Sunday, 28 August 2011

Ofsted part 7: How could a purpose-led inspectorate effectively drive quality improvement?

By mandating, as part of the minimum standards criteria (discussed in parts 5 and 6) that schools participate in a quality assured improvement programs.

You'd neeed someone exceptionally bright (highly experienced in education with at least an MEd and a recent MBA as well) organising the regulation of the frameworks for such programs at the inspectorate.

They'd need a small team of people who worked to quality assure improvement programs (individual schools might be quality assured or bodies which groups of schools worked with may be).

The at last schools would have the freedom to select who they worked with to mentor them on quality improvement.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could have PRUs being mentored by bodies with specialist expertise in running PRUs for example?

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Ofsted part 6: How could a purpose-led inspectorate effectively identify and eliminate unacceptable practice? (part 2)

In part 5 of this section of my blog I pointed out that there could be considered to be two contexts in which a purpose-led inspectorate may need to intervene to protect against unacceptable standards.

The first (where specific issues have arisen which do not raise concerns about the leadership at the school) I considered in part 5.   In this section I shall consider:

What happens in cases where there is concern regarding the leadership at a school?

One of the most important ways in which our children can be protected from unacceptable standards in education is by planning to ensure that headteachers who are not performing well are replaced.

Dealing with this issue is extremely difficult and complex, as the same headteacher behaviour may be productive at one school and destructive at another.

It is also natural that the style of leadership exhibited by a headteacher and the decisions they make will not suit all parties at all times.  Such alienated parties may raise concerns which are sincere, but when should they be deemed to require the replacement of the head and when should the head be endorsed despite the concerns raised?

Despite these very difficult issues, the replacement of failing headteachers should be one of the functions of a purpose-led education inspectorate if one of its purposes is to protect against unsatisfactory standards in education.

It is therefore absolutely essentials that inspectors are exceptionally credible to the member of the school community they are inspecting.  They should be credible headteachers with substantial experience which is relevant to the type of school they are inspecting.  Inspection should be a natural options for career progressions for a well reputed headteacher who is seeking to move from full time work to part time work in the later stages of their career.

Consideration of the issues here leads to the conclusion that there will be instances where it is necessary for inspectors to monitor and mentor schools over a period of time.  Questions also arise as to who would be responsible for supporting an incoming replacement head given the current uncertainty regarding the provision of local authorities.

In part 7 of this section of my blog I will consider how a purpose-led education inspectorate body could deliver on the purpose of:
      2.   Ensuring that schools are working in a professional way to improve the quality of their provision
In part 8 I will consider how the purpose of:
3.   Reporting on what is going on in schools / the quality of provision.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Ofsted part 5: How could a purpose-led inspectorate effectively identify and eliminate unacceptable practice?

It is right and proper that all stakeholders in education should have the right to be consulted regarding what they consider to be unacceptable practice. 

Although there will be a significant amount of contextual variation in standards set (what is unacceptable in some circumstances is acceptable in others), nonetheless it is right that there should be processes where the boundaries between unacceptable and acceptable practice are defined and any possible exemptions from these boundaries are agreed.

Such a purpose for an educational inspectorate would lead to there being two ways in which a school may raise concerns regarding unacceptable practice.  The first is if it is failing to meet one or more of the standards laid down.  The second is if there is concern regarding the quality of the leadership of the headteacher at the school.  I will discuss the first issue in this post and the second issue in the next.

When schools fail to meet particular standards

Example 1: child protection
Say for example an inspector questions a teacher at a school his is inspecting about child protection issues and find that that teacher doesn't really understand the topic and doesn't know who the child protection officer at their school is.  That inspector might then divert from his original plans in order to take the time to ascertain whether this is a significant issues among staff at the school or not.  If he finds other teachers are properly aware of procedures he is likely to conclude it is not.  However if he find this is a systemic issue at the school he may will raise it with the headteacher.  The headteacher may already have in place a coherent plan for a training update for staff or he may, perhaps, deny the problem or create a defence of there being no need for individual awareness as staff would ask if an issue arose.  The inspector will be well placed to rebut either denial (by taking the headteacher with him while he interviews more staff) or deflection (because he has clear standards by which he is assessing staff awareness).

