Sunday, 24 November 2013

What next for Ofsted?

Ofsted isn't going to be abolished (nor should it be)

A few weeks ago Old Andrew wrote a typically incisive, and popular, post explaining why he felt Ofsted are now beyond redemption and should be abolished.

That isn't going to happen. Ofsted is absolutely essential to the regulatory model the coalition Government have constructed. Failing academies and free schools can only be shut down on the basis of a poor inspection - there's no other legal mechanism (unless they mess up their finances or do something illegal). Likewise the Teaching School / National Leader of Education processes rely on Ofsted identifying outstanding schools.

And as Andrew notes in this post there's no indication that Labour would behave differently. If anything they envisage a bigger role - in recent weeks Tristram Hunt has argued for separate inspection of academy chains.

But even if the politicians were arguing in favour of abolition - and some way was found to deal with all the structural problems that would create - I'd be opposed. One of the OECD's clearest findings from PISA is that the worst type of education systems are those with high autonomy and low accountability (conversely the best are high autonomy and high accountability). While it may not feel like it to classroom teachers we have one of the highest autonomy systems in the world. Most secondary schools now have control of their own curriculum; nearly all funding in the system is passed directly to schools; teacher training is increasingly run through schools too.

So while I think there are lots of ways we can make our accountability system smarter I don't think we should be removing a key mechanism for holding schools to account. If we did then we'd be left with exam data as the only basis for accountability. Yet we know that schools can game test-based accountability by choosing easier options; focusing on certain pupils; or simply spending a lot of time cramming. While I've never been to a great school getting bad exam results; I have been to bad schools that get decent results. We have to have a way to check the quality of education on offer that goes beyond gameable data. There's a reason that most countries have some form of school inspection (and many of those that didn't have introduced inspectorates over the past decade).

That doesn't mean there isn't a problem

Although I think Ofsted needs to be an important component of our regulatory system I recognise the validity of many of the criticisms (and wrote about them here). This is not just the standard whinging you'd expect from any profession about its regulator.

There are two separate but related issues.

First a percentage of inspectors are not following the framework. They are insisting on seeing certain types of teaching in lesson inspections. It's unclear how large this percentage is but there are enough "rogue" inspectors to leave school leaders uncertain about how to prepare for inspections. That means many schools are doing things that are not required by the framework - and go against the spirit of that framework's intentions - because they don't know what "type" of inspector they are going to get.

Secondly lesson observations have limited validity - even if being done properly. Professor Rob Coe gives the technical details in these slides. But it's actually pretty obvious that in most cases it won't be possible to accurately tell how good a teacher is from a single 20 minute observation - even if it's done well. It's also hard not to let prejudices slip into judgements.

Katie Ashford explained here how teachers should approach an inspection of their lesson - and a good inspector like Mary Myatt will respond well to that. But it's understandable that many feel this is a risky strategy and end up teaching to what they think Ofsted wants to see rather than what's in the best interest of their class.

So what needs to change?

The first, fairly obvious thing, is to stop grading individual lessons. It's not clear at all what the benefit of doing this is given the lack of validity.  It would be possible to build greater validity around observations but would require multiple observations by people rigorously trained in the same scoring system. And that's too expensive and complex for Ofsted to introduce.

Scrapping individual lesson judgements would significantly reduce the problems Ofsted causes. Teachers would feel under less pressure to deliver a specific type of "outstanding" lesson; they wouldn't feel unfairly judged when their lesson gets a grade 3 or 4; and schools wouldn't feel so bound to using Ofsted grades in their own lesson inspections (and could move away from scored observations all together).

It wouldn't reduce the validity of the overall inspection as the lesson judgements aren't particularly valid anyway.

Instead inspections should focus more on systems. Essentially Ofsted should be looking at what the school is doing to ensure consistent good teaching. They should be inspecting the school's quality assurance not trying to do the quality assurance themselves in the space of two days (good inspectors will see this as their role already - but it's nowhere near explicit enough).

In their observations of lessons they should be checking the leadership know their teachers and understand how best to support their future development. They should be checking that they have thought about professional development and about performance management (which shouldn't have to involve performance-related pay). They should be seeing if the behaviour policy is being enforced; and if the school curriculum is actually being used. This blog does a good job of showing how that might work in practice.

I'm not sure there even needs to be an overall grade for teaching. After all if the leadership's good (because there's consistent practice across the school) and the attainment is good then the teaching will, almost by default, be good too. Likewise if the leadership is poor then the school isn't good even if there are pockets of excellent teaching (as there nearly always are in bad schools).

In addition to this simple, if bold, change Ofsted should make use of their new regional structure to announce a full reset so that everyone in the system - inspectors and schools - have a shared understanding of the purpose of inspection. This could involve, for example, retraining all inspectors alongside representatives from local schools; licensing inspectors through published exams; banning lead inspectors from acting as consultants and, as Rob Coe suggests, introducing transparent and independent processes for quality assuring inspections. This would need to be communicated via a major campaign from Ofsted, DfE, and, ideally, Head's associations.

Perhaps this wouldn't be enough to restore everyone's confidence in inspection but I'd much rather try to improve what we have than push the system into total reliance on test data.


Saturday, 9 November 2013

75 education people you should follow

One of the most frequent conversations I have is people asking me who they should follow on twitter. This is my attempt to answer. It is, of course, a highly subjective list based on people I enjoy following. But the people here represent a wide range of views / opinions. Follow this lot and you'll get a feel for the debate; as well as a good stream of useful links and some great blogs.

