Paul Daniels was a magician whose career was a regular sight on the television. As with many in his position, the phrase, “Take a card, any card”, was a standard line. It could be considered as the means by which education policy is currently being determined, but, in this case, it is likely to be take a single topic and work on that; this weekend, it seems to have been workload.
While I was enjoying the West Sussex hospitality of the #LearningFirst conference, elsewhere, Damien Hinds, Amanda Spielman and Nick Gibb were highlighting the need to address workload, as if it is a single entity that can actually be controlled. Political parties always wish to be seen to be improving education and each will claim to have the magic solution. Spoiler; there isn’t one…if there was, we'd have found it by now. Human systems are complex.
Efficiency, or, in political terms, looking for ways of continually saving money and at the same time demanding improvement across the school system, is perhaps desirable, but saving money can become the greater imperative squeezing out the potential for improvement. In any “business”, efficiency requires a period of analysis, quality planning and implementation, with ongoing monitoring and excellent communication throughout, so that all participants are aware of progress within the development journey.
No aspect of the system be “ring-fenced” and become untouchable and that includes the top down impact of Ofsted and DfE.
Having entered Teacher Training College over 45years ago, taught and been a head teacher within a 32-year career in schools, it is almost flippant to say that I have heard it all before. However, that is true, but it is also true that the impact of successive change has been tinkering, superficially revolutionary, as one system replaced another, often with piecemeal impact.
Evolutionary development was a part of system change until 1997, at which point National Strategies were introduced, with some good elements, but with significant downward pressure that had greater control over practice than previously.
Significant developments were hidden behind the political mantra of the literacy hour and the rise of the subject consultants with their ready-made solutions; the rise of the end to end bright idea, exacerbated by the introduction of Assessing Pupil Progress. This led to endless mini-lessons being taught, with specific points in mind, losing overall dynamics in the process.
It sometimes felt like the plumber’s visit, with the inevitable “Who put this in? I’ll do a better job than those cowboys.”
Each school is in a unique situation, based on location, staffing and resources. The former, ranging from leafy suburbs to inner-city can be a determinant of motivation and aspiration, both important to success. The resources, from building to moveable items, can encourage or discourage potential teachers and motivate students. The best teachers inspire students, encourage them to aspire and show them ways to achieve, with support, space and time to think given by management.
A school’s ability to attract teachers is likely to be, in some, way, determined by locality, perhaps house prices or rents, quality of the building and resources and the general feeling when visiting the school. Proximity to a university ITE department might be a factor in attracting trainees into their first jobs.
The system within which teachers work is often the limiting factor, if they are required to think and work to defined approaches. Teaching should be efficient and effective, but real learning can be messy. Internal supports, such as mentoring and seeing the whole institution as a training organisation might be key.
Consider; if, in every school, every teacher could be internally trained to the capacity of the highest quality teacher in any subject, through 30 meetings a year of quality internal CPD, supported by external expertise and challenge as identified, could the whole system benefit?
Internal controls can sometimes run counter to efficiency, especially with regard to the planning cycles. Schools should determine and communicate a coherent, holistic curricular approach, together with resources to make this a reality. These overviews will inform decisions by a classteacher over the year where they will have the class. By creating an annual plan, they are essentially demonstrating curricular coverage; one source of concern. If these are broadened over a term or half term with greater detail, the medium-term plans are likely to be the only document tat any SLT needs to know that their teachers are well planned.
If annual plans are written in July (part of a closure day) before the year, holidays can be enjoyed more. If the first two weeks of any year are given to the teacher as personal topics, to settle, get to know the children and instil some habits that will be a part of the whole year, part of a September closure after two weeks can be devoted to plans for the rest of the term, based on more detailed understanding of the children.
If, however, teachers are regularly required to hand in detailed plans for every lesson ahead of teaching them, their focus may be on the plan, rather than the needs of their learners. Planning for lessons, by each teacher, has always been a fundamental part of the role, but, on a lesson by lesson basis, what a teacher needs to write down, as an aide memoire to remember for that lesson will vary considerably. This links with experience; an early career teacher, making sense of the whole, might need to record more, which reduces as their career and confidence develops.
Ofsted and the DfE are significant parts of the system and both can appear, at times, to see themselves as founts of all knowledge, although other countries often appear to be seen as having better systems, forgetting that those countries may have been and visited ours in the past and learned what (not to) do.
There are aspects of Ofsted which I would seek to keep and tweak. There are potentially limitations to the system, which can have a detrimental impact on school development.
It is always encouraging to be told that your school is good, even better maybe to be outstanding. At the other end of the scale, a school potentially struggling with a very wide range of issues, causing distractions, will not be helped by simply being told that what they are doing is not good enough, by a team which then leaves the recovery to others. It is a very expensive audit tool and as such should add value to school development, if the country is to make full use of visiting expertise, which we are told is outstanding.
