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.

A good week for an inspection?

This week could be a good week to be inspected by Ofsted. That is, if the lead inspector is Welsh.

Some time in the not too distant past my school was inspected at around the same time that the Six Nations Rugby tournament was on. Our lead inspector was Welsh and it was in one of those years that Wales won the Grand Slam.

I remember that at the start of the inspection we had proverbially shot ourselves in the proverbial foot. Although we knew we were doing a good job and had the evidence to prove it, we had toned the achievement section of our self-evaluation from ‘good’ down to ‘satisfactory’. It is not a wise idea to be self-deprecating in these documents. The first thing the lead inspector said was – “so as a leadership team you claim to have moved the school’s achievement from ‘good’ to ‘satisfactory’. I that’s true it would mean that you have inadequate leadership, so I must put you into a category.”

We spent the next two days proving that our achievement was actually ‘good’ and as a consequence came out with an overall outcome of ‘good’.

The point of me saying all that, was that our inspector had given us a chance to get right what we had got wrong in our self-evaluation. I have spoken to other school leaders who have told me that their inspectors would never have given them such a chance. Our inspector was fair to us, generous even, some might claim, in giving us that chance. Was this because he was a nice guy? Is it because all Welsh people are nice? Or was he in a more positive mood because Wales were winning in the rugby at that time? Or could it even be that actually most Ofsted inspectors are actually pretty fair people?

Looking back over the Ofsted inspections I’ve been through – eight in total – I have to say that most of my experiences have been pretty fair. I’ve been praised for good stuff and criticised for under-performance. There are one or two disappointments – like the time when I saw the inspector coming to watch my outdoor PE lesson, but it was a grizzly day – he just stopped in the corridor for a minute or two and then moved on. Or the time when Ofsted came a-calling in the penultimate week of the Summer term. I was teaching Year 6 at the time and my plans revolved around perfecting the Leaver’s Production. Neither the inspection or the Production went particularly well for me that year.

Back to the inspection in question and I happen to know that the lead inspector wrote up his report over the same weekend that Wales won the Grand Slam. He wrote words in his report such as ‘blistering pace’ to describe one particularly good lesson. His report was particularly effusive I thought – colourful even. Did this partly result from his positive mood caused by Wales winning? It could well have contributed something. Yet, he was also fair with his criticisms and gave us good guidance on how to improve the school.

We have to face facts – Ofsted inspectors are individuals not robots. They have real lives with ups and downs just like the rest of us. Some of them will even have favoured teaching styles that they prefer to see. Catch them on a bad week and you might have to work harder to convince them of the job you are doing. But the inspection system is still in the main doing a good job, a far better job than the other main accountability measure – league tables. All league tables do is make schools turn the assessment system into a game to be won or lost, rather than use it for individual students to measure their success.

If you get the call this week, good luck and remember to stay positive. I even hope your inspector is Welsh.

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

 

The Road to Hell
The Road to Hell

Professor Nick Lee of Aston University used a football analogy to explain how role conflict can engender unethical behaviour.

Think of a footballer who cheats in a game. Why does he do it? He has two roles – one is to play as a sportsman the very best football he can. The other is to win games for his multi-million pound organisation. Do these roles ever come in conflict? If he can cheat to win a game then yes they do.

So if the footballer cheats, what happens? His manager says he will watch him more closely. His manager proceeds to watch him more closely. Will this correspond to his unethical behaviour being reduced? No – because the manager represents the multi-million pound organisation.

Nick Lee was giving his inaugural lecture at Aston University on Tuesday evening. This was the fourth of four points where he was illustrating that common sense doesn’t work when looking at how to manage and lead people.

His point here is that a manager may think that by watching his employees more closely he will reduce unethical behaviour, but actually Nick Lee’s research shows that the opposite is true. When role conflicts exist, more observation from a manager actually increases unethical behaviour.

The day after that lecture, the report from the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry was published. I haven’t read the report, but hearing about the conflicts that existed between patient care and meeting targets really got me thinking. Was it here, to quote Nick Lee, that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions? Was it that the initial good intentions of the nurses, doctors and managers to meet their targets led them down the road of more and more observation, putting the organisation before the patient, until those dreadful events happened there?

And then that got me thinking about schools. For schools, the league table is the constant observer. It is the yearly reminder that you must meet your targets. Does this create a role conflict for headteachers? Could it be that headteachers might put their school’s position on a league table ahead of the educational needs of each individual student? Could this then lead to cheating?

Image Courtesy of AtomSmasher.org – make your own Road Construction Sign at: http://atom.smasher.org/construction/?l1=The%20&l2=Road%20&l3=to%20&l4=hell