Training Teachers: Obstacles and Opportunities in 2017

As we rush headlong into 2017, with the excesses of Christmas slowly receding into memory, we all enter that period of committing to best-laid plans and hope-fuelled resolutions. Crucially, however, our resolutions are quickly hidden under shouty to-do lists and piles of marking. For most teachers, we want to get better and make improvements on the year before, but the necessary support and school structures can too often prove lacking.

As we admit our obstacles, we can angrily bemoan our workload (hey, it is the God-given right of every teacher) and complain about excess accountability and wrongheaded testing, but we should also recognise that many of the solutions to improving workload and to enhancing the quality of teacher training are within our grasp too.

Schools across the country are creating a regular rhythm of professional training that finds meaningful time and tools for teachers to reflect on their practice. In many schools, there are weekly or fortnightly training slots that allow teachers the time and tools to collaborate and plan together. It may require schools finishing early on a given day (with an inevitable wrangle over school buses), or schools being creative with collapsed timetable days etc., but it is doable and there are examples across the country.

Regular, high-quality CPD and planning time allows teachers time to get their head around the new curriculum and assessment model that has seemingly crashed into our working lives with force. Teacher training should not be an added burden to workload, ticking off boxes for performance management purposes, but instead a meaningful way to share our resources and lower the burden of all recreating our own resources and approaches to the new curriculum.

Many schools are harnessing the greater capacity of local collaboration, be it Multi-Academy Trusts or TSA partnerships, so that they can afford to budget for external expertise and challenge one another with their respective teacher expertise. Though our school system may be more fractured that in other countries, there is an appetite for better training and a fast increasing awareness of evidence in education and the useful science of learning.

With emergent organisations, like Research Schools (run by the ‘Education Endowment Foundation’ and the ‘Institute for Effective Education’), The College of Teaching, The Institute for Teaching and others, supporting established organisations like Teaching Schools, the Teaching School Council, The Teacher Development Trust, the National College, and the National Educational Trust, we have a great deal of deep expertise in our school system to help guide professional development.

What we must do is reject the deficit model of teachers and teaching that sees CPD as a compliance exercise, with teachers punching in yet more data to feed the tracking monster. We need training that allows the requisite time and space for subject specific knowledge and learning (along with any equivalent school phase). This should be supported by robust evidence about how children learn and the most impactful ways to teach.

With the new Chief Inspector for schools, Amanda Spielman, taking over the reins at OFSTED, there is the promise of accountability reform to help us further. As an entirely new curriculum and assessment model has been initiated, we can rightly consider that we have a few years to teach, train and develop upon our expertise. Hey, we can hope – 2016 is over; 2017 promises us better, surely!

With our newly coined resolutions pristine and fragile in our hands, we can, as teachers and school leaders, resolve to initiate the developments to our continuous professional development that best support our teachers who are working to manage their workload and grasp a new curriculum.

The DfE Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/537031/160712_-_PD_Expert_Group_Guidance.pdf) is a helpful place to start to evaluate your existing CPD provision so that you can ensure that 2017 is the year that best supports teachers with great training.

 

Alex Quigley is Director of Huntington Research School – find out more about their work here: https://huntington.researchschool.org.uk.

His recent book, “The Confident Teacher”, can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Confident-Teacher-Developing-successful-pedagogy/dp/1138832340/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

“Your feet will not touch the ground.” By Siobhan Horisk

Hackney New Primary School opened in September 2015 with our first two classes of Reception aged children. I secured the job as headteacher in December 2014, and 18 months later we are coming to the end of our first year.

Prior to the school opening I had a glorious period from April to September of planning what was essentially an imaginary school. We had a big blank canvas and could discuss, design and dream about every aspect with a level of uninterrupted care and focus impossible to achieve in a ‘real’ school. I met prospective parents and staff members and my skills of persuasion developed tremendously.

That time was invaluable, not least for reinforcing my absolute respect for class teachers and how exhausting their job is. Being outside of a school for the first time in my career and yet still working long days, I have never had so much energy or head space for other things as I did between April and September last year. Good teachers are giving thousands of feedback points every day, and multi-tasking beyond belief. The learning and wellbeing of the children they teach occupies their headspace until last thing and night and from the get-go in the morning.

