Prioritising data and results is endemic…
Ofsted has seen evidence of declining education quality driven by narrowing the curriculum and ‘prioritising data and performance’, writes Chief HMCI Amanda Spielman.
Despite criticising excessive emphasis on data, Spielman contradicts herself:
‘…pupil progress and attainment will always be a central measure in the school accountability system.’
But pupil progress can’t be measured accurately. Progress and attainment measures discriminate against schools with a large number of previously low-achieving pupils.
Obsession with data is ‘failing young people’
Spielman is right that focussing excessively on test results is failing young people. And she’s right that the curriculum should be ‘rich, broad and deep’. Inspectors will shift focus to intent, implementation and impact, she writes.
But impact is defined as ‘the results and wider outcomes that children achieve, and the destinations that they go on to.’
It’s unclear what ‘wider outcomes’ are. But judging schools on destinations makes them responsible for decisions outside their control. Judging schools on results rewards schools which manage to deter previously low-achieving pupils, disadvantaged pupils and White British pupils on free school meals. The last two categories are disproportionately found in ‘intractable’ schools, Spielman writes. These are schools which have been ‘judged to require improvement or be satisfactory or inadequate in every inspection they have had since 2005.’
It’s misleading to claim previously satisfactory schools were retrospectively unsatisfactory when they satisfied inspection criteria at the time. Nevertheless, Ofsted cited ‘poor performance’ as the reason behind these judgements. This brings us back to assessing schools mainly on results.
Outstanding school exemption must go
The exemption from inspections for outstanding schools must go, Spielman says. She’s right. The outstanding grade is ‘a beacon of excellence’ which falls into disrepute if schools haven’t been inspected for years.
English schools already had a ‘wide degree of autonomy’
Schools in England had a ‘wide degree of autonomy by international standards’ before mass academization, Spielman admits. This rather contradicts pro-academy propaganda which claimed schools could only have freedom if they escaped local authority control (LA).
Spielman avoids using the word ‘control’. She prefers ‘auspices’ which is more benign. Nevertheless, Spielman still claims the academy programme gave heads ‘greater autonomy’ and admits she was an academy pioneer.
Spielman contradicts herself again. Immediately following the assertion that academy heads would have greater autonomy, Spielman admits that in many multi-academy trusts (MATs), ‘much decision-making now sits at the level of the trust, not just on financial and employment matters, but in determining curriculum, teaching and assessment.’
That’s far more control than LAs ever had.
By her own admission, Spielman was an early advocate of academization. This has led to the situation described above: MATs, not heads, control their academies. She rightly emphasizes the degradation of education quality caused by focussing far too much on exam results but still stresses their importance when making inspection judgements.
Schools will only be able to focus on providing quality education for all children when the current accountability system in England is scrapped.