Out of shape and unfit – why OFSTED is part of the problem not the solution

by Ray_North on June 12, 2014

images-12By Guest Blogger and teacher Alex W

Recent events in Birmingham have brought a media spot light to bear on an organisation in crisis. Enough has already been written about the Trojan Hoax affair and it’s a sad indictment on how low we have come, that the future of young people (many in the midst of GCSE exams), has became secondary to a political spat between two ministers.

I don’t want to go into the details while so many of the facts remain disputable. The hyperbole misses the fact that systems are already in place to deal with problems, including no notice inspections for serious safeguarding concerns.

We have an entire course; ‘Citizenship’ devoted to tackling issues of social cohesion and to explore ideas and values of our country. Ironically the biggest threat to this has been Gove’s obsession with a handful of traditional subjects.

We could debate the hypocrisy of this government’s response to this situation while the Free School policy which hands education over to all manner of groups.

However what really troubles me and should trouble the Labour party is the role in which a supposedly apolitical and neutral regulator has become little more than an extension of the DfE, and the Secretary of State. In this case Ofsted has done what those of us in education are all too familiar with; it has turned up at schools to look for something and unsurprisingly found it.

There is so much ‘stuff’ going on in schools that you can probably find evidence to support just about any position. They are such diverse and complex organisations, filled with that most unpredictable of creatures: people, that the idea this can all be boiled down to 4 numbers from 1-4 is puzzling. More pertinently what does that number even mean and why would you even want to do this is a source of significant concern.

I can’t go into all the inaccuracies, the problems with the lack of reliability of the evidence used, the problems of personal bias, or even outright incompetence of inspectors here. It is enough to say that we should be very sanguine in how we view the judgments coming out of Ofsted.

Much of this would not matter, if it were not for the high stakes involved and ultimately how this is affecting the actual education of our young people, and those struggling to provide it. Ofsted judgments are so important that they are crowding out the actual needs of the students themselves. When teachers, have to choose between filling in some kind of form, or engaging in questionable ‘assessment’ to show progress over actually planning lessons or engaging in real professional development, there is a problem. If you don’t believe me have a look at how many courses for teachers are out there about impressing Ofsted rather than the students.

This is a real political issue if Labour is serious about improving educational outcomes for our young people. The problem is not of Ofsted’s making (although they have often not helped) but of policy makers trying to use it to enforce educational policy and as a tool to directly improve teaching.

Ofsted should be a regulator, it should be there to investigate concerns of stakeholders; to engage in regular inspections, with a simple pass/fail grade, accompanied with a number of observations to help schools to improve or highlight successful practice.

This is even more vital in the dogs breakfast that Gove has created in his pursuit of an education market. With so many different types of school and providers a robust regulator is needed to ensure minimum standards are being met, including a degree of financial scrutiny.

Have the Labour Party got the guts and expertise to begin to tackle the problem? If it does not there are plenty of left leaning, Labour Party members out there who can help.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Killingworth June 13, 2014 at 6:55 am

The problem is this.

No one likes teachers. Except other teachers and the (relatively few) people who had made friends with them before they became teachers.

Name me a politician, Alex, left or right or muddled, whose career was destroyed or even damaged by being horrid to teachers. And every newspaper editor, every journalist – every ambitious blogger, even – knows this.

And everyone – everyone except that Rowling woman – who is rich enough to write serious money cheques to political parties – also wants to be able to write cheques to further their kids’ career. And they do. It’s been going on since the mid-60s to my certain knowledge. And before that? For as long as there have been schools, I expect.

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Alex w June 13, 2014 at 8:28 am

I take your point, which is why my focus and concern is on why ofsted is actually failing to improve educational standards for 3 main reasons.
Incorrect focus – trying to measure things that can’t be easily measured, there is hard evidence to back this up.
Unreliability of judgements – no benchmarks for inspection judgments and often linked to the first issue they are inconsistent and quality means that often inspectors are not qualified enough to make calid conclusions.
High stakes and polticial dimension – given the first two points it is perverse to have such massive consequences attached to these gradings. It is also highly concerning that there ofsted is user as the tool by which politicians are attempting to micromanage education. Neither democratic or effective anyway.

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Ray North June 13, 2014 at 2:16 pm

Aren’t you both right here?
Mike is right that people will always, if they can, pay for eduction – which is something which I find appalling – but, Alex (in his excellent article if I can say so), is spot on in that if we are to ensure that state education (because that is what we are concerned about really here), is to properly monitored and improved by a body such as Ofsted, then ofsted does need to become more flexible less political and in tune with the actual needs of teachers and schools if it is to succeed in this role.

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Alex w June 14, 2014 at 11:53 am

Apologies for typo above, was written on my phone!

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Fionauk512 June 14, 2014 at 7:34 am

Ofsted is not fit for purpose and is being used as a very blunt instrument. Your article is excellent Alex, in my own school I see so many staff diverted from what should be the main focus to endless form filling or data analysis which frankly is ripping the heart out of a job that most teachers I know came into because of a love of their subject and a desire to work with kids. Teachers have been denigrated for so long that any protest we raise falls on deaf ears as far as the general public is concerned, there is little sympathy but people need to consider who they want standing in front of their children in a classroom. Some one with passion, humour, energy or some drudge who ticks all the boxes but has no life outside of school. We should be accountable but Ofsted is not an honest appraisal and to have these teams sweep in and know that all you are doing is countering an often preconceived judgement based on your data is why it is such a destructive force in many schools.

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