“Good Luck!” said my pre-opening OFSTED inspector, “Your feet will not touch the ground.” I smiled to myself, wondering what on earth there could be to do for just two classes – it’s just one year group, right?

“Ha!” I think to myself now. Getting the considerable machine that is a school moving is much more than just managing teaching and learning for two classes.

Simple things like our dishwasher didn’t work. The bicycle storage didn’t come for several weeks which meant carrying 25 little bikes in and out of the playground at the start and end of every day. Builders lingered for about six weeks, and whilst all schools have experienced the trauma of this, to have several of these things not working for us every day was a lot to handle.

In a new, small school, there are few supernumerary people. I found myself doing everything from mopping up urine puddles, hauling deliveries of paper upstairs, lesson observations and staff training to doing school tours and press interviews. In a half an hour I could go from assembling flat pack furniture to presenting to LA or DfE colleagues.

As a new headteacher, of a new school, with a new team, you are completely unproven. Everyone is watching you and tuning in to your every move. You have no sooner reassured them when external bodies are in to scrutinise what you have achieved.

Although our team has some brilliant people on board, in an entirely new team individuals need time to figure out their place in the team – and the joy and trouble with 50 little children starting school for the first time is that they don’t really allow you that time. We needed the best and the brave to take the plunge and put themselves forward to promote their planning ideas, initiate solutions to logistics, and continue to persuade parents that they had made the right choice.

Thankfully they did. Finding great teachers is increasingly like panning for gold; you need to gently agitate the gravel in the pan to get your gold.

Similarly, new parents don’t have other parents to induct them to school life and as nearly all our children are first born there was a much greater amount of communication required.

Like childbirth, I think the memory of these challenges will fade with time. The life of the school has been and continues to be glittered with wonderful moments and the school is blossoming.

My cherished memories are many and so far include our first assembly when I looked at 50 children, from 50 families, and a team of people who, with me, have jumped on board this crazy train and together we were gathered as a vibrant school family. There the children all were in their new school uniforms, and it hit me once more what a privilege it is to have their education and this school in my care. Our teachers are remarkable; and it is my further privilege to witness their heartfelt pride in the progress and achievements of the children they teach.

At the heart of my personal ambition here is being part of something distinctive and something better. More than excellent provision of the core primary curriculum, children have daily, specialist music input and the first year has been pre-instrumental development of their musicality. You should see our music lessons… really! In September the children begin on string instruments including violins, violas, cellos and mini bass.

We believe passionately that time in the outdoors facilitates a different kind of learning and development and makes a tremendous contribution to children’s wellbeing. Children go to a real forest for a real ‘Forest School’ experience once a week, all year round. The daily anecdotes of their forest school adventures sing about the strong contribution this is making to their development and wellbeing. And they love learning.

A colleague visited recently and described the children as ‘so happy and so spirited’ and this was the ultimate compliment for our curious, excited, wondrous bunch and the best acknowledgement of all that our teaching team have done with them at school over this year. Of course, there are always the ‘even better ifs’ and as a living thing the school has great days, good days and some of ‘those days.’

I have been very fortunate to have met a group of visionary and committed founders. It is this vision and unparalleled commitment that has led Hackney New Primary School to be something distinctive. The school was conceived by them; together we have brought it to life and are nurturing its development closely.

As a wise man advised me when I considered this post: if you have ideas about what makes great teaching and if you are passionate about the contribution education makes then surely this is the ultimate job. He was right. ‘Put your hat in the ring’ he said. I did, and 18 months later I would recommend it to anyone else passionate about the contribution education makes.

Do it. Find a great team of governors or founders and with them, create something great.

Siobhan Horisk is founding headteacher of Hackney New Primary School and a NET Associate.

THE COLLEGE OF TEACHING: a defining moment for the teaching profession? By Derek Bell

On the afternoon of the 25th May I watched as HRH Prince Philip took the original 1846 Royal Charter setting up the College of Preceptors (with its 1998 supplement) from The President of The College of Teachers and handed it to the first Chair of the Chartered College of Teaching.

You may consider this to be a trivial piece of ceremony of relatively little consequence. Yet in its own way it could be a defining moment in the history of the teaching profession in England and, perhaps, beyond. Four years ago the Education Select Committee recommended establishing “a new, member-driven College of Teaching, along the lines of the Royal Colleges and Chartered Institutions in other professions.”

