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How school inspections are rigged

BaldJohn Bald says that for school inspections to work the inspectors need more power over what they see and who they talk to

The school was notified on Thursday of an  inspection to start the next Tuesday. All staff were ordered to attend over weekend and one was reprimanded for going on a pre-booked excursion on the bank holiday. Y11 were told that, as the school had bumped up their application forms to sixth form colleges, they were expected to bump up the school on their questionnaires. The school saw questionnaires before the inspectors - against the rules, but who's to know?  

A team of painters were put to work full time over the weekend. Teachers repeated lessons taught the previous week, so that pupils would appear to be learning particularly well.  All books were marked up to date, whether or not they are usually marked. (This was the case in another inspection I was told about by a parent - her daughter had written in her science book, that was never marked "This is only being marked because Ofsted are coming".  This caused a flaming row with her teacher, and I doubt the book reached the inspectors - it is not hard to take one book out of a pile.)

As far as my sources  were concerned, the inspection was a sham.  £4m spent on new reception area - nice offices for SMT - but no students allowed in it.  Pupils were told that if they turned up not dressed in full uniform during the inspection, they would be sent home.  So, several decided that wearing trainers was a good way to get a couple of days off, and they were marked as ill.  School got outstanding on all judgements  "They're only interested in themselves, not the pupils," said one source.

In fairness, one source thought the school deserved an outstanding anyway, but this shows what we are up against in reforming Ofsted - a reasonable approach will allow this kind of deceit to continue. The dedication of many headteachers to making their schools look good almost passes belief. One complained furiously about an English inspector on my team, who had criticised the department for not marking books for six months on end, because he had not used current terminology in discussing it with the department.

In another,  where maths books had not been marked at all during GCSE years, the school offered to put me in touch with an academic who would explain to any Ofsted inspector why books should not be marked. The "false kindness" - thank you, Andrew Selous MP - of this is obvious to parents - whose children are left without the skills they need - but not to teachers. In another, current, example, a fifteen year old who does not use capital letters or full stops in his writing is receiving no feedback or guidance from the school at all, so that what I'm teaching him is not reinforced.  Two parents I know in this authority are really worried about what will happen to their children when they are forced to choose between similar schools.

The solution is to restore the standards of inspection that applied before New Labour wrecked the system in 2005 because it was showing up too many faults in schools. Inspectors need to be trained to inspect lessons and briefed on what to look for to get beyond the snapshot. They need to decide which pupils they will talk to, and to hand out and collect pupils' questionnaires themselves. Parents need to be given direct access to inspectors during the inspection, so that they can say what they think without fear of their child being picked on. A big task, and one that will not be carried out without major structural changes to Ofsted. Until it is carried out, however, we will not be able to believe everything we read in a report.

Blair once talked about Britain as the society we're trying to mould, and those of us who will not be moulded by Blair and his successors have to deal with a maze of defences as impenetrable as a WW1 trench system. One of them is the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors, a respectable-sounding body set up by examining boards in the last days of the previous government, and which is in fact designed to make permanent these bodies' view of assessment by making sure that only those agreeing with it (or paying effective lip-service to it) can work as examiners.  

One of its training goals is described as "the effective use of Bloom's taxonomy",  a 1956 paper that is little known outside educational circles, and which tries to divide human knowledge and understanding into an arbitrary series of "domains" and levels that have no link to the school system whatsoever. There is no problem in having people know about Bloom's ideas, but why should examiners be required to "make effective use " of them? They are not, and should not be the basis of educational assessment, but make a suitable lever for New Labour's mould.

The current wave of scandals in examining, from the fiddled SAT tests to the A level seminars, show that those in charge of our assessment systems have betrayed the trust that has been placed in them to the extent that the system needs to be completely restructured.


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