- I must admit to being an Amanda Spielman fan. Her latest speech delivered 11 October 2018 in no way diminishes my admiration. I downloaded the text as delivered and went through highlighting what I thought were key comments. I was spoiled for choice. Here are a few:
- Inspection and regulation are essential to well-run public services. But if they are done in the wrong way, they can do more harm than good. That is why the test of being a force for improvement is so important.
- I want to make sure that at Ofsted, we focus on the ‘how’ and the ‘what’: the essence of what performance tables cannot capture. This will let us reward schools for doing the right thing by their pupils.
- We want to know what is being taught and how schools are achieving a good education, not just what the results are looking like.
- The cumulative impact of performance tables and inspections and the consequences that are hung on them has increased the pressure on school leaders, teachers and indirectly on pupils to deliver perfect data above all else.
- But we know that focusing too narrowly on test and exam results can often leave little time or energy for hard thinking about the curriculum, and in fact can sometimes end up making a casualty of it.
- … focus on performance data is coming at the expense of what is taught in schools.
- This next one is my favourite – I don’t know a single teacher who went into teaching to get the perfect progress 8 score. They go into it because they love what they teach and want children to love it too. That is where the inspection conversation should start and with the new framework, we have an opportunity to do just that.
- And it will make it easier for secondary schools to do the right thing, offering children a broad range of subjects and encouraging the take-up of core EBacc subjects such as the humanities and languages at GCSE, alongside the arts and creative subjects.
- So to conclude: I‘ve used the word ‘conversation’ a number of times in this speech. The nature and impact of the conversations in an inspection are fundamental. As we shape the new framework, with your help, we really are thinking about how each inspection can be the most productive exchange between a school and its inspection team: how we can make it about substance, more than about numbers.
You can read the entire speech here
I think it’s important for inspectors to get an accurate gestalt impression of any school they are visiting. What is it about the way the school does things that impacts on its curriculum offering? Discussing the following questions at the start of the inspection conversation help build up such an impression.
- How do you use time in different ways in your curriculum?
- How do you use teams of teachers in developing and teaching your curriculum?
- How do you acquire and develop resources, both physical and intellectual, that are appropriate for your curriculum
- How do you develop and sustain relationships that enable your pupils to be successful and enjoy their learning?
There are of course many different and quite appropriate answers to these questions. They are dependent on the vision for the school and its local community. But it is easy for schools to follow well-trodden paths that meet performance criteria without questioning prevailing practice when such practice could be significantly improved by considering such questions. It takes bravery from SLT to buck the ‘it ain’t broke so don’t fix it’ management bias. And it takes inspirational and supportive leadership to enable teachers to take the risks inevitable in curriculum change.
Amanda looked back at the past as this quote shows: From the 1990s through to the mid-noughties, inspections consisted of large teams of inspectors visiting schools for a full week, with a full range of subject expertise, making it possible to review individual subjects in depth. … – I am not standing here thinking that hordes of schools are lining up at our door, demanding the return ofweek-long inspections.
I agree with that last point but I do wonder about what has been lost through the lack of subject-focused inspections. Might it not be possible to have some subject focused inspections by inspectors expert in those subjects? Some subjects are struggling to do well in many schools in terms of uptake at KS4 and performance in comparison with other subjects. D&T is an example. Wouldn’t looking at D&T in a range of schools, some bucking the trend and doing well, others underperforming and some in the middle, provide a picture which all schools could use to improve the learning that goes on in the subject and its status? Such inspections could be framed as research exercises.
And returning to my four ‘gestalt’ questions this time with regard to D&T.
- Are you able to use time in different ways for D&T? The occasional whole day working on the GCSE contextual challenge would provide interesting opportunities for pupils to engage in depth.
- To what extent are you able to use a team approach in devising, planning and teaching your D&T curriculum? Do such teams have to be fixed, with set roles or can there be flexibility?
- The intellectual resource in your department is probably the most valuable and it is locked up in the staff. Their knowledge, skill and understanding is crucial for the curriculum. How do you ensure that this is maintained and enhanced, especially when there is such concern about physical resources?
- And relationships – how do you ensure that each of the stakeholders (parents, pupils, teachers, TAs, technicians, SLT, governors) has a voice that is listened to, considered, discussed and acted upon?
I’ll finish with a favourite quote from Neil Postman writing in 1996 (The End of Education: Redefining the value of school) that I believe will appeal to Amanda and is in the spirit of the reforms she has spoken about.
[S]omething can be done in school that will alter the lenses through which one sees the world; which is to say, that non-trivial schooling can provide a point of view from which what is can be seen clearly, what was as a living present, and what will be as filled with possibility. . . . What this means is that at its best, schooling can be about how to make a life, which is quite different from making a living. Such an enterprise is not easy to pursue, since politicians rarely speak of it, our technology is indifferent to it, and our commerce despises it. Nevertheless, it is the weightiest and most important thing to write about. (p. x)
As always comments welcome