Monday, 16 September 2013

Ofsted - unreliable, unproven, unjustified

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It's no surprise that Sir Michael Wilshaw has reacted to Professor Robert Coe's criticism of Ofsted's evaluation methods by calling them "tosh and nonsense". That's because Coe's criticisms go right to the heart of the demoralising observation and performance-pay regime that is spreading across education.

In too many schools, observation gradings are being used as a supposedly 'objective' way of measuring a teacher's worth. Observations deemed to be less than "good" soon lead to threats of 'capability' and, under many new pay policies, would then also lead to teachers' pay progression being blocked next September.

As the graph above ( produced by Coe in his recent lecture at ResearchEd 2013 ) indicates, there is, of course, no evidence that performance-related pay helps raise educational standards in the first place. Rather than encourage and inspire, PRP divides and demoralises teams of staff.

However, even if PRP could be justified, how do you go about accurately measuring the 'performance' of an individual teacher given the host of different factors that can influence educational outcomes? As Coe shows, you certainly can't rely on 'Ofsted-ratings' of lesson observations.

Teachers know from their bitter personal experience that observation gradings can often seem arbitrary and unfair. At best, they rely on teachers adjusting their methods to fit the latest Ofsted schema, which does not necessarily equate to what is actually best for a particular class at a particular time. 

Academic backing for teachers' objections is certainly welcome. Coe's presentation points out a range of reasons why observations may not provide valid evidence. 

For example, Coe asks whether it can be shown that "observation ratings correspond with other indicators of teaching quality or effectiveness?" He asks whether they can be consistent across occasions and across raters. Coe points out that  ratings might be "influenced by spurious confounds" such as charisma, confidence, subject matter, students’ behaviour and time of day.  Teachers would definitely concur!

In Lewisham, and in some other Local Authorities, these dubious ratings are being used as a key part of the Authority's recommended pay policies. They say that for a Lewisham teacher to be recommended for pay progression up the main pay scale,“teaching should be over time consistently ‘good’, as defined by Ofsted”. For an upper pay range teacher, that demand is raised to "consistently good to outstanding".

What exactly does 'defined by Ofsted' mean? Even Ofsted accept that they are not providing precise definitions of performance in their inspection frameworks. Instead, individual schools will have their own interpretations - and their own subjective conclusions.

Coe's research confirms teachers' views that these policies are unacceptable. They will unfairly lead to teachers having their pay progression blocked based on unreliable and unfair Ofsted-based measures of their "performance". 

That's why a NUT briefing attended by over thirty Lewisham teachers tonight voted not just to build for the regional action on October 17, but also to support a program of sustained rolling strike action across Lewisham schools who have adopted these unacceptable policies. Reps have been asked to consult with their members before we reconvene again in a fortnight's time to confirm details of that program of action.

... and thanks to Sheffield NUT for their nomination tonight in the National Officers election.

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