Wednesday 29 January 2014

OFSTED: It's all about the kids!

I will admit to being a little suspicious when I first read that Policy Exchange, the right-wing think tank co-founded by Michael Gove, was surveying teachers' views on OFSTED. Suggestions had begun to surface in the press that maybe there was a rift developing between Michael Gove and Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, whom he once described as a hero. But I found that difficult to believe.

Colleagues were sceptical when they found out about Gove's involvement with Policy Exchange. “Maybe they're collecting the details of anti-OFSTED teachers so they can send hit-squads into school”, one suggested. A quick consideration led us to the conclusion they didn't have the manpower, given the likely responses of teachers, even if they drafted in the army, miners' strike style.

But seriously, given Policy Exchange's last report was on so-called 'performance-related pay' and found it was both effective and could be well-supported by teachers, unlike the findings of any other research into PRP that has been conducted, I had my doubts. Add to this the almost through the looking-glass announcement from OFSTED before Christmas that inspectors “must not give the impression that OFSTED favours a particular teaching style” and it seemed that a desperate attempt to rebuild the credibility of the OFSTED brand was afoot.

For a while, I continued in my belief that the Policy Exchange evidence-gathering was simply a PR stunt for Michael and Michael. They could say they had listened but it turned out that teachers actually rather like OFSTED and it does wonders for relieving stress.

But it seems I was mistaken.

I opened the paper a couple of days ago to find out that Michael and (presumably) Michael are serious about changing OFSTED...

...because it is too child-centred!

Yes... too child-centred!

I had to read it twice as well. But there you have it. 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.

Well, I have two problems with this.

The first is that the 1960s were in fact a hugely important time for education, not least because of the publication of the Plowden Report. And yes, it did advocate child-centred education. It even proposed such wacky ideas as children understanding what they were being taught, rather than simply repeating it until it was lodged in their brains (with the help of a reasonable length of cane if they were a bit slow). It proposed that children might learn more easily if they enjoyed and took pride in their education. And these things made a difference. They changed our education system from one in which failure was fundamental and the majority of children were given the message from the moment they entered school that they were thick, to one that attempted to develop the individual talents of each child and foster a life-long love of learning.

But secondly: OFSTED? Child-centred? The bloody Daleks are more child-centred than OFSTED.

When these automatons arrive in our schools, with their agenda of rooting out 'weak' teachers and 'holding schools to account' for the quality of their data, it is the children who are entirely missing from the picture. Because OFSTED is not about the education of children. It is about producing market data for consumers (what you and I know as parents), judging the abilities of senior managers and leaders (previously head teachers) and promoting system-wide change within the market to respond to the needs of business and the economy (presumably preparing the next generation of workfare slaves since there aren't any jobs or benefits left). It is not about children.

Let's be honest, from their performance in our schools, most OFSTED inspectors wouldn't know what child-centred education was if it came up to them, engaged the in a particularly interesting puzzle or problem and gave them a multitude of opportunities to develop their learning. They are certainly not forcing its adoption in the classroom. Quite the opposite.

At least I understand the pre-Christmas guidance a little better now, where they say that “inspectors must not give the impression that OFSTED favours a particular style of teaching”. Presumably they mean that, if you teach an engaging, exciting lesson, centred around the children in your class, they will give you a very clear impression they did not favour it and grade you Requires Improvement along with everyone else.

Now, don't get me wrong. I believe we need a national system for accountability to ensure every child is given the best possible opportunity to learn. And there may well be many OFSTED inspectors who went into it for this reason and want to support high-quality teaching.  But the system they work in is set against them and against the teachers they pass judgement on.

OFSTED is clearly no longer fit for purpose and needs to be replaced by something new. It's just that Michael, Michael and their friends in Policy Exchange are not the people to decide what that should be.

Well, not if we care about our children's education.

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