Is there proof the medicine is working?;Leading Article;Opinion

24th December 1999 at 00:00
TEACHERS have already given David Blunkett an early Christmas present this year in the form of improved tests results. And no doubt it was the seasonal spirit which prompted the National Union of Teachers to add the results of its survey on the impact of OFSTED inspections to the Education Secretary's stocking this Christmas Eve.

The survey may be just what he'd always wanted: almost four out of five of the staff in schools failed by OFSTED believed that the education provided in their school had improved as a result of the inspection process which exposed their shortcomings. In effect, they admit that special measures work to some extent. Most said they had helped them to improve pupils' results.

This isn't quite how the NUT gift-wrapped its survey. It preferred instead to carol the discomfort staff feel when they receive such a verdict - as well they might. No one expects teachers of all people to react with equanimity to a judgment that they are failing their pupils. If they did, it would imply they knew but did not care.

As the NUT points out, demoralisation is not necessarily the best starting point for improvement, even if acknowledgement of the need for change is. It does not follow that public pillorying is the only or even the best way to achieve this. Nor, since the vast majority of schools and teachers are not included among those who fail their inspections, is this necessarily the most efficient way of bringing about wider school improvement. Among those teachers in the 97 per cent of schools which were not failed, only about one in four of those sampled believed OFSTED helped improve standards.

But should the finding that teachers are maturely facing up to failure where it occurs, and accepting the need for change, be seen as more than a sign that the unpleasant OFSTED medicine does work? Is this the important breakthrough needed to put monitoring of standards on a more professional footing? One in which teachers are not just forced to face up to unpleasant realities by some cathartic experience or the judgments of an outside force every five or six years? But one in which schools are more aware of their strengths and weaknesses all the time and are therefore better able to tackle them?

OFSTED itself is helpfully encouraging this attitude with training courses launched earlier this year to assist schools systematically to review their performance. More rigorous school self-evaluation should also help to improve the ability of heads and senior staff to assess teaching quality as well as its outcomes. This too is overdue.

What David Blunkett will not expect to find under his tree on Christmas morning is any greater acceptance of his proposals on pay. He has yet to convince teachers that his plan to reward good teachers will be handled fairly - by the Government and in the schools - even if the unions have latterly shown a little more goodwill.

Until all teachers become more accustomed to fair and systematic evaluation of their work - judgments in which they have an opportunity to participate and therefore to accept responsibility - they will continue to resist assessments imposed upon them, even when additional pay is at stake.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today