Wednesday. 12:01pm. A collective sigh of relief from headteachers across the land. Ofsted won’t be coming this week. If you’re currently in ‘the window’ you’ll know all about this weekly crescendo and crash. It’s a bit like a very slow, ominous wave, creeping up the shore (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday), breaking all over you (Wednesday) – cold and full of seaweed – then sliding back down the beach (rest of Wednesday-Sunday), ready for another go. Ridiculous. Pointless. Inefficient.
Here’s a proposal for a better system for the national accountability of schools. It has three parts:
- An MOT
- Jury Service
The MOT is an annual assessment of vehicle safety and road-worthiness. Introduced in 1960 by Minister for transport Ernest Marples, it checks 21 features including tyres, brakes and the ever useful horn. If you own a car, you know the test is coming, you know you’ll pass or fail it and you know exactly what to do to prepare (make sure your washer fluid is topped up, for example).
I propose a school MOT, once a year, to check that the basics are in place. It costs around £58 and is administered by a friendly, if untalkative, team of eduneers (educational engineers) who drive about in a van stopping off wherever an MOT has been booked. (This model is preferred over taking your school to the test center).
Features tested would be inspired by the actual MOT but relate directly to the quality of educational provision, for example, steering, (i.e. leadership),
2.1.1. Steering gear condition
To check the condition of the steering gear:
Turn the steering from lock to lock and observe the operation of the steering gear.
2.1.1. Leadership gear condition
To check the condition of the leadership gear:
Ask senior leaders how they successfully direct the school and accept 2 pieces of illustrative evidence.
2. Jury Service
People between 18 and 70 years of age have a civic duty to serve on a jury if called to do so. Roughly 35% of citizens are invited to take part, so there’s a 1 in 3 chance you’ll get asked. Jury members (usually 12) check facts impartially. They are not experts in law – that’s the judge’s role – but they do provide a commonplace view of a legal scenario. They bring reality to bear on an abstract system, they pursue truth based on their life experience and in doing so make our legal system practical and authentic instead of abstract and out of touch.
You know where I’m going with this don’t you. Teachers inspecting teachers (like Challenge Partners already do).
I propose that part of progress to UPS includes an increasing requirement on experienced teachers to inspect, advise and hold to account their colleagues. I’d much prefer tough empathy than uninformed punitive condemnation. Teachers know what it’s like to struggle with pupil behaviour, to wrestle with competing demands and to shoulder target-driven workloads. At UPS, a teacher-inspector wouldn’t accept excuses but they would fully understand reasons.
In 1776, Scottish Enlightenment thinker, Adam Smith published An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. In this definitive work he introduced The Invisible Hand, an economic concept suggesting that a free market will organise itself without the intervention of government.
He argued that individuals pursuing self interest, in a market where they are free to produce and consume, will cause a natural flow of prices and trade. The market moves as if directed by an invisible hand – which is actually the emergent behaviour of millions of individual decisions about what to buy or sell and millions of judgements about what has value.
I propose that schools should be left alone (apart from an annual MOT and UPS jury service inspections) to get on with the business of teaching and learning. The invisible educational hand will soon get to work. It’ll emerge from the children, their parents, the local community, the media and even the teachers in school and in nearby ones. If a school is failing its pupils, it’ll loose value and pupils will go. If a school is succeeding, it’ll gain value and pupils will arrive. And (heavens above) if we actually attached funding to number of pupils, the invisible hand could really get to work.
You might say this last idea is in play now. That educational capitalism is a travesty which undermines authentic learning and values-driven teaching. Maybe so. But to really see what cards the invisible educational hand will play, we must first remove the very visible and unnatural foot of Ofsted. Mr Gove unleashed market forces into education, but they are not yet free to become fully efficient.
There you have it. My proposal for a better way to hold schools to account for their pupils’ futures (remember, most children in school today will be alive in the 22nd century):
- An annual basics check (MOT)
- An expert self-inspection (Jury Service)
- Market forces (the educational invisible hand)
After all, does anyone loose sleep over an MOT; worry unduly about someone who knows their profession, helping them out; or complain excessively when the price of apples goes up a bit?
Something to Think About
Is there actually any research to show that inspection systems like Ofsted’s help raise progress and achievement? (I’ve not found any yet)
How would you best hold schools and teachers to account?
What is the most effective way to help a teacher become even more effective?