The list is ordered alphabetically in categories. The * indicates they also have a blog that's worth reading.


Academics and Writers

Annie Murphy Paul: Author of the forthcoming book Brilliant: The Science of How We Get Smarter

Becky Allen*: Reader in Economics of Education at Institute of Education. Quant wizard.

Becky Francis: Professor of Education and Social Justice at King's College.

Chris Husbands*: Director of the Institute of Education

Dan Willingham: Cognitive Psychologist and Author of Why Don't Students Like School?

Daisy Christodolou*: Research and Development manager at ARK, Author, super-smart.

David Weston*: Former teacher, Chief Executive of the Teacher Development Trust

Dylan William: Professor, expert in assessment and curriculum

Gifted Phoenix: (Not his real name) Education policy analyst specialising gifted and talented

Graham Birrell: Senior Lecturer in Education at Christchurch Canterbury

Laura McInerney*: Former teacher, blogger, columnist, complete genius if a bit too Fabian.

Loic Menzies*: Researcher, Author, Blogger, Teacher Trainer.

Martin Robinson: Author and teacher trainer

Rob Coe: Professor of Education at Durham



Duncan Spalding: Norfolk Headteacher

John Tomsett*: Headteacher in York

Geoff Barton: Head in Suffolk. Frequent tweeter, occasional blogger, not a big fan of Ofqual.

Liam Collins: Head in East Sussex

Rachel de Souza: CEO of the Inspiration Trust; a forward thinking academy chain in East Anglia

Ros McMullen: Principal of David Young Community Academy in Leeds.

Tom Sherrington*: One of the best blogging heads


Ann Mroz: Editor of the Times Education Supplement

Greg Hurst: Education Editor at The Times

Helen Warrell: Covers education for the Financial Times

Jonn Elledge: Editor of Education Investor Magazine. More left wing than that makes him sound.

Michael Shaw: Director of TESPro

Nick Linford: Editor of FE Week

Reeta Chakrabati: BBC Education Correspondent

Richard Adams: Education Editor at the Guardian

Sanchia Berg: BBC education specialist; currently on Newsnight

Sean Coughlan: BBC online education correspondent

Sian Griffiths: Education Editor at the Sunday Times

Toby Young: Free School Founder, columnist, provocateur.

Warwick Mansell*: Guardian Education Diarist, freelancer, blogger.

William Stewart: Reporter at the Times Education Supplement

Policy and Politics 

Andrew Adonis: Former education Minister and Author

Brett Wigdortz: CEO of Teach First and my boss.

Conor Ryan: Former adviser to David Blunkett and Tony Blair. Now at Sutton Trust.

Dominic Cummings: Former Special Adviser to Michael Gove

Fiona Millar: Columnist and campaigner for comprehensives; former adviser to Cherie Blair.

Gabriel Sahlgren: Research Director at the Centre for Market Reform of Education.

Gerard Kelly: Former Editor of the Times Education Supplement.

Graham Stuart: Chair of the Education Select Committee

Jonathan Clifton: Senior Research Fellow at IPPR, working on education and youth policy.

Jonathan Simons: Head of Education at Policy Exchange. Ex-cabinet office.

Michael Barber: Chief Education Advisor at Pearson. Former Head of the PM’s Delivery Unit.

Pasi Sahlberg: Finnish education expert - author of Finnish Lessons

Robert Hill*: Former adviser to Charles Clarke and Tony Blair. Currently advising Welsh Govt.

Stephen Tall*: Development Director at the Education Endowment Foundation

Tim Leunig: DfE Director of Research

Tom Richmond: Policy Adviser to Nick Boles

Tristram Hunt: Shadow Secretary of State for Education


Alex Quigley*: Subject Leader of English & Assistant Head. One of my favourite bloggers.

Alex Weatherall: Science / Computer Science teacher

Andrew Old*: Anonymous teacher; caustic, brilliant, blogger and Man of Mystery

David Didau*: Teacher, Author and one of the most popular teacher bloggers.

Debra Kidd*: AST for Pedagogy, formerly Senior Lecturer in Education, MMU.

Harry Fletcher-Wood*: History teacher and CPD leader at Greenwich Free School.

Harry Webb*: Ex-pat Brit teaching in Australia. Great, analytic, blogger.

Katie Ashford*: Secondary English teacher

Keven Bartle*: Senior Leader and entertaining blogger

Kristopher Boulton*: Maths teacher at ARK King Solomon Academy

James Theobold: English teacher. Funny.

Jo (readingthebooks)*: Head of English in a London school.

Joe Kirby*: English teacher + prolific blogger

John Blake*: History teacher and Editor of Labour Teachers

Lee Donaghy*: Senior Leader at Parkview school, Birmingham.

Michael Merrick*: Teacher of many subjects and professional contrarian.

Michael Tidd*: Sussex middle school teacher (KS2) and blogger

Micon Metcalfe: Business Manager at Dunraven School. Edu-finance queen.

Red or Green Pen?*: Anonymous Maths teacher and great blogger

Stuart Lock*: Deputy Headteacher

Tessa Matthews*: Pseudonym for a English teacher + super blogger.

Thomas Starkey*: FE English teacher

Tom Bennett*: Teacher, Blogger, Author, ResearchED Founder, Scot.

And of course...

SchoolDuggery: Queen of Education on twitter; unclassifiable. Must follow.