The sharp end of inspection
• The secret thoughts of a teacher about to be
Three odd letters
If Chris Huhne pleaded guilty to perverting the course of
justice, shouldn't Michael Wilshaw plead guilty to perverting
the course of inspection?
• If a politician's personal qualities are reflected in their
reading, shouldn't Pride and Prejudice be Michael Gove's
favourite book?
• Why is Stephen Twigg restricting himself to clearing up Gove’s
mess rather than setting out a renewed vision and agenda?
He needs to be less of a Hoover and more of a Roosevelt. A
New Deal is certainly needed for English state education.
My talk
• An attempt at outlining a more intelligent, less misconceived
approach to accountability and inspection focussing on Key
Stages 1-2 but hopefully relevant to other stages
• An attempt to confront, and move on from, current realities
• An attempt to avoid utopias and too much wishful thinking
• Hopefully a stimulus for reasoned, realistic discussion
following my talk
A critical time; a time to be critical
• We’re experiencing a time of maximum danger but
paradoxically a time when orthodox approaches to school
accountability could be modified given compromise on all
• English state education is being confronted by a surprisingly
coherent package of measures which if implemented fully will
not only be challenging to implement but more importantly
will radically re-design state primary education in England,
and to a considerable but lesser extent state secondary
• For primary education those elements are (i) excessively
detailed, rigid prescription of content focussed on three
subjects only; (ii) an inspection system focused on a very
narrow, impoverished view of "achievement" in the same
three subjects and (iii) yet-to-be devised ways of “grading”
attainment on content knowledge in the same three subjects.
• Yet the current Ofsted paradigm is discredited and needs to
change; some Ofsted senior managers recognise this
Some current nonsenses
• “Outstanding” teaching and “outstanding schools” can be
clearly and unambiguously defined;
• Children’s progress can be “measured” and then in terms of
two subjects only
• Inspection involves following clear, unambiguous criteria
• The quality of a school’s curriculum does not need to be
judged by inspectors
• Inspection does not require phase expertise
• “Performance” is synonymous with evaluation
• “Requires improvement” doesn’t apply to some so-called
“outstanding” schools
Short- to medium-term realities
• Irrespective of our wishes, in the medium term:
• Ofsted will not be abolished, though its status and regime
might change somewhat
• Wilshaw is unlikely to be forced out- at least in the short term;
• National testing of some sort will not be phased out;
• Teacher assessment will not be accepted as the main or sole
source of data on children’s progress;
• Self-evaluation will not be seen as sufficient for accountability
• PISA data will not be discredited as totally spurious;
• The pressure from politicians and the general public for
information on how “good” schools are will not abate;
• Parents’ desire to know how their children are progressing
(including in relation to their peers) will not diminish;
• Whatever its attractions a “Royal”(?) College of Teaching, if
established, will not restore 1970-80s professional autonomy
What is required?
• Schools accept the need for accountability (including, but not
only or mainly) external inspection.
• The issue is what form that accountability (including
inspection should take).
• New-style accountability would need to be rendered at the
level of the school, the individual child and the system as a
Accountability at school level
• In order to secure school accountability the government
needs a system which insures that individual schools are
providing a suitable quality of education and which triggers
action should that quality not be evident.
• Complemented to a degree by school self-evaluation
inspection by suitably qualified and experienced inspectors is
the most appropriate means for judging quality.
• Inspection involves the making of complex judgements, not
the “ticking off” of activities observed. It is an art requiring
“educational connoisseurship”, not a tick-box, data-obsessed
• What is the nature of inspection, properly conceived?
• “We learn certain things only through long experience and not from
a course in school. How, for instance, does one develop the eye of a
connoisseur? Someone says, for example, ‘This picture was not
painted by such-and-such a master’. He may not be able to give any
good reasons for his verdict. How did he learn it? Could someone
have taught him? Yes – not in the same way as one learns to
calculate. A great deal of experience was necessary. That is, the
learner probably had to look at and compare a large number of
pictures by various masters again and again. In doing this he could
have been given hints. Well, that was the process of learning. But
then he looked at a picture and made a judgment about it. In most
cases he was able to list his reasons for his judgment, but generally
it wasn’t they that were convincing.”
• “The value of the evidence varies with the experience and the
knowledge of the person providing it, and this is more or less the
only way of weighing such evidence since it cannot be evaluated by
appeal to any system of general principles or universal laws.”
Some limitations of current Ofsted inspection
Inspection is the least unreliable form of school evaluation –
but it’s not fool-proof. It has to be implemented by inspectors
who are fallible human beings and can never meet the high
professional standards to which they are expected to aspire .
• Leaving aside the horrific tales of
insensitivity/crassness/incompetence of particular individuals
and problems with the details of inspection procedures
(which I accept are very real) the framework being used has
very real weaknesses.