The inspection report produced will contain a statement of the issue, the proposed plan of action which the inspector should agree with the head and intended consequences (e.g. an unannounced re-inspection on this issue to take place in 3-9 months). There may also be a charge for the school associated with this which might typically be to cover the cost of that re-inspection.   

Of course the inspector would be assessing the headteacher during this interaction.  Do they know their school well?  Are they behaving in an appropriately professional and competent way?  If the behaviour of the head raises concern they will investigate further (to be covered in the next blog post).

Example 2: school security.
Supposing an inspector discovers that a school is failing to comply with particular standards of school security and that the root cause of that failure to comply lies with their being a public right of way through the school grounds, a circumstance not considered when those standards were drawn up.

There is likely to be a lengthy discussion between the inspector and the headteacher about this issue.  Between them they may come up with some improvements which could be made despite this issue.  The headteacher may talk about the enormous cost and possibly impenetrable public issues associated with changing the right of way.  The headteacher may suggest that change is neither necessary nor right for his community. 

In this case the inspectors report may contain a section which discusses this issue.  It may describe changes agreed and mandate the school to carry out a consultation and a cost/funding stream analysis of possible ways forward within the normal inspection cycle.  This would allow time for that inspector to report back to the bodies which set these standards, carefully describing the issues and exploring the possibility of specific exemptions/modifications to the criteria being developed for schools with public rights of way through their grounds.  This issue would then be revisited during the next normal inspection.  There may also be communication between the inspector and the headteacher in the meantime to help that inspector best inform the mandating bodies regarding the issues of public rights of way.

In essence I am saying that there should be professional/human interaction regarding the consequences of failures found.  Inspectors should be competent and properly empowered by their organisational structure to behave in this way.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Ofsted Part 4: What principles would underpin the actions of a purpose-led education inspectorate?

Firstly the purposes of inspection would be clearly visible at all times.
These may be:
1.    The identification and elimination of unacceptable practice
2.    Ensuring that schools are working in a professional way to improve the quality of their provision
3.    Reporting on what is going on in schools/the quality of provision.

Secondly, not only the law which explicitly applies to Ofsted:
 regulatory activities should be carried out in a way which is transparent, accountable, proportionate and consistent;”
but the principles behind this law would be embodied in the behaviour of inspectors and in the procedures they follow.

Thirdly, processes which generate spurious results or results which are not robustly valid would be eliminated.

Fourthly, there would be substantial feedback loops whereby conclusions both could and would be challenged according the now visible purposes of inspection.

Fifthly, and perhaps most importantly, where practice of concern was identified interventions would be of the minimum level needed to address them in ways which were appropriate to the institution being inspected.
I understand more detail is needed to bring this to life and I will attempt to provide more of that detail in the posts which will follow.  Please don’t hesitate to raise issues and post questions using the comment facility available here.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Ofsted Part 3: Cultures of inspection (Process-led v purpose-led)

My journey into understanding why Ofsted is as it is has taken me deeply into the history of inspection in education and has also taken me beyond education into past and present cultures and process of inspection and regulation across many disciplines.
This posts attempts to summarise a key emerging theme which is the difference between process-led and purpose-led inspection

Process-led inspection occurs when regulators establish processes and procedures and the following of these processes becomes the main function of inspection.  
The culture which surrounds this is one where inspectors believe (often correctly) that by following those processes to the letter they can exhonerate themselves from any blame associated with problems arising at the organisations they inspect. 
There is an expectation that inspection processes will identify problems and that the methods for resolving those problems will be as clearly defined at the processes which have been followed have been.
In reality, the processes and consequences which have been laid down quickly age and were probably never appropriate for all circumstances in the first place so there is a poor fit between the outcomes of inspection and the organisations to which those processes are applied.

