Archive for June, 2015


Tough Questions For OFSTED

June 22, 2015

I’m fairly sympathetic to the leadership of OFSTED these days or, at any rate, to their efforts to reform the organisation. It was recently confirmed in the press that their efforts to bring everything in-house had resulted in 40% of Additional Inspectors (i.e. inspectors who worked for contracting companies) being dispensed with. Having been on the receiving end of a lesson observation judgement by an AI a couple of years back who ignored pretty much everything the Chief Inspector had been saying, I’m glad to see this. However, all reform of OFSTED is open to the criticism that it is too late for those who have suffered the effects of an incorrect judgement. This does tend to assume that where OFSTED has got it wrong they have been too harsh, not too lenient, on schools which is far from obviously the case. I do tend to wonder if some of those complaining about past inaccuracies in inspection would be terribly happy if OFSTED reviewed some of their “good” or “outstanding” judgements. Nevertheless, it is of interest to see to what extent OFSTED do acknowledge their past failings. One senior figure was interviewed (6 minutes in) here on Radio 4’s PM programme. In case you are reading this after that programme ceases to be available, or you cannot easily listen now, here (courtesy of @littlepippin76 to whom I’m very grateful) is a transcript:

Eddie Mair: For thousands of schools across England, pleasing OFSTED is very important. A school will trumpet a report that describes it as outstanding. At the other end of the scale, schools that are deemed inadequate go through a lot of soul-searching, disappointment and sometimes staff changes. The system has always been controversial, and teachers have complained about the quality of inspections, but for better or worse, the inspections have been the bedrock on which the education of England is based. The ratings are very significant. Under new laws, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan wants every school that is rated ‘inadequate’ is turned into an academy.

Well tonight there are new questions about whether the ratings should be believed at all. OFSTED has announced that it’s letting go 1,200 school and college inspectors after assessing them as not good enough. 1,200 is about 40% of the contracted workforce.

Sir Robin Bosher is OFSTED’s director of quality and training. What’s happened here?

Sir Robin Bosher: Well, we’re coming to the end of our current contracts with our contractors, and we’re determined to raise the standard of inspections, and so we’ve looked at the workforce that’s been with us, with the contractors for some time, and we want to raise that quality.

EM: In what ways have they been failing?

RB: I think, the main issue for head teachers, and I think you hit on it in your introduction, was the lack of consistency, the lack of consistent quality, and we’re very keen that a head teacher can rely, fully rely, on the inspector that’s walking up the path, and they absolutely know that they can deliver the highest quality inspection.

EM: For how long have these inconsistent inspectors been working for you?

RB: Well, what you’ll understand is that some of the inspectors who are less consistent have been working for the contractors…

EM: But for how long?

RB: The contracts have been in place for a number of years, but what I would say is that

EM: Forgive me, but this is important to everyone who is interested in education in England; they’ll want to know, for how many years might these inconsistent, these slightly poor inspectors, how long have they been assessing education?

RB: Well I don’t think they were ‘poor’. What we want to do at this point is to raise the overall quality. What you’ll understand is that we are introducing a new framework, and that requires us to raise the quality of inspection.

EM: Right, but for how long were the ‘poor’ inspectors, for how long were the inconsistent inspectors doing the job?

RB: Well, you know, that’s not the point.

EM: I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking.

RB: That’s not the point.

EM: It’s my question.

RB: The point now is that we’re raising the bar to move forward, and that’s why we need to make sure that the full cohort of inspectors are the best that they can be.

EM: Would you give a pass mark to a pupil who so consistently failed to answer a question?

RB: (Laughs) You know that it’s not that I’m not answering your question…

EM: Yes it is.

RB: No, it’s not. In every workforce, you’re going to have some very good people, some people who need more support, and what we’re saying, because of our new framework, we’re looking to raise the bar of the quality of the inspections that are given.

EM: Sir Robin, you’ve just got rid of 40% of your inspectors in a system that was controversial for its standards, I think parents and teachers and pupils will want to know, for how long has this been going on, because they, the reason I’m asking the question is can they rely on their reports going back years? What’s your answer?

RB: Yes they can, because the quality assurance system will have dealt with any report or any inspection or an outcome of any report that needed further work, but we’re moving forward with a new framework which is going to require a higher quality of inspector.

EM: So there’s nothing to worry about. You stand by every word of every previous OFSTED report.

RB: Well you know, yes I think we would do that, yes.

EM: So where does that leave the 1,200 people who are losing their jobs?

RB: Well, what we’ve done, if I can explain exactly what we’ve done, we’ve looked at the workforce, there were around 2,800 inspectors, who are currently in the workforce, and we’ve put them through an assessment, because remember they’re going to be delivering a new quality, a new framework, and we wanted to raise the quality of that framework and to raise the quality of that framework raise the quality of the inspector.

