At last year’s Education Fest I had the opportunity to be part of a panel discussion with Sean Harford, Bukky Yusuf and Anthony Clayton. Our topic was to discuss, what does quality AP look like.
Anthony asked (no he completely asserted!) if we should move away from gradings and move to a two tier system. Schools would be either fine, or needing support.
We know that inspections sit at the heart of the education system, whether its the exams that our pupils are subjected to on a regular basis or the ofsted inspections that determines the standard of our schooling.
This week, we have been thinking about inspections and understanding whether it is time for a rethink, a redesign or a re-connection with the framework that has been governing our system since 1993.
Understanding inspection ideals
The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) is a government department that inspects services providing education and skills for learners of all ages. The inspection framework was introduced two years after the creation of the national curriculum and was designed to improve the quality of education across the UK. Ofsted reports directly to Parliament and by law, it must inspect schools with the aim of providing information to parents, to promote improvement and to hold schools to account.
The Ofsted standards are closely linked to a schools ability to deliver the agreed national curriculum in the suggested ways in an environment deemed to be a positive.
Although some of the language is ambiguous, ultimately we all know what is meant by Ofsted's ideal standards yet I can't help but wonder if there really is one environment that can be defined as 'positive' for all pupils, if the learning styles we recognise as outstanding prove to be so for all of the pupils in receipt of it and can one curriculum really suit every child in the country?
Do we have the right to add an additional label to the children that don't fit in the limited design of learning? What do we do if our child thrive in a school that ofsted has deemed to be inadequate or what if our child has fought to get into an outstanding school but is consistently struggling to find their feet, build their confidence and understand their way to excel?
Is it fair that we are governed by a framework that makes us tier pupils in line with Ofsted perceptions? Isn't a shame that we are trying to make children ofsted's version of outstanding instead of celebrating their own unique character and contribution to the world?
If, like we have, you've visited a number of schools, you will understand the need for a unified standard and an agenda and aim for best practice. I believe that setting standards is important and recognising the strengths and achievements of pupils and organisations is a critical component of education that we know and understand.
Yet, with huge increases in diversity, with a mission around inclusion and with a better understanding that there is no 'one way' that can be the 'right way', it's difficult not to imagine what an alternative to Ofsted could provide.
Although Ofsed upholds a thorough complaints procedure so that you can voice any concerns with either the nature of the inspection of the contents of the report, there isn't an opportunity to challenge the notion that what is outstanding for one child may well be inadequate to another.
Although Ofsted has involved in it's areas of responsibility and now includes inspection and regulation of services that provide care for children and young people, it's content and ambitions are still as they were in 1992 and we can't help but wonder when all that we have learnt in the last 25 years will be integrated into Ofsted's approach.
Believing in better practice
We can't help but wonder what an outstanding school would look like it measures of success were based on how well a child is listened to, how a child's sense of self, sense of belonging and ambition were developed not simply to get them through the exams but to give them the very best foundations for life.
What, I wonder, would determine Outstanding if we were looking for pupils to be content, compassionate and considerate rather than academically excellent and what if our end goals weren't around employ ability, social status and earning potential but was instead based on happiness, wellbeing and citizenship?
We can't help but wonder if it isn't time for change. We believe it is time to trust teachers to implement the notion of best practice in a way that maximises outcomes for each unique pupil they serve. We believe it is time to give children a voice so that they can tell us what outstanding looks like to them and what it is they need to achieve outstanding things in their own lives. We think it's time to hold alternative education in the same regard as the mainstream attainment and achievement we have become accustomed to and we believe that just like adults, the unique strengths, weakness, abilities and inabilities of children should be appreciated, celebrated and recognised for the very valuable contribution they make to our classrooms today and our world tomorrow.
If you would like to share your views or learn more about our own best practice framework then please do get in touch.