The changes to school inspections recently announced by Mr Wilshaw are very important, in my opinion*. I don’t know if they go far enough, but they are very welcome (especially phasing out Additional Inspectors, and significantly increasing the number of HMIs). Schools and teachers have been under a prolonged period (many years) of unhelpful pressure from the politicians. Teaching is not an easy job under the best of circumstances, requiring hard work and bags and bags of commitment. Over the last five years (at least) that pressure has been so intense that many good teachers have left the profession. How did we get to this position?
Education is very important. We want the best possible education for our children, and so does the Government (on balance, I think this is true). It matters a lot to people, and everyone is a stakeholder; therefore, it must (and does) matter to politicians. Successive Governments have been very keen to demonstrate that concern, and have expended considerable extra money, and implemented many, many changes. Often, the subliminal message, however, has been that teachers are not doing a good enough job. There have been poor teachers, I am sure. But, these are relatively few, and not the problem. My view is that leadership is the most important factor in a school. Also, the accountability system has a very large influence on both how leaders behave, and on who comes forward to take up these responsibilities (and those who stay in the job).
The accountability system has been via school inspections by Ofsted for a long while now. Ofsted’s pronouncements and inspection regimes, and how the inspectors behave, determines how the accountability system impacts schools. Let’s be honest, for a while this has often been very negative. Individual SLT and teachers have been on tenterhooks awaiting the call. Worse than this, practice in schools has been unhelpfully driven by Ofsted, too. Ofsted would say indirectly (and for the better), but that isn’t entirely accurate. The negative impacts have been unintended consequences (at best), but Ofsted has refused to accept responsibility (and still doesn’t appear to have admitted responsibility despite proposing the recent changes). It is time for a new accountability structure, which is clearly based on the understanding that teaching is tough (and very important), and committed teachers and school leaders need support and encouragement. The new accountability body (post-Ofsted) needs to understand this from its core, and put in place systems that drive improvement using such levers.
[*I am not a teacher. I am a professional consultant Scientist working with evidence in a non-educational National and European policy context every day. I am a very interested stakeholder. I have read many edublogs over the last year, and followed the unfolding Ofsted saga with great interest. I have relatives who are teachers. My children have passed through the system and are now producing their own children. I care about the UK education system.]