children and listening to their opinions.

In fact, some believe it would be easier to simply let Regional Schools Commissioners judge schools based entirely on their data, with no discussion or interaction at all.

Now this might sound like something taken directly from the pages of Alice in Wonderland, but under the current government, we can probably all imagine the creation of a new, more data-focused system of school accountability. OFSTED without the human face, if you like.

We must be clear.

The NUT stands for the abolition of OFSTED and its replacement with a school-led system of self-evaluation and credible peer review, as used effectively in many other countries.

This post is based on a speech I gave in the debate on OFSTED at NUT Conference on Monday.

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