The current Ofsted framework and schedule:
(a) use an impoverished view of what constitutes children’s
“attainment” and “achievement” focussed almost entirely
on so-called “objective” quantitative data;
(b) judge the effectiveness of schools largely on that same data;
(c) focus on performance rather than quality of education;
(d) claim too much for inspectors’ ability to judge learning and
progress, especially in very short lesson observations;
(e) imply too tight a relationship between “teaching” and
“achievement” so that, for example, “unsatisfactory” pupil
achievement must necessarily be the result of
“unsatisfactory” teaching;
(f) imply too tight a relationship between leadership and
management and achievement , failing to realise for example
that good management does not necessarily lead to high
achievement, nor does high test performance necessarily
correlate with good management practice;
(g) do not require inspectors to give explicit, detailed attention
to the quality of the school curriculum – despite its importance
for developing children’s understanding and values
(h) do not require inspectors to comment on all, or a
representative sample, of the subjects/areas taught by the
Inspection criteria need radically reformulating - with
judgements of “performance”(achievement and attainment)
uncoupled from judgements of quality.
A remodelled inspection process
• The most radical change would be a two-stage inspection
process where reporting on quality is uncoupled from
reporting on data-led performance:
• Stage 1 leading to a short published report on the quality of
education observed (with no prior disclosure of performance
data to inspectors)
• Stage 2 : leading to a complementary published report on the
school’s effectiveness (taking account of quantitative data
and the judgements made in the stage 1 report) and providing
recommendations for the school’s development arrived at
through dialogue with those working in the school – perhaps
through an inservice day involving inspectors and systemleaders?
• Other aspects:
• (a) use of school self-evaluation to inform both stages of the
inspection process;
• (b) opportunity for schools to have their comments published
in respect of both stage-reports;
• ©all schools to be inspected at regular intervals;
• (d) work across the curriculum to be reported upon in Stage
• (e) abolition of “twenty minute” observation periods;
• (f) removing the requirement on inspectors to judge
“progress” in individual lessons
• (f)use of a radically re-formulated inspection framework
• (g) an increase in the length of inspections (compared with
the current model) but not to the length of some earlier
inspection models
• (h) a lengthening of the time-scale between inspections but
still hopefully twice in any child’s primary career
• (i)phasing out of additional inspectors and a corresponding
increase in the number (and in-service professional
development ) of HMI
• And ideally (though less likely in practice)
• A national inspection service totally independent of the DfE
and accountable directly to parliament
• A national inspection service subject to periodic review – by
teachers and other interested parties including MPs and
inspectors from other jurisdictions
• Such a system would
• (a) give schools and teachers credit for the quality of
education they provide, irrespective of so-called “measured”
• (b) give them a greater input into, and commentary, on the
inspection process;
• © answer parents’ question “How good is my child’s school?”
• give governors and the wider community a more rounded and
informed view of their school’s strengths and weaknesses
Accountability and individuals’ progress
• Quite rightly parents will also pose the question “How is my
child progressing?”
• Realistically this will require a combination of teacher
assessment(regularly applied) but also testing (sensitively
conducted and reported).
• Some element of national testing is inevitable in the mediumterm
• But ideally test results need uncoupling from public
judgements of school effectiveness
A modified testing regime
• National testing : retained focusing on reading, mathematics and
basic writing skills
• Tests to be designed to provide both summative and (if feasible)
diagnostic information which would be reported to parents on an
individual basis but not used as the main vehicle for school
accountability (which would be secured through publication of the
two-stage Ofsted reports)
• Test data: not reported on a school-by-school basis but could be
reported at LA level (if thought desirable)
• Test administered twice: at the end of Y2 and at the end of Y5followed by more remedial or more challenging work to be
provided in the same school before transfer
• Abolition of “levels” and of Y1 phonic checks
Teacher assessment
• Development of more valid and reliable forms of teacher
assessment for learning – without the use of “levels”
• Teacher assessment in relation to each subject/area but in a
manageable form
• Yearly teacher assessments of children’s progress in relation
to an agreed but small number of assessment criteria in each
curricular area plus an appraisal of children’s attitude to
• This way parents would know how their children were
progressing not only in the tested subjects but more generally
without imposing an unmanageable assessment burden on
individual teachers
Accountability at national level
• Needed a national body to set standards in a variety of
subjects/areas and, where feasible, to devise corresponding
national tests tailor-made to the English curriculum;
• Test development to be quality–assured by national and
international experts with a view to replacing undue reliance
on PISA tests in the medium term
• Same set of tests administered year-on-year to a tiny but
representative sample of pupils; no pupil to be tested in more
than one subject ; each pupil to be given a limited number of
test items in any one subject
• Data at national level to be published biannually to chart
changes over time
New-style accountability: an overview
• A three-fold system of accountability relating to (a) the
system as a whole;(b) individual schools and © individual
• It would answer the questions:
• “Is the system’s performance on national standards rising or
falling over time”?
• “Is the local school providing a good quality education?”
And for parents
“How is my child progressing?”
I believe that this more intelligent accountability system
would provide an appropriate and generally acceptable
balance between professional autonomy and public
• Do you ?
Sent to the Guardian but not published
• Seen at junction 36 on the M6
• A sign
• “Ferret Show!
• But
• No sign or picture of Michael Gove

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