Since then several groups of people, including many classroom teachers and heads, have worked extremely hard in order to lay the foundations for such a body – the completion of which was formally and publically acknowledged in that moment. Although there are still some technicalities to be completed, this was the point at which the new Chartered College of Teaching emerged as a body in its own right.

Whilst no one, least of all the new board of Trustees, underestimates the challenges ahead, that moment of transfer also acted as a reminder of how deep rooted the foundations of the new Chartered College of Teaching actually are. Not only does the Royal Charter recognise 170 years of history it also embodies values and aspirations of, and for, the teaching profession which are still relevant today.

Although the language of the document may seem strange, key phrases refer to; promoting sound learning”, “advancing the interests of education” and “affording facilities to the Teacher for the acquiring of a sound knowledge of his [/her] Profession”. I would suggest that these fundamental ideas remain at the heart of the teaching profession today. Bearing in mind that in 1846 there was little or no provision for training teachers, the vision of those individuals who came together to found the College was crucial and in many ways underpinned the setting up of teacher education (both initial training and continuing professional development) which exists today.

There is much to thank the original College for but unfortunately over the years it has become overwhelmed by wider developments, not least the increasingly onerous involvement of Government in the day to day activities of teachers and their schools.

Thus that moment on 25th May 2016, is also a challenge and opportunity for teachers everywhere to reshape their profession so that it is fit for the 21st Century. The new Chartered College of Teaching, under its revised Royal Charter, has the potential to lead this development towards increasing and genuine professional autonomy for teaching and teachers.

It can’t be emphasised too strongly that this will take time but progress is being made. Visit http://www.claimyourcollege.org/the-colleges-history/ for a full account of developments so far.

Confirmation of seed-funding of £5 million, staged over 5 years, in the government white paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, meant that it was possible for the Trustees to push ahead with a range of key activities including the appointment of the first Chief Executive which has just been advertised. They have also been working on details of membership and the activities the college will undertake over the next few years. Underpinning all college activities is the key principle that developments should be based on evidence and reflect the views of teachers.

Initiatives such as The Big Staff Meeting, held at the beginning of 2016 will continue to be used to inform the work of the college both nationally and regionally. In the autumn, the new Chartered College of Teaching website will replace the current http://www.claimyourcollege.org/ and events will be held including The Big Summit designed to provide a forum for mobilising knowledge and sharing evidence-based practice.

Perhaps more importantly this autumn will see the publication of a manifesto setting out plans for the new College in more detail. Currently (June 2016) details are under discussion but there are three major themes, among others, I would hope to see included in some form.

  • An emphasis on the real strengths of existing teachers and their practice, highlighting not just examples of excellent practice but the quality and commitment of the everyday practice demonstrated by the majority of teachers, headteachers and teaching assistants across the country. Gaining wider recognition for existing good practice would provide a sound basis on which to raise the status of the teaching profession.
  • The importance of building a genuine professional community which, over time, establishes its autonomy and independence becoming a leading body on matters of teaching and learning. In particular, it is important that this community is fully inclusive not only with regard to gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or background, but also to the many individuals who may have left the classroom in order to make valuable contributions to teaching, learning and education in different capacities. Clearly the majority of members of the college will and should be classroom teachers but the new College needs to retain the support, goodwill and contributions of this wider group of individuals – it cannot have too many advocates.
  • The need for high quality professional education, both initial training and career long CPD. The mark of a profession is that it is self-improving both as a body and as individuals within that body. The new College must have things to say and do with regard to training and development, influencing (and ultimately controlling) aspects such as standards, content, duration and expectations. Initial training must be a requirement and there should be an entitlement to ongoing CPD.

 

To this needs to be added the responsibility of ensuring appropriate opportunities are available and that they are taken up. If used effectively the introduction of an integrated Chartered Teacher scheme will provide the necessary recognition for all teachers who are well trained, keep up to date and, as a true professional, continue to improve and share their practice throughout their career.

Setting up the new College will not of itself bring about a transformation of the teaching profession or education more widely. However, it can provide a vehicle which can over time bring about change. Ultimately in order to meet aspirations it requires the contributions and support of teachers where ever they work.

Change will not happen overnight but a start has been made.

