'Ms Spielman has an opportunity to move education forward by tackling this outdated, negative accountability system'

14th October 2016 at 15:01
Ofsted
Teachers are disenfranchised by an inspection system that sticks too rigidly to outdated parameters, writes one educationist

As we are undoubtedly the world leader in inspecting – or rather overinspecting – schools, you would think we could get it right by now. Instead it would appear we have a system, run by our beloved Ofsted, that totally demoralises our profession.

As the new leader, Amanda Spielman, takes over the role of running this quango, perhaps we need to again analyse the pros and cons of this so-called accountability system.

Sadly, there is not enough empirical evidence generated to state whether it is successful or not, so instead we must use the plethora of anecdotal evidence. This, as we know is subjective, but it does sum up the dissatisfaction with what we are subjected to.

So what do teachers say? 

Well, there is little doubt the inspectoral system demoralises teachers. There is a commonly held view that inspectors are often not appropriately qualified to inspect all the elements of schools that they are asked to and that some inspectors feel they are more important than the schools they are inspecting.

Inspectors have to adhere to a formulaic view of both teaching and how to get the best out of pupils. This view, it would seem, follows into views on learning, and of course leadership and management, yet does not truly accept the variables we have in our schools.

What this has in turn created, is a risk-averse education system, with everyone seemingly jumping though the Ofsted hoops. Ofsted inspectors have to follow stringent parameters which are set for them and it seems they become almost disenfranchised and desensitised: they see what lies in the document rather than what is in front of them.

Also, by focusing almost entirely on maths and English, and the data these subjects - and anything else which is easily measurable - create, we are marginalising the vitally important creative aspects of all schools.

I therefore wonder whether school improvement is truly achieved by this system? Do we teachers feel the system is transparent? Failed teachers become inspectors, failing schools become academies; isn't it time to suggest this system is failing both our teachers and our pupils? I believe the whole thing has become far too political and needs to change.

Is it right that life in schools is dominated by the following?

1) The period before Ofsted arrives. Schools sometimes hang on for years waiting for their next 'turn'; many take to changing annually as the Ofsted paperwork decides something new is far more important than the previous year; schools constantly on Ofsted alert become paper junkies, and we all know the pressure of the daily anticipation of the dreaded phone call.

2) The actual inspection. Can anyone honestly tell me this is healthy for those experiencing it or that you can really gauge a school's strengths in two days? These are days of such extreme intensity many staff are said never to recover and so are lost to the profession. Shouldn't an inspection be a celebration of all that is good in our schools, not an interrogation?

3) And then the dreaded aftermath and inevitable fall out. Success is not truly celebrated, and anything deemed failing starts a whole circle of negativity.

Is this a truly effective model for the future? Who are the losers in such an approach?

There is now no relationship between an Ofsted team and the teachers involved. It can ruin good careers and schools. And for what? Do other professions face these pressures? Is this process really the best that 2016 Britain can come up with? Do we believe there is no bias or prejudice in the system, or any political agenda?

We can and should do better.

We all know accountability is inevitable, but surely it should involve more of a relationship. Schools need to share their individual 'stories' and expect to be listened to.

Schools should be able to celebrate their individuality and it should not be left to test results from an already flawed system to determine whether a school is good or not.

When are we going to realise that both adults and pupils are being damaged by this process? 

All schools have elaborate evaluation systems and it is these and what they reveal that should be given more attention. Almost all teachers have an idea of a good classroom and a good school, they want to share this, and celebrate it, but they do not want to be disenfranchised by a system that sticks too rigidly to outdated parameters.

For Ms Spielman, there is a golden opportunity to move education forward by tackling head on this outdated, negative system with one that engages all teachers and celebrates the brilliant things all teachers do day in day out. I do hope this is on her agenda.

Colin Harris is a former primary head and is now supporting teachers and headteachers

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