Let’s be clear once more about this. 3Di absolutely agrees with Sir Michael Wilshaw that all children are entitled to a high quality education. We believe that this includes children’s rights to be numerate and literate. It’s also about a young person’s entitlement to receive and to use a range of knowledge, and to develop skills and attitudes such as critical thinking, independent action and self-expression. They should also develop excellent communication skills. Quality education also includes access to creative learning and nurturing a joy in learning. We believe that quality education develops all of the intelligences equally.
Where we differ from Sir Michael Wilshaw is with how all of this is recorded and measured, and subsequently, what defines a good education as opposed to good schooling whose main or sole focus is the passing of tests and exams. We’ve said this before and we’ll go on saying it – teaching to the tests can never be acceptable. Children deserve much better than that.
Ofsted has a duty to explore the state of education in this country. That is its remit, not merely to monitor schooling. That is why one of the areas within the current Ofsted framework that Ofsted inspectors have to “consider” is the Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural development of the child. However, this particular remit doesn’t come with judgment criteria. It seems it’s not as important to the development of the child as the four areas that are “graded”.
So when Ofsted go into Derby today and probably Coventry, Wakefield and Thurrock in the near future, what precisely are they going to be looking at? The stringent criteria with which they currently view schools, or something different?
And here’s another issue that seems to have crept in to the system without anyone batting an eyelid – Michael Wilshaw said that his inspectors would follow the Section Five Criteria but would delve further than this if necessary. Precisely who has given inspectors the power to judge a school on something other than the criteria that are published? Whilst we would love to see a broader interpretation of education being inspected, you can’t simply do this without legislation. Where is the equity in this? How can you make valid comparisons if the criteria used for making judgements are variable?
Head teachers in Derby should be very clear at the beginning of these imposed inspections as to precisely what they are being inspected on.
The other issue is about local authority management. Sir Michael Wilshaw continued to say that if he wasn’t satisfied with the outcome of the school inspections, he would also inspect local authority school improvement teams to identify and scrutinise the support given to schools.
Again, what criteria is he going to use to inspect school improvement teams, if indeed he can find any – such are their dwindling numbers and influence? Is he going to use the aspects of the Children’s Service Inspection Framework or is he going to make up some new judgments, again without legislation to alter the questions asked?
This is a clear example of one part of the body not working in conjunction with another. Local authorities don’t have the powers of intervention that they once had. They can look on (if they exist) in hopeless apoplexy at an academy that is failing to provide quality education and do absolutely nothing until Ofsted deem the school unfit for purpose – something that they may be reluctant to do due to the political status of academies.
You cannot possibly inspect local authorities on why they haven’t intervened when they simply don’t have the resources or the powers that they once had. Reduction in funding for local government is one issue, and the progression of the academies strategy is another. Local authorities have no influence over academies. That is what Mr Gove wanted and that is what he got. To then suggest that local authorities should be further penalised or reprimanded is almost laughable if it wasn’t so serious.
The two Michaels would also do well to look at their own statistics. Is it any wonder that Camden Council, for instance, heads their league table of local authorities? This council doesn’t have one academy. Not one. This means that despite the cut backs to local authority funding, they have managed to maintain a relatively decent school improvement team. How have they done this? The schools have bought into a service that they value. They have recognised the need for collaborative not competitive work, and the alliance works for the good of the children, not merely to maintain a service for the sake of it or out of a desire to maintain the status quo because that is always how it has been.
Here’s another little anomaly. If Sir Michael Wilshaw’s team of inspectors do look at the wellbeing of pupils in their school inspections as well as their schooling, how are they going to evidence the input from health or social care? Academies don’t have to answer to local authorities school improvement teams but neither do they have to answer to the new statutory health and wellbeing boards. Yet, ironically, the health and wellbeing boards are statutorily responsible for all children and young people in the local authority, irrespective of where they attend school. So how does that work?
We all want the best for our children and young people nationally. We all want to ensure that there isn’t a post code lottery on receiving quality education, but we also need fairness, equity and trust. It’s up to colleagues in other areas of the country to show a little solidarity to those who are under more pressure in these so-called failing authorities. It’s also up to Sir Michael Wilshaw and Mr Michael Gove to be absolutely clear as to what they are inspecting, why they are inspecting and whether they are considering all contributing factors to whether a school can provide a service – or whether they need more money, more resources, more collaboration, and more middle tier local authority guidance and support.