Perhaps, at this early stage of the new College’s development, as teachers and others involved in education, we should (with apologies to John F Kennedy) be asking not what our College can do for me but asking what can I do for our College – and through it the quality of teaching and learning for all our young people.

Professor Derek Bell, having worked in schools and universities as a teacher and researcher, was formerly Head of Education at the Wellcome Trust, and was Chief Executive of the Association for Science Education for seven years. He has carried out a wide range of consultancies in the UK and overseas and been a member of advisory/expert panels. He is Director of Learnus, a research associate at UCL Institute of Education and a NET Leading Thinker.

Affordable leadership for a small secondary school by Melanie Saunders

Does size matter?

Having spent some time looking at how a small secondary school can afford to deliver a curriculum which is both compliant and engaging in the current trying financial conditions, the thing that becomes most apparent isn’t the cost of staffing the curriculum. It’s the cost of leading it.

There is a reluctance to break away from the usual pattern of subject leaders and pastoral structures which has been deployed in secondary schools of all sizes for a generation, and despite the pressure this places on the budget of a small school.

Does a 600 place secondary school really need to retain the lines of accountability and leadership structures of a 1,500 place secondary school, or might it learn from the far slimmer structure of similar sized primary schools? Secondary schools typically spend around a third of their staffing budget on leadership at all levels. Primary schools about half of that.

To take one example: the lowest funded four-form entry secondary school in Hampshire receives an annual budget of £2,895,000. On the basis that 75% of this is spent on staffing, the staffing budget would amount to £2,171.250. Zero based budgeting suggests that a compliant curriculum with limited options for 600 pupils can be delivered for little more than half this amount. This draws into question the proportion of staff spend that is devoted to activities other than teaching.

The leadership model for a secondary school has remained largely unchanged since the establishment of comprehensive schools in the 1960s, although even this model was fundamentally taken from the way in which public schools were run. This design requires a headmaster/headmistress who appoints deputies to whom responsibilities can be devolved. Schools then establish their preferred pastoral system led by house or year heads, and a series of academic subject leaders.

Even if this remained the most sensible model for a school today of 1,500 students, is it sustainable, or desirable, for a school a third of that size? Since the core responsibility of a school is to ensure the highest quality learning and teaching, this raises four questions for a headteacher to consider:

  • How much leadership do my teachers need?
  • What sort of leadership will improve pupil outcomes?
  • What, exactly, are middle leaders leading?
  • What leadership structure represents best value for money?

 

How is headteacher time spent?

The National Standards of Excellence for Headteachers describe the role of headship in 144 words:

Headteachers occupy an influential position in society and shape the teaching profession. They are the lead professionals and significant role models within the communities they serve. The values and ambitions of headteachers determine the achievements of schools. They are accountable for the education of current and future generations of children. Their leadership has a decisive impact on the quality of teaching and pupils’ achievements in the nation’s classrooms. Headteachers lead by example the professional conduct and practice of teachers in a way that minimises unnecessary workload and leaves room for high quality continuous professional development for staff. They secure a climate for the exemplary behaviour of pupils. They set standards and expectations for high academic standards within and beyond their own schools, recognising differences and respecting cultural diversity within contemporary Britain. Headteachers, together with those responsible for governance, are the guardians of the nation’s schools. (January 2015)

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-standards-of-excellence-for-headteachers

The leadership of headteachers is demonstrably the defining factor in school success, notably because he/she determines the priorities and the focus for all the teaching and non-teaching staff in the school, and ensures that the outcomes achieved by pupils is the thing of paramount importance. Clearly, based upon the description above, the headteacher is going to need help in translating that vision into reality and ensuring that practice is consistent. Does this, however, require a team of heads of department and a team of pastoral heads?

In December 2012 the National College for School Leadership published ‘Review of the School Leadership Landscape’ which concluded that the three top concerns for school leaders were:

  • Finance
  • Ofsted
  • Pupil outcomes

However, the same review concluded that the three top skills school leaders said they needed were:

  • Strategies for closing attainment gaps
  • Leading curriculum change
  • Modelling excellence in leading teaching and learning

https://www.ioe.ac.uk/Review_of_School_Leadership_landscape_2012_Dec.pdf

There is a mismatch here which suggests that school leaders need to spend more of their time doing the things they know make the biggest difference, and less time on the things they worry most about.

