The chief inspector of Ofsted Amanda Spielman, in her second keynote speech at the Festival of Education highlights the toxic nature of schools that “mistake badges and stickers for learning itself”. In doing so, what is clear is the fact that, over the years, Ofsted have at least played a role in this, if not exclusively. It is all too easy, simplistic and unfair to blame everything on Ofsted but I do not intend to do that here. What I do intend to do is to offer a ray of hope from this speech, whilst a dark cloud appears to hang over the education sector.
There is no doubt that many schools have participated in gaming the system, meaning they take strategic steps to influence the outcomes of an Ofsted inspection. Such strategic behaviour could be, the narrowing of the curriculum, entering students in for ECDL and excluding challenging students. In addition to this, research suggests there are also schools that actively create a culture of performing to the test; this means that both staff and students are conditioned in a way whereby over a period of time, they behave in a way that would match what Ofsted would expect to see in an outstanding school. I am sure many of those involved in an Ofsted inspection are well aware that how one behaves during an inspection is not necessarily how they would behave on any other normal school day. However, all this is not new and it is important that this is highlighted since the speech addresses this.
I didn’t get a chance to listen to the speech, however I did read the full transcript. My understanding of it is that whilst Amanda Spielman is hopeful for the future, she is extremely critical of the past, at least in the sense of Ofsted’s passivity to schools gaming the system and Ofsted’s role in this. I welcome this because I think it’s important that this is recognised, but more importantly by those that hold the power to award schools a favourable and not so favourable inspection rating. Why is this important? Because if those that do the inspecting don’t reflect on their own failures of the past, then what chance do we have as a sector to make the necessary changes for the future?
And looking to the future, Ofsted appear to be more on the ball or at least have shifted their focus to what is happening within the curriculum for schools to achieve their results. This possible change in the nature of inspections appears to now centre of investigations rather than just evaluations and judging effectiveness based on test results. This must and should be welcomed by all those in leadership roles that have an input in curriculum design. Why? Because if schools are putting their own interests before those of their students, then they are failing their students.
Education is about improving the life chances of students, not improving the chances of the school to survive (though that is important also). However, this tension will always be present and until there is a balance between the two, then unfortunately I believe we will continue to see this in the future.
I believe Amanda Spielman is offering an olive branch to all those in the education sector, she recognises that Ofsted have their own failures and they are far from perfect and I think this should be taken at face value. She wants to work more closely with experts, researchers and schools to review the curriculum and to hopefully make the necessary changes to the inspection framework for 2019. I think everyone would agree that Ofsted are not perfect, but that is not the point here. The point is that having the ability to recognise our imperfections allows us to take positive steps in addressing them for the betterment of our students, and I think Amanda Spielman has done that here.
I cannot finish this without mentioning the tremendous work of Sean Harford. Even before Spielman’s appointment, he has been at the forefront of busting myths that have festered overtime in our consciousness. Not only publishing regular updates to the Ofsted Myths Document, he is also on the front line and provides direct access to himself on Twitter doing the same. I strongly recommend you read the Ofsted Myths Document and or follow him on Twitter to gauge a snapshot of how the education sector is perceiving Ofsted inspections and what schools are doing to address these perceptions.