I have been nominated in the “Lifetime Achievement” Category in the Edublog awards. If you have a Twitter or Facebook login you should be able to vote below or by following the link.
I have been nominated in the “Lifetime Achievement” Category in the Edublog awards. If you have a Twitter or Facebook login you should be able to vote below or by following the link.
How would I like schools to be held to account?
I thought I’d write this today after a conversation on twitter. I’m aware it’s very secondary centred. By "very" I mean "completely".
Tristram Hunt has said that OFSTED is essential. He counterposed the existence of OFSTED with low standards. This disappoints me as I am becoming persuaded that this particular form of accountability is substandard at best, and actively damaging at worst.
I have been sent an audio file from a meeting last night at Warwick University, where Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, was asked about OFSTED by a very perceptive first year undergraduate student. The full file can be found at the bottom of the post (apologies for poor sound quality) but here is a transcription of the key part:
Questioner: I know you mentioned a lot about teacher quality, but I was interested in how that kind of relates into the whole process of OFSTED and OFSTED inspections. For example, in my case I went to one of the worst schools in the country and one of the worst places to go to school in the country. The Isle of Wight is synonymous with just worry…
TH: Where did you go to school in the Isle of Wight?
Q: Sandown Bay Academy. It’s the one recently that our headteacher had been working in another school for two weeks and had not let anyone know, but our school’s in special measures and, towards the end of last year especially, we seemed to have OFSTED in every other week and I found especially with our teachers – and this was you know towards my A-level, A2, exams – our teachers would be more focused on making sure that – with the whole idea of OFSTED coming in – they would be more focused on making sure they looked good rather than actually focused on teaching and I found it to be quite obstructive for us, especially when we were learning, that teachers would get so worked up about OFSTED and so occupied by making sure they, you know, didn’t do really small, you know, ticking boxes sort of thing. How would you address OFSTED in special measures schools and would you make it more frequent? Would you allow schools not to have … [inaudible]?
TH: And did OFSTED fail the school?
Q: It’s in special measures. It’s like…
TH: So your teachers are getting ready for an OFSTED inspection by making sure they look good?
Q: The teachers would be, not so much that they looked good, but like they’d be making sure they had to tick boxes and stuff.
TH: And the response of OFSTED was to put them into special measures?
Q: No, OFSTED would, for example, we’d have have our teachers logging lesson plans for example. They’d be making sure they ticked boxes…
TH: It seems to me OFSTED called it right. If you’ve got teachers not focused on teaching and worrying about boxticking OFSTED actually goes…
Q: Our school went up. After the inspection our school went up because they ticked the boxes.
TH: That’s not good, I won’t pursue that line of analysis. OFSTED is very, very valuable and no one likes being inspected by OFSTED but if you are a school and you are inspected by OFSTED and you’re outstanding you put a big, bloody flag outside your school saying outstanding by OFSTED and suddenly Ofsted is good. So we need OFSTED. I think Michael Wilshaw was a great headmaster and I think he doesn’t accept the excuses and he certainly shouldn’t accept any excuses in the Isle of Wight which, you know, has a lot more advantages than other parts of the country about the terrible schools and as a challenging school system. So, what OFSTED needs to do, and it is doing more of, is not only just going in to tell a school it is doing badly but begin to work out how it gets out of doing badly and how it works for its students and to have that more sort of collaborative process. It needs to be more regional. It needs to have more understanding of regional sensibilities. There’s an argument for the time at which it goes into schools. Should it do two days? Should it do three days? All of that I think can be discussed, but we need OFSTED and, you know, we cannot be on the side of poor standards. We just cannot be on the side of low standards because the truth of the matter is, and I don’t know your background, but if you are from a nice middle class household, a household with books in or from a learning environment, and you’ve got a bad teacher, you know, it’s going to be bad for you but it’s going to be an awful lot worse for a kid from a disadvantaged household. This is their chance. So we cannot be on the side of poor teaching and we cannot be on the side of bad teachers because it impacts far more upon the pupils we and our party work to support and the people who I represent. You lose more as a kid from a disadvantaged background with a bad teacher than you do from a well supported background and if OFSTED is rooting out those levels of poor attainment and poor teaching then we have to be on their side.
So it looks like Labour’s education spokesman is convinced OFSTED support high standards despite being directly told, by somebody who has experienced them, that they actually promote mindless box-ticking . Even Gove has been more critical of OFSTED’s behaviour than this. Labour urgently needs to stop accepting parts of the education establishment at face value and ask if OFSTED really is fit for purpose.
'Every damn thing we've talked about at school this week has been driven by Ofsted, and not by the need to educate children effectively' @cbradbee tweeted last Wednesday.
Even in so few words, the distress and despair of this teacher is palpable. The fact that the OFSTED obsession is interfering with, and often hindering, the effective education of the children is a sad reflection of the times we live in.
I recently learnt on Twitter (from @Melissa_Benn as it happens) that there is a film due to be released in the UK later this month about the philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt.