Purpose-led inspection occurs when the purposes for which regulators exist are clearly defined and the processes employed evolve to fit those purposes.
Questions asked and observation strategies may start from a standard process but will rapidly deviate from this so that the inspector can analyse and understand the situation being inspected. 
Rather judging the behaviour of the organisation being inspected according to abstract criteria, it is judged according to whether or not its behaviour is in accordance with its journey forward given where it currently is and its contexts.
Consequences of negative judgements fit the purpose of the identifying and resolving these issues effectively and efficiently.

It’s a human sign that there will be individual inspectors who will gravitate towards process-led inspection.  Politicians may either implicitly or explicitly demand it.  But it is essential that the directors of a regulatory body work exceptionally hard to ensure that that body is and remains purpose led and that the procedures it employs will support inspectors in delivering on that purpose.

The extent to which Ofsted has failed in this respect is extreme and the consequences of this failure have been devastating for staff in English education.  The duty for measuring the extent of this failure lies with Ofsted who have to justify, on balance, any deviation from its obligation the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act (2006). I see no evidence that they are even aware of this duty.   

To be continued…. 

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Ofsted Part 2: A journey to the heart of matters.

Why do Ofsted grade the quality of education where a strong floor standard is clearly met when other regulators consider this to be bad practice which damages innovation, diversity and prevents them clearly seeing and understanding practice with which they are not familiar?
I took this question to the Westminster Education Forum Consultation:
Accountability in Education – the future of governance, Ofsted and league tables on the 5th of July 2011.
I put it first to Graham Stuart MP who has recently chaired a review of Ofsted.
He agreed with my observations that Ofsted clearly had a duty to establish and police a high floor standard for educational services and that it had a duty to scrutinise and audit schools detailed self-reports regarding their provision of services.  In response to my question regarding the grading of the quality of services, he said that he felt that there was an opportunity for me to contribute to the Ofsted’s current internal consultation regarding their framework to try and make sure the Ofsted fitted more with what I thought it should do compared to what it does now.
I was satisfied with this response and then addressed the question in a more succinct form to Richard Brooks, the Ofsted Director present at the consultation:
“Where you are inspecting an area of service in an institution and there are no concerns about it, why is better to grade is on a single scale rather than for there to be a qualitative report on it, provided by the school, which is a basis for professional dialogue and on which the inspector comments with any concerns or qualifications?”
His reply was (subject to possible transcript errors):
“I mean of course, there are epistemological attractions from having essentially a single judgment to make about which side of a line do you fall on, satisfactory/unsatisfactory. But you have a real problem about deciding where that line is, and what you taken into account when you think about whether people are
which side of it. So if you think about the overall effectiveness judgment, would we be making essentially a judgment analogous to inadequacy, where all of the other information was lost, where 90% of schools were essentially passing? You would lose a great deal of the richness about the discussion at the boundary between ‘is this practice satisfactory, or is it better than satisfactory? Is it good? If it’s good what can we do to make it excellent? What are the improvements points at a school which actually is not worried about being found inadequate, but really wants to strive to be
outstanding? What are the things that we think institutionally we should focus on?’ All of that would go. It would be a simpler inspection system in some ways, but I think you would lose a lot. Perhaps I have not understood you, but we can talk at the break.”

This was, of course, and answer which attempted to justify the practice of grading the quality of provision without engaging at all with the reasons why this practice is unsatisfactory or to criticise possible alternative practices which serve the same purpose.

We did speak at the break and I was concerned that Mr Brooks did not appear to have any awareness of the arguments make against the status quo by other regulators.  So I suggested that I come and talk to Ofsted as Graham Stuart MP had advised.  That suggestion received a very definite refusal and that categorical statement that the grading of the quality of provision would not change, however Mr Brooks agreed that if I put my question in writing by email he would respond.

Rebecca Hanson to Richard Brooks July 5th

Dear Richard,

Thank you for your time today.

You promised to ponder the question I asked and attempt to answer it more fully.

