I’m afraid I have rather neglected my blog during this last half term. Some of this has been due to the distractions of ordinary life, but a lot of it has been due to taking some of the opportunities that have come up as a result of blogging. There will be various announcements to come, but one that is relevant to this post, was my brief interview about OFSTED, from the weekend before last, on the Chalk Talk Podcast, which can be found here.
Hopefully, I will now be able to return to regular blogging, but inevitably I will recommence blogging with some comments and news about OFSTED. There’s been a few developments worth noting or commenting on.
1) Bloggers (but not me) meeting OFSTED
A delegation of bloggers were invited in to meet Mike Cladingbowl, OFSTED’s director of schools, in half term. Their accounts can be found below:
I can’t fault those they invited, and I’m particularly happy to see Shena there who, while probably less well-known than the others, has been invaluable to me (and no doubt to many others) in pointing out certain OFSTED developments. But, I’m not going to let false modesty (or any other kind) stop me making the obvious gripe that I wasn’t invited. David commented that:
We have tentatively agreed that a further meeting would be a positive step. Several of us raised the glaring absence of the education blogger most synonymous with holding Ofsted to account. Like Banquo’s ghost, Old Andrew palpably haunted the meeting somewhat. We were told that Ofsted were wary of engaging with anonymous bloggers but now that Andrew has revealed his secret identity in a recent Radio 4 interview maybe they can see their way clear to inviting him (and very possibly others) next time.
I can’t help but point out that it is a little difficult to accept that OFSTED were unaware that I was no longer anonymous, given that the Radio 4 interview David mentioned was actually part of a programme about OFSTED.
That said, I’m slightly more positive about what transpired than many have been. While a good number of people have made comments to me along the lines of “who are OFSTED trying to kid with this stunt?”, it does sound as if Mike Cladingbowl is doing something important. The accounts suggest that he is, as far as I can tell, actually following the same line as the Chief Inspector. My past experience of OFSTED employees was that they simply ignored everything that Michael Wilshaw said about schools, so I’ll happily take that as progress. The other positive development was the announcement (first at the meeting then in this document) that inspectors shouldn’t be grading individual lessons. Graded observations have been key to the enforcement of the “OFSTED teaching style” and this could make a huge difference. Although, it also raises the rather obvious question as to why OFSTED’s director of schools was completely oblivious to how inspectors have actually been operating.
2) The Policy Exchange report “Watching the Watchmen”.
This can be found here. I rate it highly, simply because it seems to focus on what I, and I think many teachers, see as the key issues. It discusses the saga of the “OFSTED teaching style”, (with my NUT article quoted as a source). It criticises the unaccountable nature of the inspectors and, particularly, the arms length employment of most of them through private companies. It also highlights the unreliable nature of lesson observations. All of these have been common enough topics on social media, and among teachers, but the reaction to the report suggests that this report has indicated them to a much wider audience. That said, the most prominently discussed proposals were those aimed at reducing the burden of inspection on “good” schools. I am not particularly convinced that this will help matters. The issues with OFSTED are to do with the unfair and unaccountable nature of their decisions, and the absurd nature of the incentives they provide, and while many critics of OFSTED are reluctant to emphasise this point, this is as much a problem with declaring the unacceptable to be good as with attacking the excellent.
3) Michael Wilshaw’s ASCL apeech
This can be found here. Again, the proposals for less inspection of “good” schools, similar to the Policy Exchange proposals, got the most publicity. What interested me most were the remarks about the private companies involved in inspection:
…Ofsted needs to undertake a root and branch review of outsourced inspection. Inspection, as far as I’m concerned, is just too important for Ofsted to simply have oversight of third party arrangements.
The tendering for the contracts is up for renewal fairly soon and I’ll make my decision about the future of outsourced inspection when that time comes.
There are a number of other suggestions and observations that suggest the Chief Inspector is finally grasping the nature of the organisation he is attempting to lead. That said, I think Rob Peal has it about right here in pointing out that he seemed to deny the very problems which elsewhere he had promised to address.
4) Tribal’s letter to inspectors
This can be found on John Bald’s blog here and I suggest reading it. If genuine (and I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t be) it would indicate that Tribal, a Regional Inspection Provider, is sufficiently worried about scrutiny from above leading to financial penalties, to warn its inspection teams to do everything by the book. In practice, this could mean even more in the way of check-lists and bureaucracy and I’d be amazed if OFSTED did have the nerve to stand up to a contractor, but it would seem to indicate that a shift in power is occurring in OFSTED and the centre is now asserting itself. As ever, it does nothing to reverse the damage already done, but at least it provides some indicator about a seriousness of intent within OFSTED’s leadership.
5) Civitas Call for Evidence
The think tank Civitas are interested in hearing (in confidence) from people who have been inspected since last December who can answer the following questions:
• Were particular teaching styles criticised or praised in your written inspection report?
• Were particular teaching styles criticised or praised in your verbal feedback?
• Have you being told by senior leaders or CPD providers to teach in a certain style to suit Ofsted?
• Were you graded on the basis of an individual lesson, as opposed to a wide variety of evidence?
If you are able to help, then there are full details here.