“Beware the Ids that march” – to the barricades for Ofsted at Michaela

Here you can watch my debate with Katie Ashford as part of the Michaela Debates held recently. I stood up in defence of that most maligned of educational institutions: Ofsted. You can hear my whole argument above, obviously, but the key points are: Accountability is an essential feature of all modern educational system, on grounds of both the cost of state education and the importance of educating the young. Schools should thus be held accountable for: 1) proper use of public money; 2) outcomes; and 3) day-to-day practices. 1) is handled by the audit process; 2) by league tables and destination data; and 3) is best handled by inspection. Some might suggest that there is no need to inspect practice, if outcomes are what is desired and money is spent appropriately. But it is always possible to manipulate any accountability system, and outcomes can sometimes be achieved by unscrupulous means (“gaming”) and it is essential the day-to-day practices be inspected. Of course, Ofsted can likewise be gamed, but the “mixed constitution” of outcomes, financial audit and inspection makes it harder to game one without exposing problems elsewhere. Further, Ofsted does not exist for the benefit of teachers directly, but to help build trust between teachers and those we work for: the government who pay for schools, and the parents whose children we educate. Of course, it may put teachers under pressure and feel our work is being scrutinised, but it is that scrutiny which is essential for parents and government feeling trust about the value of what teachers do. Unconditional trust of professionals working with children, absent any real accountability system, is precisely what produces problems such as those that led to the collapse of Kids Company. But even if teachers being happy with Ofsted is not necessarily a measure of Ofsted’s success or legitimacy, it is also the case that Ofsted had changed in the past four years in response to complaints raised regarding the validity and value of their work. Short of full abolition, most teachers would have wanted: an end to graded lesson observations an end of out-sourced inspections shorter inspections no preference for particular teaching styles All of those now feature in the new Ofsted inspection frameworks. Of course, Ofsted may not achieve those things and it also should be held accountable for them, but when challenged by arguments with a strong evidence base, Ofsted is not an unchanging behemoth, and this should be acknowledged. The strongest arguments against these positions raised in the debate was, I think, the idea that Ofsted’s existence generates and perpetuates bad practice amongst teachers. But I’m afraid I can’t accept that: the many examples of poor practice suggested (triple-marking, VAK, only marking in green pen, and more) are all, I think, monsters from the Id of the teaching profession that, as I have long argued, is not remotely mature enough in regard to its own practice, ethics or the research base for its work to effectively police itself. But seriously, watch the video for a cracking Shakespeare paraphrase and a load of musical theatre references.

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