Well, those ever-vigilant chaps at OFSTED are at it again - talking about the need for a shake-up in education. It always amuses me to hear this, as they have been saying the same thing for the better part of two decades. As a veteran of numerous inspections by both OFSTED and Her Majesty's Inspectors for Education (HMI), it's my belief that schools, to borrow Elvis' phrase,are "all shook up" already. So what was wrong with all the many thousands of school inspections that OFSTED have carried out in the past?There are two answers to this question - one that will be acceptable to OFSTED and one that definitely won't be - I shall provide the latter.
Nick Glibb, the Schools Minister, says that OFSTED will be concentrating upon things "which really matter". No-one seems to have asked him what they've been doing so far - still less has he asked them. The BBC article states:
"Overall, these new ground rules for inspections show a shift in emphasis from wellbeing issues, such as safeguarding children, community cohesion and healthy living, towards core academic standards."
This gives the impression that OFSTED inspectors have ignored teaching standards and gone around checking alarm systems and locks. This is simply not true, as anyone who works in a school will tell you. Anyway, the OFSTED supremo, Miriam Rosen, declares:
"Inspectors will spend even more time in the classroom observing teaching and learning, with a renewed emphasis on reading and literacy skills."
Parents reading this will no doubt be reassured - but lessons are observed anyway. In my first such inspection, I was observed for six lessons, and at that time, I was not unique in this. Some teachers I know had far more. All this happened when inspections lasted a whole week. The length of inspections has been reduced since, but, in my experience, the number of classroom visits pro rata has not dropped. All this talk of "shake-ups" is happening for another reason - one to which I have alluded before.
It is no coincidence that Nick Glibb and Miriam Rosen are new to their jobs, and want to make names for themselves. UK education is, as I have said before, a political football which is always being kicked around as in need of reform. It never seems to occur to people like Glibb and Rosen that things might improve if there were less shake-ups and schools could get on with teaching.
And there is something else about OFSTED that the general public does not know. This organisation has a habit of moving the goal posts when it comes to assessing the quality of teaching and learning. OFSTED has four "level descriptors": Outstanding, Good, Satisfactory and Inadequate. Well, lessons which may have been classed as Satisfactory by an inspector in one year, can be graded UNsatisfactory after the passage of time. I have been present at a meeting when an adviser has shown a video of a lesson graded Satisfactory in 2000, "but (said the cheery adviser) it wouldn't be now!". At another such meeting, we were told that the OFSTED grade of "Good" is now the new "Satisfactory". OFSTED, it seems, has the power to change the meanings of words, but we were not told what "Satisfactory" now meant. Imagine what would happen if the standards of bricklaying changed in the same way - would a wall that was "satisfactory" in 2005 have to be knocked down in 2011?
So why do they change the standards for lesson assessment? Well, they won't admit this - but I think that OFSTED is being governed by what Durkheim called "the dialectic of ends and means", whereby a means to an end becomes an end in itself. OFSTED inspectors enjoy fat fees and generous expenses.Anyone doubting this should look in the school car park during an OFSTED inspection - the inspection team always arrive in a fleet of new cars. To justify its existence, OFSTED needs to keep repeating the need for shaking up education. One question - at a time of stringent budget cuts in the public sector, is it not time to shake OFSTED (and Mr Glibb) by the scruff of the neck?