Friday, 24 October 2014


"The assessment and accountability system is toxic because it gives one voice the power to dominate over the others, terminating the discussion, leaving people feeling bruised because they have not been engaged. It does this because it was designed in response to a breakdown in trust between education professionals, policymakers and the wider public. The system was failing, people said, and it was the fault of the professionals. Therefore, it was necessary to set the judgements of inspectors against those of students, staff and other school stakeholders, and to make their judgements the grounds for executive action against schools."

I have an enormous respect for the old style HMIs but I remember meeting senior OFSTED colleagues a long time ago who told me that it would soon be possible to 'inspect and assess' a school by simply plugging data into a computer and reviewing the print out! This sort of simplistic thinking and the resulting analysis has distorted inspection ever since! Sadly, we have lost sight of the rationale underpinning inspection which was to provide one short, sharp, rough and ready view of a school which could then be placed against the fragmented picture local authorities develop of their schools through their many contacts and alongside the most important picture; the one the school has of its own strengths and weaknesses. Bringing together these reflections of the school as part of a structured and focused conversation reflect an understanding of school improvement, the crucial role of the middle tier and the critical importance of feedback and of trust in and respect for school leaders, and the teams of people who work with them. I worked closely with some brilliant HMI when the first school inspection framework was being developed and I also led inspections in both primary and secondary schools using the first national framework. It was evident from the beginning that judgements about school quality cannot be made unilaterally by an external team of inspectors, who see perhaps 10% of the life of the school during the time they are there. especially when these judgements are heavily influenced by how well students perform on particular tests in a particular set of ‘core’ subjects. If we are serious about developing great schools to serve every community and to release the potential and magic in every child we need to develop a fairer and more humane system to honestly assess the strengths and weaknesses of schools, and to work with school leadership teams to develop strategies for making them even better.

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