On Not Ignoring Ofsted

This month my column in the Guardian Education looks at Ofsted and the problem of being a teacher trying to meet  standards when they seem to be constantly shifting. Writing about Ofsted when you’ve never been a headteacher is a little tricky, as I didn”t want to downplay the nightmares leaders say they go through, but the intention was explaining the classroom teacher experience. Hopefully I achieved that.
However, one line caused some consternation:

Ignoring Ofsted is not an option, and neither should it be.

Some people got upset at me saying this because they think teachers should ignore Ofsted and focus on the students. That’s fair comment, if you think I’m saying teachers should only think about Ofsted, but that was not my original intention. Actually, the original sentence was longer but because the piece goes in the physical paper I am constrained by a word limit so the line was eventually trimmed which maybe meant I sounded more curt than planned. Before cutting, the full sentence read as:

Ignoring Ofsted is not an option, and neither should it be. When you are a pupil stuck in an awful school you would rather have an imperfect system for externally checking teaching quality than not have one at all.

Having studied at a school on the decline we prayed Ofsted would come and see its real light, and I’m grateful that they did. Floating on without inspection is not good for pupils who need someone to see the mess a place is in and stick up for them. This is particularly true in communities where parents are unaware of what should be offered by the school and who don’t have the skills to advocate for better. That’s why I believe ignoring Ofsted is not an option. But I also believe that the scrutiny of teachers that Ofsted undertake must clear, shared widely in advance and contribute to professionalism rather than anxiety. As yet, there is too much of the latter over the former, and with just a little effort it could be sorted. This is not a terminal case.
[NB: I was very grateful to the people who did point this stuff out to me. The only way those columns will stay fresh is if people help me learn about their responses to them].

How to make the Ofsted "Learner View" useful to everyone

The BBC are reporting today that FE college students are being given the chance to rate their college online with the information going straight to Ofsted.  Naturally, the colleges are a little concerned that this leaves them open to unfair criticism whereas Ofsted think it will give them a ‘better picture’ of what’s going on.
Forgive my being old-fashioned but surely it’s good manners to speak with any person letting you down before marching to their superiors?  This feels like  an extension of a growing culture in education where people ‘cc’ senior management immediately and so breed a culture of resentment and mistrust.
But – more importantly – why aren’t Ofsted using the “Learner’s Views” as a way to improve college service. It would be easy to do. Learners could place their complaint on the websites and this would be shared immediately with the college thereby allowing them a chance to respond before publication. If Ofsted give a deadline for reply, send the reply to the learner, and then if the learner still feels the issue was not adequately addressed the views can be published along with the response (if received) from the college. Most colleges (and schools) would want to keep their noses clean meaning this is the perfect opportunity for learners to get their voice heard and to have something done about it; rather than have colleges will write off the views as being from “that mad kid on floor three” and then failing to do anything constructive to change the situation given that the view has been published/used-by-Ofsted anyway.
It has long been true that there needs to be a stronger ‘complaints’ policy instituted in education whereby people can raise concerns and gain a response in a robust, centralised way (similar to EBay’s resolution centre) and this could have been a great way to do it.  Let’s hope Ofsted see the potential and change their ways.

Making the Government Account for Accountability

In a recent LKMCo article I suggested that ‘accountability measures are eating themselves’ as the DfE are poised to introduce a new performance measure designed to correct errors in a previous (yet-still-to-be-published) measure.
The problem for the new measure is that they didn’t heed the advice of Dr Rebecca Allen who told the government that if they wanted to report on ‘low, middle and high’ ability groups of students then those groups should be comparable across schools.  The DfE did not listen.  In my blog I made the case that this means comparisons across schools are unfair.
Several journalist colleagues therefore declared they will not misuse the stastics. Unfortunately the Telegraph did not comply and wrote a story making the exact mistake I warned against prompting an outcry on Twitter from people using the initial LKMCo blog as evidence.
To further support my point Rebecca Allen ran the figures comparing the DfE’s version of her measure to her more accurate one. The results are fascinating and can be found on her website here, showing that the DfE figure vastly favours schools where students have a high ability profile on entry.
The initial defence was that this was because the data was not readily available to the DfE. Rebecca Allen disagreed. The Department are now reviewing the case. I am slightly concerned somewhere a statistician is about to be shot.