An Inspector writes….

This was submitted to me this week from a serving Inspector – who wants to share their perspective whilst remaining anonymous. I’m happy to share it. From their point of view, though the direction of travel might be the right one in principle, in practice it’s not compatible with the process itself ….

“Ofsted can make high stakes judgements on the effectiveness of schools. Or they can make nuanced calls on the quality of the curriculum. But they can’t do both.

Under Amanda Spielman, Ofsted has returned to its original purpose: “Not the exam grades or the progress scores, important though they are, but instead the real meat of what is taught in our schools and colleges: the curriculum.” (Festival of Education, 2017). In their refresher training this summer, Ofsted inspectors were reminded what to look for when it comes to curriculum. With no sense of shame, the same inspectorate that ten years ago sought evidence of learning in every lesson now tells its inspectors that ‘if nothing has changed in long term memory, nothing has been learned’. The same inspectorate that previously wanted to see progress on a spreadsheet now defines it as ‘knowing more and remembering more’. The same inspectorate that was so obsessed with exam outcomes now defines impact as knowing the content of each subject’s curriculum. The same inspectorate that previously punished teachers for not differentiating now expects all pupils to be exposed to ‘the best that’s been thought and said’.

Perhaps we shouldn’t begrudge Amanda Spielman for adding brain to Ofsted’s undisputed braun. If you’ve been to an educational conference in the last decade you’ve probably seen her sitting on the floor taking notes alongside the most nerdy of edu-nerds. But it’s a bit galling attending Ofsted training and getting lessons on cognitive science from experienced inspectors who have shown little appetite for evidence and intellect until their new boss turned up and forced them to read the back catalogue of Michael Fordham and Christine Counsell.

I happen to support Spielman’s drive to shine a light on the stuff that league tables ignore. But the nuanced, qualitative, value-laden approach required to properly assess a school’s curriculum is at odds with the high stakes, binary judgements that inspectors ultimately have to make. On inspection this term I’ve seen already how a judgment can swing on the ability of middle leaders to talk fluently about their curriculum aims and assessment principles. In the heat of inspection, it’s wrong to punish schools if a few colleagues aren’t on message. It’s no surprise that schools are now preparing for inspection by handing out a glossary of Ofsted’s favourite buzz words and their state-sanctioned definitions.

Spare a thought for inspectors who are being asked to make big calls on matters they know little about. And spare a thought for the schools inspected this term. As we return to something resembling normality, teachers and leaders are desperate to return to the stuff that matters. Shame on Ofsted for distracting them from this.”

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