EM: And given, as you’ve indicated, that some of these people have been doing the job for years, are you satisfied that, and I understand what you say about your new framework, are you satisfied that none of them could have been let go sooner than now?

RB: Well you know that wasn’t our choice, because they were working within a contract for a contractor, and so that wouldn’t have been our decision.


The Latest SEN Fad Diagnosis: Attachment Disorder

June 21, 2015

A few years ago I used to write a lot about SEN on this blog. The bloated SEN systems in mainstream schools which consisted of proliferating paperwork and amateur diagnoses were sucking money away from the main responsibilities of schools and spending it on form-filling and “interventions” that, at best, didn’t work and, at worst, undermined teachers. While a lot of bad practice still exists in the SEN world, progress has been made since then. There is far greater awareness that it is not enough to simply assign TAs to a kid labelled “SEN”; that tolerating bad behaviour does nobody any favours; that SENCOs should be properly trained and qualified, and that the genuine expertise of those in special schools has an important role to play. I don’t want to suggest the problems are solved, but I have seen fewer fashionable diagnoses being invented and greater appreciation of special schools in the last few years, and a move away from the old “SEN racket” that kept many people employed in making bogus diagnoses for perfectly unexceptional students without actually helping anybody.

However, in the last few months a new fad diagnosis has appeared. I first noticed it on blogs but have since encountered it in real-life. Here are a few examples:

I’m looking at whether the use of key adults helps children get from our turnaround class, it is designed as a short term intervention where children who are exhibiting challenging behaviour can be taught with a high ratio of very experienced staff to children… Many of the children who attend this class show behaviours which are typical of, amongst other things, an Attachment Disorder. We know these children and their backgrounds, an attachment disorder would not seem unreasonable in many cases. We have had the Educational Psychologist come and look at some of these children (with necessary parental permissions) and they have said the children need to learn to make attachments and become dependent so that they can then become independent, it sounds so easy on paper!

From a blogpost by a SENCO.

There are different types of attachment disorder, with differing ways of responding to the condition explained in the books below.  At its most extreme, a student may have a statement of special educational need which specifies the condition and so staff are forewarned.  More likely, are the students who have never had their behaviour and attitudes looked at through the lens of attachment, and who simply present as puzzling, challenging or unusual.  These types of students are often recognised as the  5% who don’t generally respond to the usual behaviour management techniques, such as rewards and sanctions or ‘the language of choice’.

From a blogpost by an educationalist.

Young people who experience a negative attachment cycle can often end up with heavily compromised social, emotional and cognitive development. It is also important to note that the nature of attachment changes during secondary school years from child-caregiver to relationships with a romantic orientation and peer relationships. In this transitional stage, more challenging behaviours such as stress response and aggression manifest themselves, producing a different set of educational challenges in the secondary setting…

From an article in the Teaching Times

Have you had a child with Attachment disorder within your class? Suspected? How do they present?

  • Violent behaviour towards staff
  • Violent behaviour towards children
  • Throwing objects directly and/or indirectly
  • Swearing
  • Spitting

…The list is endless. Children share these behaviours sometimes mindlessly, without even realising that anything was going to happen. There is a lot to be said for patience during a situation like this. It isn’t easy but knowing what situation an attachment disorder can enable is important in keeping patience.

From a blogpost by an “SLE in behaviour”.

From reading these you might be under the impression that Attachment Disorder was a recognised medical disorder, that could be diagnosed in children of any age, and often manifests itself as extreme bad behaviour.

There is a recognised medical condition called “Reactive Attachment Disorder”. You can find the list of diagnostic criteria here. This condition, a relatively rare social disorder resulting from extreme circumstances of neglect, is linked to “irritability”, but not any other form of poor behaviour, and is only diagnosed when signs of the condition have manifested themselves before the age of 5. It does not resemble the conditions described above, and the existence of RAD cannot be assumed to be evidence for the existence of the “Attachment Disorder” described in the various passages above.

A taskforce of the The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) compiled a report clarifying the issues around attachment. Although it accepts the possibility of attachment disorders beyond RAD it states:

…the term attachment disorder has no broadly agreed-on or precise meaning. The term is not part of any accepted standard nosology or system for classifying behavioral or mental disorders, such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or International Classification of Diseases (ICD). Officially, there is no such disorder.

