Maria’s Midweek Mindfulness
The Wednesday Whisper
An education in how our schools are judged
Since 2001, I’ve been going into schools, bringing Nonviolent Communication, peer mediation and the Dialogue Road Map. And for 2 years I was Chair of a Key Stage 4 Pupil Referral Unit (PRU). I haven’t always found this easy. I often see amazing people working under ridiculous conditions. One of those ridiculous conditions is an Ofsted Inspection.
Of course, many schools are compliant with Ofsted and find this kind of testing acceptable. However, for those who fear being misunderstood, I have been saddened by the strategies used to avoid the punishment of a bad judgement. In fact, if you google it, there are many websites explaining how to ‘survive’ an inspection. The word ‘survive’ is not language I would expect to find in an education system which is supposed to be about learning and development.
For example, it has been known for schools to round up all the disruptive kids and send them on an outing on the day of an inspection or to teach the lesson that the Inspector is going to witness a few weeks before, so the kids are prepared to put on a show. What this tells me is NOT that schools are being ‘bad’ but that the inspection framework is flawed.
So I am delighted that a significant group of educators have sent an open letter to Ofsted to challenge its methods. The key points of the letter are below.
Challenging ‘power over’ systems is a vital part of social change. How we
make that challenge is very important. The DRM supports the kind of dialogue
that transforms systems.
The Wednesday Whisper
Have you challenged a system recently? What system would you challenge and
Key Arguments of the Open Letter:
- Ofsted’s high-stakes grading system is in general inconsistent,
unreliable, and lacks any sense of objectivity.
- The grading system has had profound negative consequences for the teaching profession, inhibiting professional pedagogical analysis and discussion.
- Steiner schools have a fundamentally different ethos and pedagogy from mainstream schooling, the subtlety and depth of which Ofsted’s managerialist approach is distinctly ill-equipped to comprehend, let alone assess.
- Both the reliability and validity of Ofsted’s grading judgements are highly suspect; yet these are the very judgements used to rate schools “Inadequate”, and so threaten their very existence, so violating any conceivable definition of natural justice.
- Ofsted’s extreme punitive, naming-and-shaming approach inevitably generates negative psychological effects on the self-esteem and professional identity of both teachers and administrators – something which again is well documented in the literature.
- Families who have deliberately chosen a Steiner school for their children precisely in order to escape the ‘creative desert’ that is testing-obsessed mainstream schooling beloved of the Audit Culture are deeply distressed about their chosen schools being deemed “inadequate” by an organisation that is not remotely equipped to make such judgements.
- Ofsted’s gross, catch-all “Inadequate” rating cannot remotely reflect accurately the totality of any school’s education, where social class is just ignored, and such judgements can be based largely upon (according to Ofsted) ‘insufficient’ paperwork and record-keeping alone.
- How can a high-stakes grading approach not generate a reactive, performative and punishment-avoiding response on the part of recipients of these crassly simplistic gradings?
- For approaching three decades, the professional identity and autonomy of teachers have been under concerted assault from Ofsted and the noxious “audit and accountability culture” – with the impact on the morale and mental health of teachers and children alike widely regarded to have been catastrophic.
- Pupils and students fed on a relentless diet of narrow, unimaginative test-driven teaching and examinations (through no fault of teachers), and the accompanying tyranny of being ‘governed by numbers’, has led to students who have a severely attenuated inability to think critically and exercise learning autonomy.
- For nearly three decades, the psyche of our whole schooling system has been comprehensively colonised by a Gradgrind-ist ideology.
- Ofsted demonstrably represents a failing model. Not least, international data shows that neither the inspection regimes nor its various framework changes have had any discernible effect on progress, achievements or standards in England’s schools.
- Ofsted has created a national mood of stress and fear. A whole host of European countries come above the UK in the PISA ratings – and many of these countries have little or even no inspection framework at all.
- The whole approach to inspection, evaluation and judgement needs root-and-branch transformation to a far more collaborative approach – one which inspires schools to improve, rather than perpetuating an antiquated behaviourist system of punishment and rewards.
- Viable alternative demonstrably exist. Wales already has a far more constructive inspection system under ESTYN, with reforms planned to abolish headline gradings altogether, in favour of the kind of constructive, collaborative approach that we advocate.
- As Ofsted seems incapable of significantly changing its regime and approach, the only realistic way to reverse the malaise is to replace Ofsted with a supportive inspectorate that empowers, rather than punishes, bullies and publicly humiliates.
And, as ever, would you be willing to send this out to anyone you think might be interested in getting a little dose of mindfulness each week?