If headteachers dealt with their number one worry by employing the expertise they need to manage financial planning in the form of a Business Manager, either of their own or across their MAT, they would be able to focus on their number one priority: closing attainment gaps. This might prompt a different approach to leadership and one which has the potential to address their second biggest worry: Ofsted success.

Although some approaches to pedagogy are demonstrably better suited for some types of learning, leadership of learning and modelling the best teaching is not, on the whole, subject specific – as is demonstrated by the approach to learning taken in large, successful primary schools. Good teachers respond flexibly to the needs of their learners and apply a variety of approaches and methodologies. Schools might want to review the role and impact of subject heads and consider whether the administrative aspects of this role could be carried out more comprehensively and less expensively than by paying a leadership premium.

The aspects of the role concerned with teacher performance and pupil progress are the stuff of leadership, but many subject areas in small schools have only one team member, and some are only managing themselves. Should the powerhouse of middle leadership reside in a large number of small fiefdoms, or in two or three senior teaching and learning leads informed by subject specific knowledge from leading teachers in classrooms?

Pastoral leadership often focusses on the management of behaviour and school leaders recognise that poor behaviour is frequently generated by poor teaching and inadequate learning. Less variation and inconsistency between subject expectations and the quality of teaching has the potential to improve behaviour and make intervention less frequent, thus reducing the need for several pastoral leads.

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Is it possible, therefore, to consider that the approach to leadership, particularly in a small school, might move:

From a model which provides a clear hierarchy but ties up significant resource in middle leadership, where middle leaders in singleton departments with no staff responsibilities have little influence on the quality of teaching and learning across the school and limited access to subject debate or the sharing of pedagogical practice. A model where tackling inconsistency and mission creep is an on-going struggle.

To a model where the headteacher and his/her deputies focus all staff on the quality of pedagogy through the work of two or three highly skilled teaching and learning leads, thereby ensuring that teaching, learning and assessment inform good behaviour and progress for all students and groups of students. A model where leading teachers advise on and promulgate subject specific pedagogy but the whole school is responsible for consistent and pupil-focussed practice.

What sort of leadership can your school afford?

Melanie Saunders was recently Head of Education Strategy for Hampshire County Council and is now an independent consultant.

It’s the last drop that makes the glass overflow by Rob Stokoe

It’s an interesting fact that in today’s educational world we think we must appear busy. We feel that we must fill the time we have. Are we too busy or are we victims of accidental priorities?

This constantly busy paradigm continually draws us away from those things we care for the most, our passions, our classrooms, even learning itself. This busy culture can leave us feeling exacerbated, tired, often overwhelmed, dealing with the moment rather than the strategic well-being of ourselves and our schools.

We have a problem, and the curious thing is we not only know about it, we are actually celebrating it. But let’s be honest: the act of being busy is simply overvalued. We need to understand what we are busy about, and remind ourselves that life should never be too busy for the things that matter most to us.

What happened to a world in which we had time to sit with the people we work with and for, and have deliberate, fulfilling conversations about the state of learning in our schools, the well-being of staff and that of every student? When was the last time you had a conversation that slowly unfolded, allowing for and embracing, comfortable silences, time to smile and reflect? When do we take the time to speak from our hearts, to access and to develop our emotional intelligence and that of others?

For over half a century a series of technological innovations have promised to make our lives easier, freeing up greater amounts of leisure time, yet the outcome we face is one where we have more to do with less time for leisure, less time for reflection, less time for community, less time to just…. be? We have filled in the gaps. The lines between work and home have become blurred.

We’ve forgotten that being busy was never the goal. We are not on this earth to be busy, we are here to build relationships, experience life, go places, create things, help others to learn and grow. Our reasons for being are different, but I have a feeling that none of us considers that we are here simply to be busy.

These are potentially destructive habits and they can start early. Do we have to drive our students so much that we over-schedule them? Do we offer too many options, measuring progress lesson by lesson, sometimes within lessons, after school activities, too much homework, causing them to stress and to be busy, just as we are? This is not what a creative and meaningful childhood is about. Each of us is a human being, not just a human doing.

So….

