Political parties of each shade will wish to improve education and each will claim to have the magic solution.
Having entered Teacher Training College over 40years 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. Real evolutionary development has not been a hallmark of any system change. It can sometimes feel 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.
The systems within which teachers work are often the limiting factors, if they work to the book and therefore in a dogmatic, stereotypical manner. Teaching should be efficient and effective, but real learning can be messy.
Ofsted is one such system. There are aspects of Ofsted which I would seek to keep and tweak. There are 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.
Interventions by Local Authorities or others, such as Academy chains can 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.
If I was in charge of education today, I’d want Ofsted to perform two functions, separating the inspection of teaching standards from the running of the school.
For the first, as an enhancement, I would institute a validation system, like an MOT test, based on the teaching standards, and expect every teacher to undergo formal assessment within four year intervals, a form of quality control, supporting their continuing professional development needs. The evidence would enable teachers to make valid claims for promotion and ensure national consistency. Every head teacher and other observers would be formally trained in lesson observation to the standards. This judgement would be validated through joint observations during inspection visits.
The second; 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 extended inspection was necessary, within a specific timescale.
Why two years? Schools can experience very rapid change, especially through staffing and this can have an immediate impact, 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.
Basic mandate for education
- Will ensure that they understand the needs of each individual child.
- Will have clear plans to ensure that each child makes at least expected progress while at the school.
- 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 the performance of 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 further academic study or to enter the world of work.
- Visit school 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 mathematics and English that ensures every child leaves school with competency in these subjects appropriate to the needs of life, further study and the workplace.
- All other subjects will be subject to monitoring through national progress descriptors 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.
- Academic and vocational routes will be equally valued, from year 10, 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.
- A national aspiration would be for 85% of children at age 7 to reach stage 2+, at age 11 to reach stage 4+, while at age 14 they will reach stage 6+. Children not achieving this stage will be entitled to appropriate personal support. (I know we ‘re not using levels, but the principle holds, in my opinion)
- 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.