The trailer below actually makes it look pretty terrible:
Regardless, any excuse is worth it to draw people’s attention to Arendt’s wonderful essay “The Crisis in Education”, a copy of which can be found here. Although written over 50 years ago about American education, it applies perfectly to contemporary education debate and in particular its analysis of the ideology of progressive education has never been beaten.
What proves that it is particularly insightful is the prediction that, despite a backlash at the time, progressive education would not disappear:
…wherever the crisis has occurred in the modern world, one cannot simply go on nor yet simply turn back. Such a reversal will never bring us anywhere except to the same situation out of which the crisis has just arisen. The return would simply be a repeat performance–though perhaps different in form, since there are no limits to the possibilities of nonsense and capricious notions that can be decked out as the last word in science
This is something I think of whenever I hear yet another elaborate justification based on technology, social theories or neuroscience for the same practices that have already done decades of harm. If you haven’t already read it, please find the time.
Gove mentioned me again. Last week, in this debate with one of my political heroes, Lord Glasman, he said:
It is also the case as well, that even though there are people within the teaching unions who have a range of views about the reforms we are making, it is also the case that increasingly teachers are making themselves heard in the debate about our reforms – pro and anti – and individual teachers and groups of teachers are shaping the debate. Those who follow the education debate will know that on the blogosphere it is often the case that there are teachers like Andrew Old, or Tom Bennett, who are actually the most articulate and effective supporters of some of the things we are doing, far more effective and articulate than I am.
I’m not sure I particularly appreciate this description. I hardly agree with Gove on everything.
Anyway, the novelty of being mentioned by the secretary of state has worn off. I will add any future mentions below rather than keep blogging every time it happens. However, I will continue to be amused every time it is claimed that Gove doesn’t listen to teachers. He certainly appears to listen to me a lot more than my SMT do. But, of course, when people complain that Gove doesn’t listen to teachers they don’t mean teachers in general, they mean the education establishment (often managers or non-teachers) rather than actual classroom teachers.
This brings me on to my latest endeavour. After talking to a few of my fellow education bloggers, I have set up another blog to promote the views of those education bloggers who do not simply follow the views that are attributed to “teachers” by the media. In protest at so much of the education debate simply being about people who agree with each other simply confirming each other’s opinions, I have set up my own Echo Chamber for reblogging the views of my favourite bloggers and, indeed, any blogger who takes the time to about education from a perspective that doesn’t normally appear in the media as what “teachers” think. I hope you can take the time to look at it, and follow the Twitter account. Personally, I feel we are entering something of a golden age of education blogging and this will be a good way to keep up.
Update 23/6/2013: On Friday, while being interviewed by David Aaronovitch on stage at the Wellington Festival of Education, Gove mentioned me again:
… over the course of, I think, the last two or three years it’s been the case that there has been an emerging part of the education debate which I think has been suppressed for a long time and that’s the part of the debate where you have teachers – serving teachers – who feel that the sort of Rousseau-Dewey model has let children down. And there are people who will be speaking at this conference like Daisy Christodoulou; there are people who blog regularly, like the teacher who blogs under the name Andrew Old; like John Blake the leader of Labour teachers, all of whom take the view that there was a wrong turning in education and that wrong turning was the dethroning of knowledge; the undermining of schools as an academic institution and that has actually impeded social mobility. So those people, even though they tended to have been eclipsed from the education debate, they weren’t the sort of people who in the past were invited to speak at festivals like this or to write for the TES, but they are now, as it were, an emerging and more powerful and, to my mind, more persuasive voice in the education debate. Of course, all the people I have mentioned are impeccably polite but they do have strong feelings about the mistakes that have been made by the other side in the debate.
It can be downloaded here (thanks). He may have mentioned another blogger in passing later on.
Update 5/9/2013: More evidence today in a speech to Policy Exchange.
This section may well be based on material brought to light by the last part of this blogpost (which was also the source of the Mr Men story):
Another teacher records a lesson for A level English students in which they were asked to depict literary characters on a paper plate – drawing a face on the plate – and then asked to use stickers to define the character’s principal traits – pinning the stickers on their clothes and mingling with other students, while they introduce themselves ‘in character’.
Even if that wasn’t the case, I am also mentioned explicitly a couple of times. There is this in a section on teaching:
Which is why it is so encouraging that a growing number of teachers – indeed the most popular teachers on the web, like Andrew Old, whose blog has received more than 600,000 hits; Tom Bennett, with almost eight and a half thousand followers on Twitter, and Joe Kirby, with almost 2,000 – are arguing for a restoration of knowledge and direct instruction; in short, standing up for the importance of teaching.
However, the following is the best bit. This is what makes blogging worthwhile:
…Ofsted’s guidance provided too little clarity about what constituted good teaching; or allowed inspectors’ personal prejudices and preferences to be interpreted as ‘the Ofsted way’.
