What’s the one thing in education that unions, teachers, headteachers, bloggers and think-tanks all agree on? OFSTED must change.
Social media is a spearhead of the campaign to reform inspection. The irrepressible teacher-blogger Old Andrew has catalogued OFSTED’s contortions since 2006. Bloggers David Didau, Tom Bennett and Stuart Lock, amongst others, have kept the pressure high. Daisy Christodoulou has published analysis of 228 reports on the web. Teachers’ online outpouring of frustration is beginning to influence national policy.
The cross-political convergence at the Policy Exchange event in May on the 2015 education manifestos was striking: OFSTED must be reformed. When the Anti-Academies Alliance agree with Free School trust founders, the tremors reach Whitehall.
Policy Exchange called for an overhaul of OFSTED in March. The unions have too: the NAHT have a reform petition, and the ATL say OFSTED are ‘riddled with problems’ and call for it to be ‘radically and completely transformed’. Now Civitas add their voice: ‘the era of imperious central direction should be brought to an end.’
End the OFSTED orthodoxy
Robert Peal, the report’s author, makes two major recommendations:
• remove the teaching judgement from inspections
• remove graded lesson observations from inspections
Stop judging teaching
The report gives three main reasons for this:
1. Inspections rate the achievement category so similarly as to make the quality of teaching category redundant. In97% of inspections, the achievement and teaching grades are identical.
2. OFSTED inspections have shown a persistently enduring preference for one teaching style, and criticism of teacher-led teaching. Prior to 2014, praise of teacher-led lessons is entirely absent, but three-quarters of reports praise child-centred methods. After 2014, cosmetic report-editing and verbal feedback shows that this preference remains ingrained. This is from analysis of 260 reports. OFSTED has become the main arbiter of what an orthodox ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ teaching style in schools is.
3. High-stakes OFSTED inspections influence schools’ teaching culture through performance management (PM) and CPD. An inadequate grade results in budget strains as pupil roll falls, recruitment pressures as NQTs are no longer allowed to be employed and salary premiums are needed to recruit and retain staff. An outstanding grade is required for exemption for inspection, becoming a teaching school and running initial teacher training. Inspectionsexertahigh influence on schools.
PM in schools mimics OFSTED four-point gradings and criteria.
“Teachers now face a situation where if we teach using direct instruction for observations we will be graded as requiring improvement and then threatened or placed onto capability proceedings unless we change to progressive methods.”
CPD is often linked to OFSTED grades and criteria. The UK’s leading training provider Osiris offers 32 courses for becoming OFSTED-outstanding, claiming to be ‘proven to improve all teaching by at least one OFSTED level.’
Stop grading observations
Rob Peal gives a double rationale for this:
1. Graded lesson observations are ineffective, invalid and unreliable. Professor Rob Coe has shown that in the best-case scenario, two inspectors would agree on an inadequate grade only 38% of the time. Sutton Trust research corroborates this.
2. Teachers in England resent observations, and world-class school systems use observations far less than England does. Whereas 99% of 2,500 English teachers from 150 schools surveyed by the OECD had annual observations, only 81% of teachers surveyed highest-performing countries had. Of all 34 countries surveyed, English teachers were the least likely to say this resulted in positive change. I have catalogued around 50 anecdotes of teacher resentment.
I whole-heartedly agree with this report’s recommendations. I believe we should go even further and end 1-4 OFSTED grading altogether. Why grade schools out of 4 at all? The cult of outstanding is impossible to combat whilst schools are chasing OFSTED ratings. Set our effective schools free to innovate however they see fit, rather than condemning them to perpetual agonising over the latest OFSTED-outstanding criteria.
In response, OFTSED has dismissed Civitas’ report, claiming it does not have a preferred teaching style. A spokesman told the TES: “The arguments put forward in this report are largely reheated ones. Our judgements on teaching are predicated on whether children are learning, progressing and achieving good outcomes.”
In January, Sir Michael Wilshaw said he was ‘spitting blood’ when Civitas accused OFSTED in The Times of enforcing an educationally harmful orthodoxy. When questioned by Stuart Lock about rogue inspectors at the Festival of Education in June, he said ‘We have had inspectors in the past who’ve disagreed with the ideas I’ve set out but they have been rooted out.’
Above all, what this shows is that OFSTED are in denial.
We, the teachers, must hold OFSTED’s feet to the fire. There is a critical mass of campaigners, and we have momentum. We need to keep up the unrelenting pressure on those in power to change OFSTED irrevocably, and for the better. In the run-up to Sir Michael Wilshaw’s promised redesign of the inspectorate from September, we should this summer mount an uncompromising online campaign for reform.
Teaching unions, education think-tanks and teacher-bloggers unite: we have nothing to lose but our chains.