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'If the DfE is serious about autonomy for schools, then it should ditch Ofsted grades altogether'

The Schools White Paper did not go far enough if autonomy is truly the aim for schools, says leading deputy headteacher Michael Tidd

Ofsted wants to double the length of good school inspections to two days

There was much celebration on the TES Facebook page last week when the Schools White Paper revealed that Ofsted would have to consult on removing the separate judgement for the quality of teaching, learning and assessment from school inspections.

At first glance, it does seem like a welcome and sensible next step but, before we start getting too excited, it’s important to look at the rest of the statement: the reason the department proposes such a change is “to help clarify that the focus of inspection is on outcomes”.

It seems that while Sean Harford and his colleagues at Ofsted are proudly proclaiming that inspection should be about much more than data, there is a risk that the Department for Education is about to push us back in completely the opposite direction.

After all, what measure of “outcomes” might we be expected to use for judging schools, other than those already over-loaded indicators of SATs and GCSEs?

The problem with removing the judgement on teaching is that it solves one problem, while fanning the flames of another.

Skewed focus

It’s true that too often in the past there was a perception that certain styles of teaching were preferred by inspectors; removing the grading of individual lessons may have been a useful step in addressing that problem.

However, can we really have an accountability and inspection system that doesn’t attempt to judge quality of teaching at all? Or perhaps, worse, that presumes to be able to ascertain the quality of teaching, learning and assessment simply on the basis of test results?

In reality, it seems quite likely that the changes to judgements will just see the requirements currently under the Teaching, Learning and Assessment heading moved to other categories or form part of the overall judgement: nothing will have changed, but the label. At least that would be the hope.

I can’t help but wonder if this wasn’t stuck in there as something of a fop to the vocal on social media. The campaign to scrap lesson grades was popular, so why not try to repeat the success with a similar move?

Instead of playing to the crowds, they should have done something truly productive: scrap the grading altogether, categories and all.

Wouldn’t it be much better if Ofsted simply judged whether or not a school was good enough. Let parents and communities be the arbiters of what makes a school outstanding, and let schools decide for themselves how they want to excel.

After all, isn’t the White Paper meant to be about our autonomy?

Michael Tidd is deputy headteacher at Edgewood Primary School in Nottinghamshire 

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