Monday 25 August 2014

Ofsted Exposed

Along with exam league tables, the Ofsted inspection system has long been used as a key tool for successive Governments to implement their divisive, pro-market, educational agenda.

Ofsted's supporters try to rubbish their detractors as simply being 'inadequate' school leaders and teachers, unwilling to face up to rigorous 'accountability'. Yet news this summer has exposed, once again, the true bias and unreliability inherent in the Ofsted system.

Exposed: Bias against schools with less advantaged intakes

This market-driven accountability system was inevitably always going to be biased against schools serving more disadvantaged communities. After all, whatever excellent work is carried out by teachers and schools, class and home background will always remain a key influence on educational attainment. However, the extent of that bias has rarely been so clinically exposed as in a recent analysis by Trevor Burton (@JTrevorBurton), headteacher of Millthorpe School in York. 

He has carried out an analysis comparing Ofsted judgements of over 2,600 secondary schools with the prior attainment of their pupils, based on Key Stage 2 results. The graphical results posted on his blog, speak for themselves:

See in full on:

In case anyone from Ofsted might object that their latest framework reduces this obvious bias, Trevor has also produced results for the 242 schools judged since the start of 2014. If anything, the results are even more polarised:

See in full on:

Trevor Burton lists some suggestions to explain the results of his analysis. Please read his full blogpost for more detail but I would personally highlight his suggestions that "Schools with able intakes are more likely to have pupils with the middle class values that prize education, making it easier to demonstrate the sorts of things inspectors want: good behaviour, strong progress, a thirst for knowledge" and that "the Ofsted framework is biased against secondary schools with weaker intakes and expects more of them". 

As he concludes, "If you want your secondary school to get an Outstanding Ofsted grade and you want to avoid RI or Inadequate, make sure your pupils’ previous attainment on intake is as high as possible". Regrettably, of course that's exactly what some schools try to do.

Exposed: Bias in favour of academy schools?

A worthwhile inspection and evaluation system would offer genuine support and advice to schools - particularly those schools facing the greatest challenges. However, that has never been the purpose of Ofsted. It has been designed to rank schools under the illusion that the 'market raises standards' - while condemning those who it deems as failing to be taken over by privatised academy chains.  

Scandalously, evidence of other kinds of 'bias' has been revealed this summer, bias in favour of those academy chains that have been created out of the Ofsted regime.

Firstly, the new Chair of Ofsted was named in July as David Hoare, who, at the time of his appointment, was a trustee of the Academies Enterprise Trust, one of the largest academy chains.  If this latest example of blatantly political appointments to public bodies is no longer enough to shock, then the accusations made by the Observer in August -  that three Norfolk academies were tipped-off in advance of the dates of their Ofsted inspection - should be.

In the article,, Warwick Mansell (@warwickmansell) and Daniel Boffey state that "Evidence uncovered by this newspaper suggests that three schools in Norfolk, all overseen by Dame Rachel de Souza, knew of impending visits by inspectors days, and sometimes weeks, before Ofsted arrived".

Those outside education may not appreciate how such a (totally unauthorised) 'tip-off' would put these academies at a significant advantage. Schools can be kept on tenterhooks for months awaiting the call from Ofsted, with teachers under even greater pressure keeping everything up-to-date ready for a sudden inspection. In the case of Ormiston Victory Academy, the Observer alleges that, not only were they able to be prepared in advance, they even had a chance to draft in outside teachers to 'perform' in front of the inspectors.

The political connections are clear. De Souza was made a Dame in the New Year honours for services to education, The Observer writes that when Michael Gove visited one of her academies in 2012, he announced: "If anyone asked me what my ideal education policy would be, it would be to clone Rachel 23,000 times."

The article continues that "De Souza left Ormiston to become full-time chief executive of the Norwich-based Inspiration Trust, an academy chain chaired by Theodore Agnew, a Conservative party donor, who also heads the Department for Education's "academies board", which promotes academy sponsorship". Guess what? The Observer alleges that De Souza received tip-offs about Ofsted visits to two further Inspiration Trust academies last term.

Time to expose Ofsted

Ofsted has become a key part in a demoralising chain of bullying that extends from the DfE down to the classroom as too many Heads, in fear of their futures, pass on the pressure onto their staff. Schools change their practice according to what fits the latest Ofsted criteria, regardless of whether informed educational research supports their methodology (with the reliance on unreliable clasroom observation of teaching quality based on Ofsted gradings being an obvious example). Yet, as the revelations above show, the system is inherently unfair and biased, and perhaps worse than that.

Heads have complained about the unfairness of the Ofsted system for years. Unfortunately, most have concluded that the only way to protect themselves is to 'play the Ofsted game' and dance to their latest tune, pressurising their teaching staff to do the same. Regrettably, too many Heads may choose to do the same when it comes to implementing the latest, closely-linked and equally unfair Government policy, performance-related pay.

It's time that Heads and teachers, and their unions and professional associations, refused to go along with these disastrous policies any longer. Instead of succumbing to pressure, Heads should refuse to implement performance-pay and work with teachers in exposing the tyranny of Ofsted and all the damage that is being done by Government policy. 

Instead of being bullied into trying to undermine further strike action by teaching unions against these policies, more Heads should follow the good example set by some of their colleagues (in July and previously) by making sure their schools are closed to pupils for the day, teachers encouraged to take action and parents fully informed as to why, together, staff and parents must act to rescue education from the damage being done by Government policies.

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