It notes the possibility that disorders could exist, and describes RAD and observes that attempts to apply it beyond the diagnostic criteria have taken place and that some clinicians have suggested the existence of broader attachment disorders. It warns that there is no consensus about these disorders and observes:

There are no studies examining diagnostic accuracy among the increasing numbers of children who are maltreated being described by clinicians as having an attachment disorder. It is not clear how many children described as having attachment disorders suffer from actual disorders of attachment, from transitory sequelae of maltreatment, from stress related to shifts in placements or cultures, or from other disorders with shared characteristics. The simple fact that a child may have experienced pathogenic care, or even trauma, should not be taken as an indication of an attachment disorder or any other disorder. It also is important to bear in mind that a child entering the child welfare system, foster care, adoption, or other settings is almost invariably experiencing acute stress. Behavior problems or relationship problems shown during periods of acute stress do not automatically suggest any disorder. This is a particularly important point for evaluating children in cross-cultural or international adoptions. Different cultures have different normative social behaviors, which could easily be misconstrued as a disorder. For example, failure to make eye contact is included on some checklists as a sign of attachment disorder; however, this may be a normative social behavior in many cultures (Keating, 1976). Establishing that an attachment disorder, or any other stable disorder, actually exists requires some familiarity with the child’s long-term behavior, including behavior in multiple settings, and should not be limited to behaviors occurring with a foster or adoptive parent. Assessments based on a single point in time snapshot of the child may be particularly vulnerable to misdiagnosis

The reports warns that “Mental health and related fields have a long history of diagnostic fads, when rare or esoteric diagnoses become fashionable and spread rapidly through the practice world, support groups, and the popular press” and suggests that:

The standard diagnostic aphorism that “when you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras” is important to bear in mind for a number of reasons. First, more prevalent conditions are less likely than rare conditions to be misdiagnosed; their criteria are better established and agreed on, sound assessment procedures are more widely available, and classification accuracy is always higher with more prevalent (i.e., higher base rate) conditions. Second, the appropriate intervention for a common disorder is likely to be different from that for an uncommon disorder. Finally, there are richer literatures and better established evidenced-based treatments for more common conditions. For example, scientifically well-supported and effective treatments exist for ADHD, oppositional-defiant disorder, and PTSD (Kazdin, 2002).

It goes on to describe some of the many crank “therapies” invented for attachment disorder, including a number (such as “holding therapy”) that are abusive and have even resulted in the death of children. If you have a (sceptical) interest in crank psychology and unproven interventions, I would recommend reading the whole report. I would also direct you to the excellent blog Child Myths that covers many of these issues on an ongoing basis.

While I have never heard of holding therapy or similar treatments being used in schools here, we should be aware that any material found online about “Attachment Disorder”, particularly material that claims it is the cause of poor behaviour, could well be written by advocates of such interventions. The APSAC report accepts that those children diagnosed as having “Attachment Disorder” may have genuine conditions requiring interventions and that some interventions, particularly those that are well-established in other contexts, may work. However, (non-RAD) Attachment Disorder is usually pseudo-science or speculation and if there is one thing we should have learnt as teachers during the era of the SEN racket, it’s that neither poor behaviour nor genuine mental illnesses are best dealt with by the diagnosis, particularly by amateurs, of conditions that may well not exist.


Top Blogs of the Week : Schools Week (June 2015)

June 13, 2015

Schools Week have published my review of the best blogs of the week.

Andrew Old’s top blogs 8 June 2015

Dialogue during observations – what new torture is this?
By @Bigkid4

A maths teacher discusses the latest idea encountered online: observations in which the observer gives advice to the teacher during the lesson. The writer explains that advice from observations is often not helpful, and would be particularly unwelcome in the classroom as it would fail to recognise the teacher’s knowledge of their class and their subject.


“Changing Schools: Perspectives on five years of education reform”, Edited by Robert Peal

June 1, 2015


Changing Schools: Perspectives on five years of education reform has just been published. (Update 2/6/2015: It is now available for purchase in paperbook or for Kindle if you follow the link above.) This is a book on education policy which I contributed to. Here’s the info:

Changing Schools is a collection of essays by teachers, researchers and administrators who have been on the frontline of the dramatic changes taking place in state education over the last five years.

The authors assess the rapidly changing educational landscape and offer thoughts on where we go from here.

Chapters include:

  • Academies and chains: When competition meets collaboration, James O’Shaughnessy
  • Free schools: Making success sustainable, Katharine Birbalsingh
  • Qualifications: What constitutes real qualifications reform?, Dr Tina Isaacs
  • Assessment: High stakes, low improvement, Daisy Christodoulou
  • Social media: Did blogs break the Blob?, Andrew Old
  • Policy: Ten challenges for any government from 2015, Jonathan Simons
  • Teaching: Teacher professionalism, training, and autonomy, Tom Bennett
  • Charter schools: Lessons from America’s experiment with autonomy and accountability, Doug Lemov and Joaquin Hernandez

My chapter is about the world of education blogging, whether it has influenced policy and, if so, whether that is a good thing. I’d tell you about the other chapters, but I haven’t even got my copy of the book yet.

Other books with (smaller) sections by me are also available:

  1. Progressively worse: The Burden of Bad Ideas in British Schools
  2. Don’t change the light bulbs: A compendium of expertise from the UK s most switched-on educators
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