In the forty years that I have been in the education sector, I have seen a lot of change. I started teaching before the introduction of “The National Curriculum”: “Baker Days”, “Curriculum 2000”, “Laptops for Teachers”, “City Technology Colleges”, “National Strategies”, “5A*-C”, Diplomas, EBacc, Academies, Free Schools, Progress 8… Yet, throughout those 40 years, I think the proposed amends to the Ofsted Framework signal one of the most profound education changes in the past couple of decades.
Having experienced more than my fair share of Ofsted Inspections, many as the leader of a school serving, as I like to put it, an area of outstanding natural deprivation, I was often left with the bitter taste of unfairness.
I watched as, time and again, our policies and practice that, in most settings, would be rated as outstanding, were demerited to “satisfactory” because of the raw score performance of the school community.
I watched as other colleagues gamed the system, through BTEC abuses, “cleansing” cohort after cohort through managed moves, permanent exclusions, coerced home education agreements, setting up invisible but impermeable barriers to entry (“…Mrs Smith, we don’t think this is the right school for your son…”)… and then get lauded and feted for their rapid improvements.
At times, it made me feel sick.
All I wanted to do was for my school to serve every child and every family within my community with dignity, aspiration and pride…every child… every child. I suppose that was my naive and simplistic understanding of the word “inclusion”.
And this is why I feel great hope when I read the proposed Ofsted changes. It feels like the most inclusive, child-centred Inspection Framework we have ever had. Terms like “all learners (or almost all learners)”, “inclusive”, “particularly the most disadvantaged” litter the new framework. I particularly like Ofsted’s definition of off-rolling, which contains the phrase “…when the removal (of the child) is primarily in the interests of the provider rather than in the best interests of the learner…”. Brilliant!
I also feel that Achievement for All has a relevance like never before. Our coach-led offers address four square the power of inclusive practice, through leadership development, through teaching and learning, through developing wider opportunities and outcomes, and through working effectively with even the hardest-to-reach children, young people and their families. And it is no surprise that inclusive practice that meets the needs of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children and young people spills over to lift the performance of every teacher and pupil in the school community. We see this time and again in schools that achieve our coveted Quality Mark and Quality Lead awards. Canny school leaders are already committing to join our Programmes in the coming months. It’s good to see.
Taking on a school serving challenging deprived communities takes a large degree of courageous leadership. Applying this new framework will require courageous inspection. What will an Inspector do when reviewing an “outstanding school” with high levels of off-rolling? Will they pull the plug?
I recall my first inspection as a school leader. Our headline stats suggested special measures at best: but in dialogue with the lead inspector, he listened as I explained why the deprivation in our white working-class community was not represented in the free school meal proportions; his team witnessed a brilliant leadership team and committed staff attempting to overcome barriers to learning that were tangible. We were not perfect, there were still things to do, but we achieved a “satisfactory” against the odds. At the end of the process, another member of the team disclosed that the Lead Inspector had written a ten-page addendum to the published report to justify his decision, as all Ofsted Inspections pass through an internal moderation process. He gave us the space, time and confidence to thrive. That was without doubt a fine example of courageous inspection… and I hope this new framework, conducted by informed and courageous Inspection Teams, has a profound impact on encouraging and inspiring a new wave of powerful inclusive practice within alleducation settings… interesting times ahead.