In recent weeks and months, the response from anybody in government to any criticism of its record with education has tended to be that there are now a greater number of good and outstanding schools than ever before. It’s become Theresa May’s stock response at PMQs, and now Michael Gove is heralding the statistic to defend his record of ‘success’ as Education Secretary, as he bids to become the new Prime Minister.
Of course, many teachers would not respond too kindly to Gove’s claims of being a successful Education Secretary; but – politics aside – is the problem not deeper than that?
Schools are complex organisations, often operating under unique sets of challenges. However, Ofsted reduces a school to a single adjective: ‘Outstanding’ to ‘Inadequate’. This will label that school and define it, potentially for years to come.
Why Ofsted will never work
Now Ofsted’s own Director of Education, Sean Harford, has said that he doesn’t trust Ofsted’s own findings that 90% of schools have behaviour that is good or better. If the recent teaching union conferences are anything to go by, his doubts are justified. The picture painted by teachers and the press is not one of 9 in 10 schools having good or outstanding student behaviour.
Harford’s ‘solution’ – to talk individually to breaktime supervisors and NQTs to get a real flavour of what is going on in a school is as laughable as it is derogatory. Triangulation is fine, but these suggestions show a lack in trust in the teaching profession. It also exposes Ofsted’s fatal flaw.
Ofsted’s fatal flaw
No school can (or should) be reduced to a single-adjective judgement. And no school can be adequately and fairly judged by a 1 or 2-day inspection. Schools will either ‘hold things together for a day’ (as Harford describes it) or tick so many boxes and jump through so many hoops that the core purpose of a school becomes – not delivering a good standard of education that is in the best interests of pupils – but simply ‘getting through Ofsted’.
These two aims are not the same. Ofsted has not brought about improvements in schools at all. For most, it’s become more of a hindrance than a help.
Ofsted will continue to fail
Naturally, supporters of Ofsted will put a particular spin on statistics and situations to claim that Ofsted is ‘working’. But it’s not. It’s failing and will continue to fail. The new Ofsted framework brought some signs of encouragement, in that the emphasis of inspection appears to be moving away from examination data.
The move to focus on the breadth, balance and quality of a school’s curriculum has been broadly welcomed. But can this be achieved robustly in a 2-day inspection?
What’s more, schools will simply feel compelled to recalibrate their ‘paper focus’; from producing reams and reams of data to masses of evidence to prove the quality of its curriculum.
It’s just a different set of hoops to jump through and another set of goalposts to shoot at.
No amount of tinkering with a flawed and failing inspection system will bring about change. It will still be flawed and failing.
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