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.

1 comment:

  1. I like this post - headteachers ought to have their finger on the pulse as far as these issues are concerned, after all they are paid significantly more than the rest of their staff in order to do so.

    Am already looking forward to the next post!