Friday, 22 June 2012

Ofsted - A level deeper

The underlying purpose of a regulator is to protect the public interest.
The duty of politicians is to make sure there is a regulator in place.  Politicians also have a duty and a right to scrutinise the behaviour of regulators on behalf of the public.

When the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act (2006) was consulted with regulators, 5 out of 7 welcomed it as they knew it would empower them in fulfilling their duties to a high standard.

Only Ofsted opposed it and they did this not only with the arguments which are recorded, there also seems to have been substantial obfuscation and a continual supply of misinformation.  This is consistent with my personal experience of trying to engage in discussion with Ofsted.

Ofsted have shown no interest in adopting best practice in the interests of the public.  They have instead chosen to be Gove's puppets for destruction - employing without complaint  or objection procedures which is clearly established to be bad practice.  The disproportionate level of punishment of schools which is taking place, the recategorisation of satisfactory as being unsatisfactory, the processes used by regulators to judge without forensic investigation, - these are all practices which other regulators cannot by law and would not wish to engage in.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Ofsted - Clearing the Fog

This post provides specific detail relevant to my previous blog: Ofsted - Clarifying the State of Affairs.

It seems that whenever the issue of improving Ofsted is raised, a substantial volume of points are raised to confuse the issue.  The purpose of this blog is to list points most commonly raised and appropriate responses to them to help to 'clear the fog' of confusion.  If anyone hears of any other points being made which create the impression that it would be unwise for Ofsted to be obligated to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act (2006) please do post them in the comments to this blog so that they can be discussed.

Point 1 - That the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act conflicts with Ofsted's prior statutes.

The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act was created to oblige regulators to apply best practice when fulfilling their duties to:
- drive improvement
- protect against bad practice and
- report to the government regarding the state of the organisations they regulate.
It challenged regulators to improve the quality of their practice as they fulfill these duties which are, of course, Ofsted's duties.
Ofsted's previous statutes allowed them to behave in ways which are now recognised and accepted as being bad practice.  Their obligation to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act (2006) should clearly override any previous legal obligations which contradict this law.  

Point 2 - The Hampton principles include references to economic progress and are therefore not suitable for the state sector

While the Hampton principles contain references to economic progress, the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act (2006) does not, it only obliges regulators to act in ways which are transparent, accountable, proportionate, consistent and targeted only at cases where action is needed.  The Hampton principles sit behind this law in that they provide explanations of what good practice is which regulators can use to defend their actions but the law has been written with no reference to economic progress so that it can apply to all organisations. 

Point 3 - That obligating Ofsted to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act (2006) will lead to an avalanche of legal cases with which our legal system will not be able to cope.

This was a point made with great energy and conviction on a discussion forum (see comment by Ricky Tarr 07/06/12 7:29pm).  I'm not sure why the poster feels this will happen.  Private schools, public schools and (virtually?) all other regulated organisations already have the protection of this law.  Is it currently leading to lots of spurious claims?  

Applying for a Judicial Review (which is what you do if you're using this law - you are saying that the regulator is behaving illegally and their conduct needs to be challenged) is an expensive process and schools would need to be accountable to their governing bodies and other stakeholders for hat expenditure so I can't see it happening unless there is a clear breach of the law by the regulator, in which case surely it should be happening?

If the regulator is behaving consistently outside the law and several Judicial Reviews are granted, the legal system is configured to cope with this situation because instead of running several separate Judicial Reviews it convenes an 'Independent Commission' which investigates the behaviour of the regulator and examines the interpretation of the law by others who are obliged to it in order to rule definitively regarding what is and isn't legal behaviour for the regulator.  And then the issue should be concluded - unless the regulator continues to defy the law which is not a circumstance I would expect.

