Inspections

It’s the end of half term – where’s all the time gone? Why is my house still a mess?  Why do I never get all the things done I’ve meant to?

One thing I did do was go to stay with an old friend (excessive alcohol consumption, gossip, hysterical laughter…. you get the idea)   She’s a teacher too (I do have friends who aren’t teachers, honest!) and was telling me what had happened to one of the other schools in her area, where she knows several members of staff.

The school is popular, over-subscribed, and in their last OFSTED were described as “good with outstanding features”, which is pretty healthy, but not so over-the-top glowing as to make everyone complacent.

Last year, the school’s GCSE results dipped. It wasn’t surprising – that Year 11 had clearly been one with “issues” for quite some time.  But when OFSTED arrived this academic year, the Lead Inspector came in with an agenda based on that dip.  He and his team were determined to find evidence that the school was not performing adequately before they set foot in the place. As it was, the school just about escaped with “satisfactory”, and after the behaviour and attitude of the team in the school, they felt glad to get that.

Are schools now allowed no natural variation in results? If children were little robots, with a standard issue of different varieties assigned to each year, then sure, condemn a school for one dodgy year. But, amazingly enough, kids do vary – personal circumstances, motivation, absence…. and so their results may vary too.

Results statistics should be looked at, of course.   But decent statisticians know when to be cautious, and appreciate the limitations of the data as well as its uses. There is no better demonstration of “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” than academic data in the hands of a power-wielder who takes it at face value.

A school is, in practice, totally at the mercy of a hostile inspection team.  If you go in determined to find fault, you will – we all know that. I once had someone finding fault with a lesson of mine because I didn’t write high enough up the board (obviously being short is a serious issue for a teacher).

Some Lead Inspectors seem to give a disproportionately large number of low ratings. I gather the one involved here does. It needs investigating, and dealing with. We wouldn’t tolerate that sort of attitude in an examiner, for example – so why is it allowed to happen in something as important as school inspections?

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