  • Take a couple of hours to identify the things you really want to accomplish over the next half term. Reflect on your action plans, acknowledge your progress and plan the next step – and add in dates to reflect upon these new activities.
  • Rather than answer emails first thing, take a walk around your school. Discover the great things that are happening there, take time to think, to engage with your staff and students.
  • Take a risk: turn away from technology, turn it off for set periods during the day. Instead of running back-to-back meetings, put space in your calendar to get important work done, writing things up or even time to take lunch.
  • Create boundaries of time which allow your brain to come up for air.

If we’re going to create a more sustainable work environment, let’s start by talking about how to work smarter, to live in a way that leaves us refreshed, less stressed, strong and able to maintain a strong focus upon what really matters. Don’t let the glass overflow; the contents are too valuable.

Rob Stokoe OBE works internationally as a Headteacher and is a NET Leading Thinker

Time to think by Simon Knight

I started my teacher training in 1997, fresh from a year working as a teaching assistant. I was ready to explore how I could develop myself professionally and to be challenged intellectually. To some extent I found that through being introduced to writers and thinkers on education I hadn’t heard of, let alone read.

However the one thing that sticks with me most is my experience of being taught how to deliver the National Literacy Strategy. I was disappointed to see my future career mapped out for me ad infinitum. It seemed that the thinking was being removed from the process of being a teacher. A sense of no longer being required to engage intellectually with teaching in the way that I thought the role needed. Instead it felt like I was being redefined as a technician delivering a curriculum fit for a narrow band of pupils. The worst of procrustean systems.

It was one of the single most important factors in my decision to work in a special school. I wanted to be somewhere that I felt required an intellectual relationship with the job in the way that the mainstream I was being presented with would not.

Looking back on it now it also reflects the limited intellectual relationship I had with my training – a relationship further weakened by my point of reference being a rather singular empiricism that I enthusiastically used to make simplistic comparisons.

However, despite what was then a rather caricatured view, it does seem to me that over the years the space available within the profession for thinking has been squeezed. Time for the development of self appears to be sacrificed in order to meet the ever increasing operational requirements of working in the modern school. The expectation that those entering the profession should build an intellectual relationship with teaching risks being compromised. We want them to be good and we know what good looks like.

And yet the desire for intellectualism continues to exist. I find the debates taking place online and the strength of feeling that they generate heartening. The willingness of teachers to give up their weekends attending grass roots professional development is extraordinary, as is the commitment shown by those who organise them.

Yet this is still a relative minority, albeit a vocal one, and it concerns me that teachers feel compelled to give up their time in this way in order to access the development opportunities that they seek. Bettering yourself in order to do better by your pupils should not be relegated to weekends and holidays – it should be integral to the role.

The demands of the day-to-day create barriers to thinking about how better to do the job. The time isn’t uniformly available for teachers to invest in thinking about what they do and how it can be improved. We have allowed a system to evolve that risks restricting teacher development rather than seeing it as central to broader school improvement.

We have acknowledged that we need to understand what works in the classroom but we are not always giving ourselves the time to explore this further, to contextualise it effectively. We risk outsourcing our intellect to those paid to think on our behalf, and we then apply their wisdom in the hope of some universal transferability. Have we indeed lost sight of the value of the intellectual process in the singular pursuit of the operational outcome?

Maybe it is time that we started planning for the ‘intellectualisation’ of teaching. We need to challenge those leading the profession, both at an institutional level and a political level, to recognise the value of providing time to think. To provide the opportunity to be perplexed. To celebrate innovation and the intellect of those within the classroom. To recognise that becoming a truly great teacher takes time and the desire to succeed needs to be supported, not stifled by a simplistic interpretation of accountability.

Today we have accountability which doesn’t appear to foster innovation, but instead encourages the aversion of risk. We need to rediscover ourselves as a profession in which everyone is encouraged to wrestle with the great questions of pedagogy and educational philosophy, and is given the time to do so. We must become a profession no longer fearful of whether we should have used the red pen rather than the green.

Simon Knight is Deputy of Frank Wise School, Oxfordshire and an Associate Director of the National Education Trust, currently seconded part-time to NET.

Wanted: a new Chief Inspector by Roy Blatchford

The quaintly named headhunters Saxton Bampfylde rang me recently about the HMCI future vacancy. I am not applying. I am quietly optimistic that a very strong field of applicants will.