Point 4 - This has been previously consulted and the conclusion was that Ofsted should not be obligated to this law

This appears to be untrue.  This document shows that it was the clear conclusion of the last government that Ofsted should be obligated to this law for all its activities (see point 4.11).  Graham Stuart (Conservative MP and Chair of the Education Select Committee) recommended that the Ofsted directorate meet with me to discuss the salient points of my concerns during their consultations regarding their activities last year however despite agreeing readily in public, I was told firmly and absolutely that my concerns would not be discussed by Richard Brooks (Ofsted Director of Strategy).  I can't find any indication that there has been a consultation which has concluded that Ofsted should not be obliged to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform  Act (2006) for all its activities.

Point 5 - We don't need to obligate Ofsted to this law because they are already following it.
No they aren't.  Under this law the areas in which a school is behaving in an unacceptable way must be clearly and specifically identified and any action taken must be proportionate to and specific to the issue identified.  This is not what is happening at present. 

The phrase 'satisfactory is the new unsatisfactory' is deeply at odd with Hampton.  Satisfactory means there is no issue to be addressed.  Unsatisfactory means there is an issue to be addressed.  You can't say that 'satisfactory' is 'unsatisfactory'.  

There's plenty more I could write - please do feel free to get in touch or ask questions through the comments to this blog.  Thank you for reading this.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Ofsted - Clarifying the State of Affairs

In 2005 the government completed a review (the Hampton Review) of inspection and regulation with the purpose of establishing and embedding in law best practice in regulators fulfilling their duties to:
- drive improvement
- protect against bad practice
- report to the government regarding the state of the organisations they regulate.
The Hampton Principles which were established from this review were embedded in law in the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act (2006), the salient point of which is point 21 which legally obliges regulators to act in ways which are transparant, accountable, proportionate, consistent and targeted only at cases where action is needed. The Hampton Principles sit behind that law to provide explanations of the types of regulatory activity which meets these standards.

I have, for the last couple of years, been exploring why Ofsted uses methodologies which directly contradict best practice as defined by Hampton (see for example blogs her for August and September last year).  I was very shocked by the way in which those in authority refused point blank to engage in intelligent discussion about the component issues.  

In January this year I came to believe that Ofsted have in fact been obliged to these standards.   I knew that the last government had intended to get them under it as can clearly be seen in this document (see point 4.11 and onwards), I knew it made sense for them to be under it, I knew that public and private schools were under it (part 1A point 21) and Ofsted themselves had said it didn't feel it could/should run different systems for different types of school (point 4.8) and then I heard on the BBC TV news that Ofsted were subject to judicial review due to a judgement related to their behaviour at Furness Academy.  This couldn't be the case unless that academy was also covered by the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act as without this law Ofsted remain unaccountable to everyone but themselves and the SoS for Education.  However it turned out that the BBC report was incorrect.

So while all other regulators are required to the principles of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act (shown in green above), Ofsted have a special exemption from it in the case of State Schools.

The main consequence of this exemption from the law is that it allows Ofsted to operate in ways which serve the interests of politicians and itself rather than requiring that it works to the benefit of society and the customers of the organisations it regulates.  The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act (2006) was the mechanism by which organisations can hold their regulators accountable if they are failing to implement good practice in their own activities.  While all other organisations have the power to hold their regulator accountable, state schools do not.  They have no power at all.  This means that when the regulator behaves in ways which are clearly detrimental to education nobody can stop them.

The consequences of this on the ground are horrific.  When inappropriate regulatory behaviour occurs scapegoats have to be created in and around the school affected because everyone knows the regulator cannot be held to account.  For those of you who haven't seen what it's like when that happens and how good schools, teachers and high quality education are destroyed - all I can say is - lucky you.  Far too many people in education have experienced firsthand the extreme behaviour which is required to try to do everything possible avoid such a situation occurring and have direct experience of how ludicrous and counterproductive much of this behaviour is. 

This could be corrected so easily.  All that's needed is an order to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act which clearly makes Ofsted accountable to it for all its activities.  It could be done in just a few weeks.

Ofsted and those associated with them put forward many objections to them being obligated to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act.  They are all just smokescreen.  As soon a I get the time I will write a blog which lists them and counters each so that those who wish to pursue this issue can do so effectively and efficiently.