As a result, and as teacher bloggers like Andrew Old have chronicled, time and again too much emphasis was given to particular practices like group work and discovery learning; while Ofsted inspectors marked teachers down for such heinous crimes as ‘talking too much’, ‘telling pupils things’ or ‘dominating the discussion’.
The good news is that Ofsted - under its inspirational new leadership – is moving to address all these weaknesses and give us a system of inspection of which we can be proud.
In case you hadn’t heard, when Michael Gove was asked about the research for his Mr Men speech by the education select committee he said that:
The specific reference to a Mr Men lesson plan came from a blog by a teacher who writes under the pseudonym Andrew Old, a Labour party supporter as it happens but also a very informative voice in the education debate. Of course just because something appears on a blogpost, even if it is by a well-respected individual, you check. I visited the original site and I saw the material and was actually surprised by it.
Thanks to the friendly journalist (you know who you are) who transcribed it for me, and the whole exchange can be found here at about 5 or 6 minutes in (I can’t be more precise as I can’t play it on my Chromebook).
I really can’t figure out why people say he never listens to teachers…
I see that there has been a lot of media coverage for a speech today at Brighton College by Michael Gove. You can read the full text here.
However, here I will be ignoring the media coverage and focussing on me. Or rather, focussing on parts of the speech which may be of interest to anyone who reads this blog regularly.
There was this bit:
[Joe] Kirby’s challenge to us in Government is clear. And it is reinforced by the arguments of other influential teacher-bloggers like Andrew Old and Matthew Hunter.
Then there was this bit on the history curriculum:
And I have particularly enjoyed listening to my friend and colleague Tristram Hunt who has, in various degrees, at various times, been both supportive and critical.
This seems to cover similar territory to my recent blogpost on Tristram Hunt’s fluctuating convictions.
And as for the bit that got the most media coverage:
It would be bad enough if this approach were restricted to primary schools. But even at GCSE level this infantilisation continues. One set of history teaching resources targeted at year 11s – 15 and 16 year olds – suggests spending classroom time depicting the rise of Hitler as a ‘Mr Men’ story.
If I may quote – “The following steps are a useful framework: Brainstorm the key people involved (Hitler, Hindenburg, Goering, Van der Lubbe, Rohm…). Discuss their personalities / actions in relation to the topic. Bring up a picture of the Mr Men characters on the board. Discuss which characters are the best match.”
I may be unfamiliar with all of Roger Hargreaves’ work but I am not sure he ever got round to producing Mr Anti-Semitic Dictator, Mr Junker General or Mr Dutch Communist Scapegoat.
But I am familiar with the superb historical account Richard J Evans gives of the rise, rule and ruin of the Third Reich and I cannot believe he could possibly be happy with reducing the history of Germany’s darkest years to a falling out between Mr Tickle and Mr Topsy-Turvy.
I think you’ll find I got there first, featuring it as the third point in my blogpost on “Attitudes Which Cause Dumbing Down“.
I have to mention this. From a speech Michael Gove gave today to… I think it was some SMT types.
And just as the impact of great teaching is becoming more visible so the voices of great teachers are becoming more audible in the education debate.
Voices across the political spectrum are talking honestly about the profession’s strengths and weaknesses; successes, failures and priorities for the future.
I’m a great fan of Andrew Old, whose brilliant blog Scenes from the Battleground provides one of the most insightful commentaries on the current and future curriculum that I’ve ever read; but I’m also an admirer of John Blake of Labour Teachers, who has transcended party politics to praise all schools which succeed for their pupils, even if they are academies or free schools…
I also hugely enjoy the always provocative work of Tom Bennett, the Behaviour Guru, who champions teachers at every turn while challenging them to up their game. And one of the brightest young voices in the education debate is the Birmingham teacher Matthew Hunter, whose work online and in Standpoint magazine reinforces my view that those who are have entered the profession in the last few years – and are entering now – are hugely ambitious for the children in their care.
Well there you go, the rumours are true. The secretary of state for education reads this crap and has told everyone about it despite the fact my last blogpost was an attack on one of his policies which was cross-posted to Labour Teachers.
I wonder if any politician from the party I’ve been an active member of for the last twenty years will notice me now? Seems unlikely, given that my main belief (that kids should be made to learn lots of stuff even if they don’t want to) seems to be the one area where arch-Blairite Labour frontbenchers are currently finding common cause with the Socialist Workers Party.
P.S. Vote Labour.
I was actually quite impressed to hear that OFSTED have taken action about inspectors who don’t even have QTS status. Obviously, a lot of the worst inspectors do have QTS status, but at least this should decrease the number of inspectors whose only frame of reference is the OFSTED model of what a lesson should look like.
But, just in case it looked like OFSTED was getting back on track, all those good practice videos have turned up again on youtube.
You can find them here.
My explanations of what’s wrong with them can be found here and here. But if you only have time to watch one, then make it this one, and remember “having flip cameras is essential in all English departments”:
What happened? Why are they back? Was Sir Michael Wilshaw on his Easter holidays?