Just to remind you the question was:
Other regulators interpret the Hampton principle on page 11 of the attached report (regulators are only mandated to intervene when there is a clear case for protection) to mean that they have no duty to attempt to rate the quality of provision where there is not a clear case for protection.  There are considered to be important reasons why rating the quality of provision where there is not a clear case for protection militates against innovation and high quality provision.

Please can you explain to me why Ofsted does rate the quality of provision where there is no clear case for protection?

Best regards,

Rebecca Hanson

Richard Brooks to Rebecca Hanson 6th July

The two short answers are:
-          whilst we act as a regulator in respect of some services, we act as an inspectorate in relation to the education provision within our remit.
 -          we are a creature of statute, and the relevant legislation, including the Education Bill before Parliament now, is explicit that we will report on quality in school inspections. There is of course a valid debate to be had about the merits of taking this approach, and whilst I’m not seeking to dismiss the alternative, I would personally come down on the side of quality ratings. Indeed I think the protection principle can very well be used to justify inspection of quality in relation to many services for children. In the end, however, it is not a decision for us. Kind regards Richard

In November 2009 Ofsted was specifically included under 2006 Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act to which most other regulators had been accountable since 2007.  Therefore it is bound by precisely the same law and principles as other regulators.  Yet although this Act was constructed to militate against poor practices like the grading of the quality of provision of services, Richard Brooks was claiming that Ofsted is forced to grade the quality of the provision of services “it is not a decision for us”.

So I submitted a freedom of information request to Ofsted to find out if there was any justification for Richard Brooks claim.  The response is 3 pages long.  The only possible partial justification for the claim is a reference to a statue which designates that Ofsted must report on the quality of provision.  I cannot find any legal imperative that this must be done by the auditing of quality standards or though qualitative reports with disciplined language.  There is substantial justification for the assertion that the quality of the work done by Ofsted would be much higher if alternative practices were used.

So I ask again:
Why are those involved in education in England subject to inspections which are considered to be bad practice by other British regulators because they militate against diversity, against innovation and against the regulator actually perceiving what is happening?

Richard Brooks claims that Ofsted is forced to do from outside.
By what or by whom is he forced to do that?
His response to me question showed a very serious lack of understanding or either inspection and regulation and a total lack of insight into the realities of the consequences of current inspection practices on education.

Where is Ofsted’s ‘proper conclusion’ that this practice is in the interest of the education of our students?
Where is anyone’s ‘proper conclusion’ that this is in anyone’s interest?
Where is the cost benefit analysis I can look at which properly understands and justifies the costs of this quasi-objective system?

To be continued...

Monday, 8 August 2011

Ofsted part 1: A journey into questioning the status quo.

Time for an interruption for something anglocentric I’m afraid.  I will come back to the yin and yang theme after that and in the meantime please do continue to comment on any old posts.

Like the vast majority of those in English Education, my assumption that there had to be a coherent explanation as to why reason why Ofsted is as it is was deeply ingrained.

I’ve seen such horrors, but I assumed that it was only me – that my experiences were not representative.  I’ve seen the gifted teachers destroyed by ‘unsatisfactory’ ratings.  I watched strong pedagogies disappear because they weren’t ‘Ofsted-proof’.  I've seen great school put into special measures by teams who’ve turned up with scores of ‘fail points’ those schools had to disprove in order to avoid the status and have been deemed to be ‘failing’ despite disproving very nearly all of them.  I’d read the statistics about the correlation between Ofsted gradings and exam outcomes.

Yet still, when I accepted a position as Head of Maths at a school in special measures, I expected the frequent dialogue with inspectors to be a constructive experience.  The reason for this was that our HMI was the top inspector for maths in England.  My personal experiences of such characters had been so positive that I was convinced the interaction would be appropriately challenging and constructive.  With excellent academic and teaching credentials, a credible history of achievements in mathematics education at national and international levels, a clear plan as to how we would harness the substantial technological resources we had to transform results and a strong network of friends and contacts across mathematics education I thought it would be a constructive experience.  I am well known for relishing every challenge and seeing it as being an opportunity to achieve deeper insight.

