Michael Gove should trust Wilshaw more and League Table less

I’ve been reflecting on SATs in the light of Gove’s recent speech over the last few posts and today I received a tweeted reply to my most recent post from @janey23HT

@oldandrewuk @frogphilp what about the schools where over a third aren’t even at lv4 yet ofsted judge them to be doing an outstanding job!”

It seems a travesty doesn’t it? How can a school be awarded the best grade at inspection when a third of their pupils don’t even achieve the national standard.

But what if some of the children come into school at such a low standard that achieving the national standard 7 years later is a mighty feat. Is it possible that there could be that much of a difference in standards between 4 year-olds?

My school is a bit like that. Nearly half of our children come in ‘well below’ national standards. This means that at the age of four these children have not been exposed to books and libraries. Often these children are functioning like an eighteen month old with speech development far below that of the ‘average four-year old’. Sometimes their parents are just out of school themselves and have low expectations for what the education system can do for them.

For a school like mine, would it not be a good thing to educate these children so that they are only just below national standards? If we take children in who are already two years behind at the age of four and educate them so that they are only a year behind by the time they are 11, is that not a good job? Yes they might not achieve level four, but despite a lack of support from home they have caught up, and given the education from some of the fantastic secondary schools in my area, they will continue to catch up at secondary school.

Of course we don’t aim for just below national standards. We aim for higher. My school is not yet outstanding, but I can see how Ofsted might judge a school to be outstanding even if a third of their children did not achieve level 4.

And I think Michael Gove can see this too. That is why he has supported the pupil premium despite the cuts facing much of public service. It is the pupil premium in schools like mine that keep the resources to educate these children who are well behind at the age of four. That is why he speaks so passionately about high expectations – he knows we can do even better. Like Gove, I am not satisfied that some of my children are still behind where they should be when they leave my school. I want to find ways of improving my teaching so that my children do even better.

Of the accountability measures in place, it is Ofsted that has provided the best framework for improving my school. They have given us the advice that has shown us what we are doing well and where we need to improve. I agree with this week’s Secret Teacher at the Guardian that Ofsted can be used by school leaders to create a climate of fear, but it is not Ofsted itself that does that, it is leadership passing on their own fears to their staff. This often happens because of reference control (an idea I stole from Mick Waters).

Unlike Ofsted, league tables just increase role conflict, where the teachers are not sure what to serve – the success of the school or the success of their students. Yes Ofsted, may be a flawed system. It is humans monitoring humans after all. But without national data in the form of league tables, inspectors would come into schools and do proper inspecting – they would not be able to form any pre-conceived notions as the writer of the ‘Secret Teacher’ asserts. They would investigate performance management and discover whether teachers were being sufficiently challenged by school leaders, and likewise whether school leaders were being properly held to account by Governors.

Who would be brave enough to establish a system like this? A system based wholly on human to human interaction with consistency ensured by a proven successful school leader such as Michael Wilshaw?

School performance would be entirely dependent on inspection, the reputation of the school in the community and the rigour of the Governing Body.

It would involve a high level of trust in the success of the inspection part of the system, and maybe that’s something Michael Gove is not quite ready to do yet.

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