Taking the Michael?

2nd October 2015 at 01:00

Expecting the inspectors

Given the kerfuffle around the purge of inspectors at Ofsted when Sir Michael Wilshaw took the whole thing in-house, some pretty basic questions have still not been answered.

First, a reminder of the new regime: organisations that are risk-assessed as “good” will be given “short inspections”. If there’s any suggestion that they “require improvement”, a team will be put together to return within 10 days.

Sounds OK so far. But a government blog indicates that seven in 10 of the new breed of inspectors will be serving leaders from good or outstanding schools and colleges – a lot of people are asking how that will work regarding availability. About 1,400 inspectors are ready to go into schools, colleges and training providers from this month, and another 150 are finalising their training. But where have they come from? And who will be left behind to run colleges?

One bright spark close to the FE inspection team suggests (tongue in cheek, surely) that with an estimated 190,000 adult learner places likely to disappear because of the cuts, there will be plenty of redundant practitioners on supply. The smaller the sector, the bigger the inspectorate, it seems.

Could it be that Wilshaw is expecting standards to plummet, necessitating an increase in full inspections and lots more inspectors? If so, will practising teachers and leaders make the best inspectors? Not according to one commenter on the blog. “On the contrary,” he says. “There is a base of evidence to show that current practitioners are more likely to make inaccurate judgements of teaching quality through increased personal bias.”

Research and destroy

Remember those heady days when the government promised no reforms or policy changes to schools without firm research evidence and impact assessments? Former education secretary Michael Gove even appointed Bad Science author Dr Ben Goldacre to head a Department for Education inquiry to make it happen.

But shouldn’t the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Bis) and colleges be ploughing the same furrow? They already were, it was argued. The huge practitioner research programme under the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) fed into whole-college CPD initiatives, involving lecturers in grass-roots research.

Exciting ideas were shared, particularly around English for speakers of other languages, reaching disadvantaged learners and adult returners, and motivating young dropouts. Evidence was published extensively in TES and on the LSIS web journal Inside Evidence.

However, much of this will end up on the scrapheap. With the end of LSIS, the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) has continued to support the work. A new vocational research centre is set to open and the Association of Colleges is actively involved with the higher education Catalyst Fund, which supports projects that aim to boost innovation in the sector. But this doesn’t have the immediate impact of current practitioner research, which Bis officials have made clear they want scaled back.

When FErret started nosing around, the message from Bis to the ETF was clear: stick to workforce intelligence gathering, “because others do research and it was not what you were set up to do”.

Things look bleak for practitioner research. It could be argued that, as research features in the new Professional Standards, it is part of an FE teacher’s day job rather than something to be supported separately. But who will have the time or resources to do this given the scale of the cuts?

But perhaps the most telling statement comes from a senior civil servant, unaware that he was being overheard, who said the problem with such research was that “it’s not producing evidence to support government policy” and, besides, it was all about stuff that was facing the chop anyway.

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