Michaels’ Mirror: reflection on OFSTED reform.

(Before the apostrophe police arrive: I believe there are at least two Michaels shaping OFSTED reform. A third may even have tinkered in the background until moved. Therefore a mirror of many Michaels.)

I had another mind-melting but energising day at #rEd14. I can’t add anything original to the reviews already published but two sessions with Mike Cladingbowl fascinated and frustrated me.

The Q&A led by OA in his usual quiet, assertive and thoughtful way disappointed me as an apparent P.R. event rather than an insight into Michaels’ mind. OFSTED claim responsibility for school improvement whilst acknowledging unreliability of inspection and evidence hitherto; if Schroedinger had a cake they have eaten it, and haven’t. A jaw-dropping moment led to “hands up if you would report your school to OFSTED”. Sadly, the questions from the floor were quickly hi-jacked by the axe-grinding parochial issue of a delegate. It made the decision for the afternoon session: another dose of MC OFSTED.

I arrived on-time, much too late; there was no room. Fortunately, I noticed that another open Laboratory adjoined the venue and I could lean through the connecting door and listen. On the way I passed the teacher’s desk and, oh the irony! There was a copy of their INSET “Preparing for OFSTED” booklet left prominently apart from the other documents. Out of respect for the privacy of my hosts I didn’t read it, I didn’t need to; my school has one. We all do. Most of our CPD is OFSTED oriented (and if the Handbook is followed, out of date), a good proportion is provided by ‘inspectors’ some by HMI. OFSTED warped pedagogy in schools and still disfigures it in many. It dominates CPD in many maybe most schools in an unproductive, un-improving, navel-gazing frenzy of trying to second guess inspectors and frameworks instead of fixing fundamentals and putting pupil outcomes paramount. I am sure that Michaels would chorus that this is schools’ fault and that they have reformed guidance to change this. I agree that the reform of the guidance seen in the past year was needed, welcomed and helpful. Credit where it is due for that. It’s not enough. I don’t wholly blame frenzied SLT with poor results in RI schools: They can’t change the performance by a massive margin in a couple of years so they play the life-or-death avoid the ‘Special Measures’ game. This dictates the “training”, the guidance, the policy changes. OFSTED cannot shirk responsibility for this, it is the face of the beast that they created echoing Mary Shelley’s monster.

I hoped for salvation from MC OFSTED. The hope that had soared when reading the sense of the Handbook were crushed in that session. ‘Good’ schools will get a ‘light touch’ system based on data and fewer less formal visits, RI and ‘Category’ schools are to be condemned to the current catastrophe. It is precisely they who need the dispassionate mirror, the critical friend, the time to take-up improvements with the ‘Sword of Damocles’ sheathed while they strive for success. Yes, bad schools need drastic action if improvement cannot be brought but short term miracles are a mirage. The good schools need no involvement and simply should suffer the current inspectorial blitz of the ‘blink-of-an-eye’ scrutiny that happens now to back up the data impression albeit at longer intervals. Poorer schools need support, guidance and help. OFSTED will say that is not their role but what of their input to ‘Special Measures’ schools? Monitoring could and should be re-framed and extended.

MC said that OFSTED had turned schools around. My limited experience of a few ‘failing schools’ mainly via ex-colleagues some who are SLT, is that they precipitated a vortex of increasing insurmountable difficulty until forced academization, merger and ultimately closure: the award of ‘Inadequate’ was accompanied by the sound of committed parents moving children to other schools and the slamming of car doors in the staff car park as the churn rate climbed. Salvageable schools were lost. This is where reform is needed most, NOT the already successful sector.

I was inspected by HMI before OFSTED were formed, the process that MC disparaged I found to be a thorough long-lasting and formative assessment. Even after OFSTEDs creation inspection and reports were in-depth developmental documents. The modern paradigm of linking forced academization and HT removal with so so brief statements barely noticed after the numbers all of which are invented in a couple of days by a couple of people is cheap, pushes a Government agenda but is ultimately futile,in securing real improvement in struggling schools in spite of what Michaels maintain. MC says that is what we are in for after OFSTED reform.

Plus ca change, plus c’est le meme chose…. n’est ce pas?

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