From the point of an Ofsted visit where need is identified, interventions by Local Authorities or others, such as Academy chains can sometimes then exacerbate the situation, as multiple (often simplistic) agendas are pursued, within very tight timescales. There have been examples of heads being dismissed, or resigning, as a starting point. People losing their jobs might be “Pour encourager les autres”, but it has a system-wide impact and questions over who would want to be a head; at its best, it is the best job in education.
Listening to Sean Harford on Saturday, it is clear that Ofsted has data available that indicates whether there are question marks over a school performance. Where this is the case, it is right and proper that a visit should be made and a report made available that describes, from an external viewpoint, what issues might be affecting the school; the qualitative to balance the quantitative.
As an enhancement, I would institute a validation system, like an MOT test, based on agreed teaching standards and CPD opportunities created from PM journeys.
Every head teacher and other observers would be formally trained in lesson observation.
This judgement would be sampled and validated through joint observations during inspection visits. Perhaps it would be better to have a coherent form of quality control, supporting their continuing professional development needs, rather than capability processes that can sometimes be haphazard as they are irregular needs. The evidence would enable teachers to make valid claims for promotion and ensure national consistency.
I’d want every school to be visited every two years, by an experienced assessor, to explore the effectiveness of the school, looking at the local context, local issues and the internal organisation, working to validate school self-evaluation, with one of two outcomes, acceptance of judgements (possibly with advice notes) or a decision that an action plan would be needed and a second inspection visit necessary, within a specific timescale. The knowledge that the process itself was part of school development journeys would take the cliff-edge nature of Ofsted away and make better use of national expertise in local contexts.
Why two years? Schools can experience very rapid change, especially through staffing and this can have an immediate impact, especially if change is at a senior level. I would expect every school inspected to have a detailed description of development since the last inspection and an action plan for the subsequent two-year period, which would form part of the validation exercise. What has been the two-year development, how is it to be sustained and developed?
Would this system be cheaper? Possibly. To some extent, it would depend on the decision on the first proposal (external or internal) and the contact time needed for the second.
However, it would allow latitude for evolutionary development, especially if the system was allowed to run for a number of years.
Will ensure that they understand the needs of each individual child.
· Will have clear plans to ensure that each child is entitled to a holistic curriculum while at the school and will be challenged and supported to achieve as highly a possible.
· Will plan maths and English with regard to the national expectation.
· Will devise a local curriculum which inspires and engages children in learning widely, covering all the curriculum subjects.
· Will demonstrate that learning takes place in many different settings, through extended experiences, off-site or at home.
· Will ensure that all communication is of the highest quality, within the school and to outside stakeholders.
· Will monitor all teaching staff to ensure the highest quality of provision. Staff will participate fully in the school development agenda, taking responsibility for their own Continuing Professional Development, supported by the school.
· Will ensure that they regularly quality-assure the running of the school, with additional external validation as appropriate.
· Will ensure that systems are in place that ensure progression throughout a child’s education, especially at transition and transfer points.
· Will ensure that all children leave formal education with qualifications that equip them for the next phase of study or to enter the world of work.
Support and challenge- LA/Academy/Ofsted:-
Visit schools to quality assure the organisation, based on the school responsibilities outlined above.
· Focus on the senior management roles of quality assurance, to validate internal judgements, including sample joint observations and joint work sampling.
· Explore fully any inconsistencies evidenced, particularly on transition and exit data.
· Support school development after inspection, with clear action plans, developed in discussion with the school.
· Devise, and keep under regular review, frameworks for every curricular that ensures every child leaves school with competency in these subjects appropriate to the needs of life, continuing study and the workplace.
· All subjects will be subject to monitoring through national descriptors that support individual development until a child starts a formal examination route, when that grading will take effect. Equivalence between stage descriptors and examination grades will be established, to ensure all study routes are equally valued, as was highlighted in the 1987 TGAT report.
· Academic and vocational routes will be equally valued, as students prepare for the next phase of study, or the world of work.
· No student, at school leaving age will leave without a clear descriptor of their capabilities, through exam success and broader abilities.
· Children who may not achieve in line with expectations of their peers will be entitled to appropriate personal support, guidance and mentoring.
· Quality-assure Ofsted inspection/validation through sampling and mentoring by senior inspectors or Her Majesties Inspectors.
· Use its resources to explore and disseminate the best practice available throughout the world, to extend the information base for schools to develop their curricula and classroom approaches.
We need all the cards to stack up properly, not create a house of cards and see them all fall on the floor. Children get one chance and we as adults, should be capable of developing a system within which they can flourish.