Media rumours have suggested that the Secretary of State is seeking to bring in an uncompromising American leader to ‘sort the unions’. That has little credence to my way of thinking. Yet there must be some attraction to hiring someone with an international perspective who doesn’t come with a particular history, either to live up to or to put behind them.

The term of office is five years from January 2017. The job details state that HMCI will have a key role in reducing the burden of inspection and reshaping it in response to a more autonomous school system.

And the skilled interview panel certainly knows its onions: Sara Nathan, Public Appointments Assessor; Chris Wormald, DfE Permanent Secretary; David Hoare, Chair of Ofsted; and Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive of Stonewall.

Were I to join that panel, what might nudge me towards a particular candidate in terms of their vision for the future of the schools’ inspectorate in England? What might their Plan A and (always vital at interview) Plan B look like, mindful of a much reduced budget?

Plan A: a rejuvenated Ofsted

  1. Ofsted should say promptly to the majority of the school system: on a three-yearly basis we shall have a look at your data dashboard and other relevant local contextual details, and not disturb you if all is well. Let the nation’s schools breathe a little. If the patient looks poorly, we shall inspect for a day, with a bespoke HMI team.

With all schools, what we would be interested in is your sharing with the inspectorate excellent examples of peer to peer review, within school clusters and academy families. If you stand alone, we’d like to know how you keep yourselves wisely and skilfully under review.

  1. Ofsted should champion ‘excellence’, and leave behind any use of the relative term ‘outstanding’. The working assumption for the nation is at least ‘all schools good schools’. Let not the public purse waste more money on judging whether schools are grade 1 or grade 2. Let The Good Schools Guide or The Woodhead Gazette or The Whitby Echo pronounce locally on excellence of provision, rooted in pupils’ and parents’ honest and open views.
  1. Across the country there remains an unacceptable number of secondary schools, often renamed and rebadged, which have poorly served generations of disadvantaged families. A highly experienced and practised improvement team of HMI – working powerfully with headteachers, academy groups, revamped governing bodies, and the eight Regional Schools Commissioners – can and must squeeze the last residues of failure out of the school system.
  1. Ofsted can continue to produce high quality thematic reports on aspects of teaching and learning, curriculum and leadership. The Chief Inspector’s Annual Report, regularly a strong and accessible report on the nation’s schools, should analyse how well the self-improving system is doing.
  1. The complex business of inspecting safeguarding in schools is too important to be left to Ofsted. In common with finance, it needs to become an annual audit, led by local authorities with their democratic responsibility for all children, whether in LA schools or academies. Directors of Education remain legal ambassadors for every child in their county, borough or city.

 

Plan B: a new Schools Inspectorate 

The Ofsted brand is today strong and trusted by the public. While teachers generally think Ofsted’s business is schools, its reach is considerably more extensive: childcare of all kinds, adoption agencies, children’s homes, secure training centres, children and family court advisory services, and so on.

Politicians, civil servants and the teaching profession tirelessly debate the future of Ofsted in relation to schools. It is for the profession to demonstrate that it can be self-improving in a sustained way over the coming period. Leaders have had three decades of good practice at self-evaluation. Excellence must now be the common denominator, eminently achievable by most if not all schools given the wealth of our democracy and its sustained investment in the school system.

Nearly 25 years on from its birth in 1992, will England’s schools only be content when there is no Ofsted? Most juries would probably find in favour of revision rather than abolition. History is on the side of the inspectorate – the watchdogs and the missionaries – prevailing in some guise or another. Thus, as schools shape and deliver the self-improving system, perhaps the time is ripe for the establishing of a new, independent Schools Inspectorate which operates across all schools in the land – state and independent – and to be separate from Ofsted’s other important business.

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The new HMCI appointment process has begun. Interviews are scheduled for April, with the nominated candidate(s) meeting the Secretary of State and the Education Select Committee through the summer term.

To all candidates, I wish bonne chance, courage, and good health. To the interview panel, I wish studied inspiration.

Roy Blatchford is Director of the National Education Trust, and formerly one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools. He was appointed CBE for services to education in the 2016 New Year Honours. 

He is co-author with Rebecca Clark of ‘Self-Improving Schools: The Journey to Excellence’ published March 2016 by John Catt.