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Ofsted not effective in driving school improvement



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What if Ofsted addressed the ‘elephant in the room’?

Earlier this month, Ofsted published a survey (n = 5,626) to gather teachers’ views on school inspections. It was a chance for Ofsted to blow its horn.

Fair, maybe, but reliable?

Fifty three percent respondents told teacher Tapp that their school has made changes since the last inspection. More than 80 percent of teachers who responded to the Teacher Tapp survey agreed that their school’s most recent inspection was fair.

However, there were NO questions about “post-test burnout” or anything about the “mental health impact” on teachers during the process. Ofsted concluded“we are pleased that 42 percent of teachers and 80 percent of principals are reading our research.”

Some balance between academic research and Ofsted-commissioned inquiry should be offered.

No beneficial effect on exams

In one paper: Do school inspections improve school quality? Ofsted inspections and school exam results in the UK (Rosenthal, 2004) to assess the impact of Ofsted on examination performance in state secondary schools.

The paper highlights why there is no evidence that an Ofsted visit has a positive effect on a school’s exam results after an inspection! It found that “there is a small but well-defined adverse negative effect associated with an Ofsted inspection event in the inspection year”.

The conclusion?

Ofsted visits appear to have a negative impact on student performance in the year of the visit.

So where are we now ten years on from these reports (and a couple validation framework into the future)?

Ofsted does not know its impact

Well, another study published by Ofsted (2007 year) this time: Reviewing the impact of validation. Ofsted writes: “While the direct impact of inspection may be difficult to prove, there is evidence that inspection and regulation have a positive impact on the provision of education and care services.”

Not sure what we mean by “positive difference” here?

Ofsted concludes: “It is also true that in some places the inspection did not make enough of a difference.”

National Control Service (NAO, 2018) looked again at Ofsted and asked: How effective is Ofsted in driving school improvement? According to the NAO, “Ofsted does not know whether its school inspections are having the desired impact”.

In other words, Ofsted is not effective in improving driving schools. Even in Ofsted’s assessment of the strategic plan, there is there was limited information to allow others to evaluate his progress.

The strategic plan included nine indicators of quality, efficiency and effectiveness for which Ofsted planned to set targets. However, seven of these measures did not have corresponding targets; and the results of three of them were not publicly reported.

Fast forward to 2022, we are now on a different strategic plan (2022-2027).

Inspection does not automatically lead to school improvement

In another research paper, The Effect of School Inspections: A Systematic Review (Clerks, 2012), improvement (by Ofsted) is defined as:

  1. improvement of the school;
  2. changing the behavior of teachers; or
  3. student performance results.

Lest you read the 33-page document, “no evidence has been found that school inspections automatically lead to improvements in the quality of education.”

However, to offer some balance, there is evidence that “a positive role is given to one aspect of regulatory measures, namely feedback: verbal feedback at the end of the inspection visit and written feedback in the inspection report.

“The feedback provided the school with knowledge that they had lacked until now.”

However, to contradict this study, De Meier and Vanhoof (2020 year) write: “although teachers are satisfied with the outcome of the inspection, this does not mean that they are more inclined to accept the feedback of the inspection”.

It appears that the one-time relationship could prevent any action once the inspectors leave the building.

One recent academic paper concludes: Do teachers want to work with inspectors? Monitoring programs (Carvalho and Joanna, 2022) examines the emerging dichotomy between control and support/monitoring that arises when inspection performance in schools is at stake.

Using semi-structured interviews, 130 participants, including teachers and inspectors, took part in the study.

Teacher anxiety over Ofsted inspection

The research highlighted anxiety, stress and discomfort for teachers, despite the inspection highlighting safety and calm (according to Ofsted).

Even in Ofsted’s latest TeacherTapp survey, they fail to ask the most important question that could highlight the full negative impact they are having on the sector:

  1. Asking whether teachers think Ofsted’s overall rating is ‘fair’ is very different from asking ‘Do you believe Ofsted’s overall rating is fair’accurate and reliable‘?
  2. Or what happens to teacher attrition or mental health after a high-stakes inspection?

This study concludes that “inspectors are more concerned with identifying the failings of educational organizations than helping them to improve”, with inspection having a “greater impact” on teachers “in leadership positions than on teachers”.

This is not to say that there are no positives or that some teachers and schools have positive experiences. Further research will show when poor or affluent schools facilitate the process…

In other words, at the moment Ofsted is not effective in improving driving schools.

For an inspection system to have a positive impact on education and improve quality, school inspection needs to move away from standardized and inflexible behavior (such as grading schools) towards a conscious and effective integration of ‘school-specific differences’.

Ofsted must eliminate once and for all the centralizing culture of administration that does not appear to be conducive to quality education for all.

Amen to that.

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