The call has been made and a whole community jump into action. Professionals continue to act normally in front of the children, but under this calm exterior the feeling of dread and darkness fills their hearts. The thought of the stress and anxiety the will follow makes grown adults verge on the edge of tears. The inspectors are coming.
This article first appeared in the July 2015 Edition of UKEdMagazine
Firstly, let me set out by saying that I do not have an axe to grind with the inspectors. Quite the contrary. Each time the inspectors have observed me teach I have been assessed, for what it’s worth, rather highly, and the judgements of the schools has been a fair snapshot. Yet, like most teachers, when the inspectors mentioned a feeling of dread and insecurity takes over. It shouldn’t be this way. Does the present or the mere existence of the schools inspectorate improve my teaching and the learning of my pupils? I have my doubts.
Ofsted (other UK school inspectorates are available) announced on 15th June (bit.ly/uked15jul14) a range of changes to the inspection regime. But is there a different way to ensure quality and improve schools over a longer period? I understand that it is important to have external professionals visiting the school to identify weaknesses and improve the learning of the pupils. Schools should never be islands and need to keep things fresh, but does the current system do this? I propose a more balance relationship with the inspectorate with allows a proper discussion about how to improve the educational opportunities and achievement in a school with ‘inspectors’ who are on the educational front- line. Naturally, many inspectors are educational professionals and the number has increased over recent years. Yet two criticisms of Ofsted, whether justified or not, is that they are unaccountable for the decisions they make and that they point out what is wrong about a school or lesson without in depth feedback of ways that they could be made better.
If we were to redesign the system from scratch, I envisage a system with elements of jury duty and the scientific peer review which selects a group of practising teachers from a range of other schools who form teams which go in and provide fresh eyes and help a school to improve as a ‘critical friend’. The visits could take place for one day per week for a number of weeks, so the teams could get a real feel for a school and so to not disrupt their own classes to much. I believe that teachers, pupils and the school community would much prefer to be helped to improve, rather than judged. The teams would observe lessons, the senior team and the school as a whole and then help tailor CPD needs and offer suggested improvements the systems of the school. Much of this is already being organised in an ad-hoc arrangement between schools.
I believe that a ‘report’ of some kind still has value for the community to know how a school is doing, but the focus needs to be on what will be put in place and development for the future. A ‘statement of intent’ if you will, which outlines areas seen as weaknesses and an outline of how the school intends to tackle them – Similar to a school improvement plan.
Schools deemed to have more need to improve would have more visits than schools deemed to be doing well.
I have never been to a school which didn’t want to improve and schools should continually look over their school wall to find innovative ways of doing things to provide better learning opportunities for their students. Hosting teachers from other schools to help identify areas to improve and create a dialogue between colleagues with similar issues is now becoming increasingly common and it provides some of the best opportunities to improve a school.
On this anniversary of Magna Carta is seems fitting to recognise the value of being ‘judged’ by one’s peers, but also to collaborate to improve the learning experiences of our young people and to grow as professionals.
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