The reality was…. indescribably awful.  

Yet still I was convinced I must just have been unlucky. I started to listen to others as I attended conferences.   From a distance Ofsted had done a wonderful job at their schools.  Close up the picture was very different.  But I could only get ‘close up’ because teachers trusted me.  They could see I’d been there.  They didn’t feel at all at ease expressing their experiences and had no fluency in doing so.  Most were embarrassed by their experiences.  Few felt that there was any point in talking about it as nothing would change and they would be labelled trouble makers.  

In essence it seemed that the quality of the reports and gradings were often very low.  The constant numerical grading of everything created a pseudo-objectivity to the reports, but it often seemed that those numbers (or at least the average/corollary grading of them) was determined prior to the arrival of inspectors and the reports were cut and paste standard comments which linked those grades with few modifications.  This seemed to be much more the case in schools with challenging cohorts which did not choose to follow strategies where by all staff were ‘singing from the same hymnsheet’ all the time in order to allow teachers to have a degree of professional responsibility and freedom in allowing them to teach to best of their abilities and to adapt rapidly to evolving circumstances.

It seemed to me that the process of grading the quality of provision was counterproductive because it created a false sense of objectivity, it created abstract definitions of what a high quality education was which meant that much great teaching went unrecognised and, most importantly, it seemed to militate against dialogue between schools and weaker inspectors who could hide behind their own negative judgements of the staff who disagreed with their opinions.  The feedback loops were virtually non existent for most staff and the assumption that weak results indicated that ‘weak teachers should be punished’ could only be countered by very strong, eloquent and established heads.    

It seemed to me then that what was needed instead was that Ofsted should be responsible for clearly defining ‘unacceptable’ practice in collaboration with all stakeholders and that it should demand (as part of the process of avoidance of ‘unacceptable practice’) that schools provide detailed qualitative descriptions regarding their current practices and their processes and plans for improvement and that these should be scrutinised, audited and mentored by inspectors.  

Yet still I assumed that Ofsted must have a justification for continuing to use these numerical grades for the quality of provision.  So I started to suggest in both face-to-face and in discussion forums that they shouldn’t in order to try and reveal what this justification was. Coherent answers or justifications for what Ofsted was doing did not arrive*.  Instead I found that international education regulators and other UK regulators considered the grading of the quality of provision above a high floor standard to be poor practice and effectively to be illegal under the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act (2006) which enshrined the Hampton Principles for regulation for the reasons I suggested.  To define what is high quality provision militates against innovation, diversity and regulators properly tuning in to and seeking to understand what is actually going on.  Improvement is more effectively achieved through detailed scrutiny and mentoring of provision and improvement processes.
(more to follow).

Sunday, 7 August 2011

The yin and yang of maths education - Part 7. The difference in the nature of the red route and the blue route.

File:Yin and Yang.svg

There are two arrows from zone C to zone B.  How are they similar?  How are they different?

When the purple arrows are in operation, the brain is constructing a need and place for the knowledge which it acquires before it receives it.

But what of the red arrow?  Is the opposite true?  Is knowlege being presented before the brain is ready to receive it?

I would say sometimes and sometimes not.  I would also say that where this is happening it is not necessarily disastrous.

Sometimes and sometimes not: A wise and experienced teacher will not tell students what they are to learn, they will guide them through experiences and help them develop their own insights which will naturally lead their brains to demand the knowledge which is to be taught.  This is appropriate in many areas of mathematics where knowledge is constructed in an axiomatic way.  In these cases there will be little difference between the red and the purple routes.  However not all mathematical skills lend themselves to axiomatic construction.  This is particularly true of human skills such as resililance and application to contexts, but is also true of other ontological aspects of mathatics such as the definitions of root concepts.

Where this (knowledge being presented) is happening it is not necessarily disastrous. This is particularly true if the student has developed a mind which is used to acting in a constructivist way.  Such a student will look at the knowledge being presented and will work actively to see if they can construct a place and a context for it given what is already authentic to them.  It is useful that students develop the ability to do this.