Here’s the problem: when the situation is very fuzzy, it is very difficult to reach non-fuzzy conclusions. Education is very fuzzy. It’s fuzzy because education is very complex, and almost nothing is agreed. Teachers don’t even agree what the overall aim of school education is. Everyone does agree, however, that Education is very important; but this only means that politicians must be seen to be ‘improving’ Education. But no one has a convincing narrative of what success looks like, and robust evidence of effectiveness is lacking. This has not prevented politicians from implementing initiatives as if they really were certain of what these would achieve. The result has been an increasingly powerful Ofsted, because high stakes inspections was the easiest way to ensure compliance. One problem is, improvement has been hard to evidence…..so, was high stakes inspection a successful strategy (even on its own terms)?
Schools, teachers and SLT have struggled to cope with the pressure and consequences of the high stakes inspection. Evidence started to appear that key elements of the inspection process were deeply flawed (e.g. lesson observations lead to robust assessment of teaching and teachers). Workloads in schools became unmanageable. And the Fear. Ofsted needed to reform. So, they attempted to do so. Don’t get me wrong, here. None of this is personal with respect to Ofsted and its main staff. Those who have engaged on Twitter have been patient and cogent. The problems are system-wide, not personal or personnel based. (Well, apart from contracted out inspectors, and subsequent conflict of interests). There is a Legacy. Any changes that Ofsted make to inspection, and any myth busting they attempt, simply spawns a new brain gym. The fear remains. My contention is that as long as politicians think they need to (or can) make changes that will significantly impact on attainment, in a short timescale, then this high stakes accountability system will remain, and Ofsted will be a source of fear and unmanageable workloads.
It is for these reasons that I conclude that the high stakes inspections do not lead to sustainable improvement in education. We need to ditch this approach and arrive at a new accountability paradigm based on encouragement and nurture.