Ofsted’s new supremo sets out her vision

18 Aug

At the last Festival of Education conference in late June 2017, which was held in Wellington College, Berkshire, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI), Mrs Amanda Spielman, stressed how important it was for every school/academy to review the curriculum it is offering the pupils and for governors/trustees to recognise the importance of “leadership challenges and valuing management”.   She added that she would “use Ofsted’s powers responsibly and intelligently”, not only in her personal approach, but also “in the whole way Ofsted inspects and regulates”.

She set out her philosophy on education and its delivery and her vision for the future in leading Ofsted and presented her programme of action.   She acknowledged the successes of her predecessors, accepted the challenge that Ofsted faced in recognising the daunting task of schools in socially deprived areas and stressed the importance of excellent school/academy management – not just in “inspirational leadership”.

I        HMCI’s Objectives for Ofsted

She described three areas in which she would act.

(1)        First, she said that she would ensure that her inspectors provide fair, valid and reliable judgements about the performance of individual institutions.

(2)        She remarked that Ofsted was in a unique position in that it had evidence “from thousands of individual inspections on the ground as well as a bird’s eye view of the entire system”.   In the light of this, she said that the inspectorate would aggregate insights, triangulate findings with existing research and evidence and produce robust analyses of what was working well, both, at national level and individual school/academy practice.

(3)        Mrs Spielman added that she would “capitalise” on the information out there about the effect that Ofsted had on the sectors it inspects. Accordingly, she was keen to seek out the views of parents, teachers, governors, the government and all other users of inspection outcomes and Ofsted’s reports – the aim being to improve the work of Ofsted and  the quality of education offered in schools/academies.

II       Definition of Education

Mrs Spielman mentioned that “the real meat of what is taught in our schools and colleges, the curriculum”, is the “substance of education” – not exam grades or the progress scores, “important though they are”.   If schools/academies were to get teaching right, staff needed to adopt the proper objectives, which were not just to prepare young people to succeed in life (which, of course, was a functional basic), but also broaden young minds, enrich communities and advance civilisation. “Ultimately, it is about leaving the world a better place than we found it,” she said.

Expanding on this theme, she stated that she wanted children to “hear or play the great works of classical musicians or learn about the intricacies of ancient civilisations…..”  This chimes in with the Butler Education Act 1944 requiring every school to promote a “broad and balanced” curriculum.

She lamented the emphasis that schools/academies placed on tests and examinations – important though they were – leaving children stressed out and sold short.

So how will Ofsted behave in the future when inspecting schools/academies/colleges in order to encourage institutions to do what she wants them to do, because for too long it has been the case that inspections and examinations have been determining curriculum – with Athe accent on pupil progress and achievement, a case of the tail wagging the dog.

Mrs Spielman said that Ofsted had a role to balance the accountability system. “What we measure through inspection can counteract some of the inevitable pressures created by performance tables and floor standards. Rather than just intensifying the focus on data, Ofsted inspections must explore what is behind the data, asking how results have been achieved. Inspections, then, are about looking underneath the bonnet to be sure that a good quality education – one that genuinely meets pupils’ needs – is not being compromised.”  Accordingly, Ofsted’s future judgements would not simply be a reflection of performance data, “but instead give a more nuanced picture of a school. And it is here we can do more,” she admitted.

III     Defending the nation’s values

Mrs Spielman explained that as important as the curriculum is, establishing it on the basis of a robust value system was vital, which was snappily titled the ‘spiritual, moral, social and cultural development’ of children.  The recent attacks of terrorists in Manchester and London “brought into stark relief the threats we face”, she said.  Safeguarding our youngsters was important but at least as important was ensuring that young people “have knowledge and resilience …. to resist extremism of the sort peddled by those … who put hatred in their hearts and poison in their minds”.

So, she would use Ofsted’s influence to encourage schools/academies to give young people “a real civic education”.  For this aspiration to be made flesh and blood, she thought that every school/academy should teach pupils

  • British values,
  • how they were formed,
  • how they had been passed down through the generations, and
  • how they made Britain a “beacon of liberalism, tolerance and fairness to the rest of the world”.

IV     The future challenge for Ofsted

Mrs Spielman paid tribute to schools/academies/colleges and her predecessors for their work and achievements over the last score of years.  She recognised that the scale of the challenges they had faced and would continue to face was daunting.   Successful schools/academies, she remarked, “thumb their noses at the idea that poverty inevitably leads to lower standards or that certain types of children are incapable of achieving”.   In not accepting pre-destiny, the leaders of these successful institutions “have unlocked real social justice”.

However, she admits that the scale of the leadership challenges in these socially deprived learning zones was greater than that of institutions in more affluent areas.  Bearing this in mind, she pledged that Ofsted would play its part in “not deterring the best teachers and leaders from working in the very schools that need them most”. Stirring stuff!  She referred to a recent study of the Education Policy Institute (EPI) which had noted that “there was a systematic correlation between school intakes with more disadvantaged children…..and unfavourable Ofsted judgements”…. and vice versa.   She promised to look at Ofsted practice anew to be fair to schools/academies sited in depressed areas without lowering the bar on standards.

V       Giving management the credit due

Finally, she said that she would move away from the notion of “hero (or heroine) heads” and look more closely about excellent management.   While praising inspirational headteachers, she observed: “Transforming a school involves more than just one individual.  It needs the work of a whole team.” Headteachers need strong deputies, effective business and finance managers…..and, of course, governors providing strong support and challenge,” she said.

A Harvard study, to which she referred in the conclusion of her speech, discovered that of 1,000 high-performing investment analysts, nearly half did not replicate their outstanding performance when they moved to other banks.   The study hypothesised that their previous success was in many cases the result of strong teams”. The same is true of schools/academies, she stated.   Well-functioning teams are at least as if not more important than “visionary” headteachers.  And this was to be acknowledged in future Ofsted inspections, she concluded.

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