Skip to main content

Don't Let The Tail Wag The Dog!

An interesting question for school leaders to ask is, ' who decides on the priorities for development in your school, or schools?'  I am sure that most would reply that they, and perhaps their staff, do. Some may even say that actually it's our self evaluation processes that determine our priorities.

If this is really true, why then are so many Headteachers and SMT fixated on what OFSTED or HMIe or others say they are looking for as their priorities? That is not to say that we should take no notice of what these organisations are saying, of course we should, just as we do with others who might have contributions to make to the Education debate, and help develop understanding. But my concern is with the number of schools and management teams who are constantly scrutinising the latest newsletters or updates from such organisations and then adjust or change what they are doing to respond to this. Why do some Heads and their teams constantly screen latest school reports after inspections and react so quickly to what appears in them? Why are there messages on Twitter all the time asking questions and for information about the latest OFSTED or HMIe pronouncements?

Of course the fact that our inspection processes are such high stake events in the life of schools and management teams, they are going to get our attention. But it is my contention that too many schools have become preoccupied by what OFSTED and HMIe are saying to the extent that they have lost their focus on what is really important. They are so concerned by what might come out of the inspection process that they have allowed this to determine their actions and thinking rather than keeping their focus on the things are really going to determine the results of any genuine inspection process.

I could spend a lot of time discussing whether the inspection process is valid or necessary. Some would argue that if high performing countries like Finland have achieved so much without an inspection process as we know it, we could achieve the same and more by adopting similar approaches. We could question the validity and authority of some of the people involved in the inspection process. When you read of some of the statements and comments made to teachers and managers by members of inspection teams, you really do wonder about their understanding of schools, learning and the curriculum. Every inspection process is inconsistent in approach and outcomes as, although there may be set procedures and directions to teams, the members and leaders of such teams are all different and have their own interpretations of these and how they are applied. In others, many schools feel the report and the findings have been decided even before an inspector steps inside the school because of national or local agendas. Others point to the inefficiencies in the whole process, noting that inspectors are only seeing a snapshot of a particular week, a particular lesson and a particular teacher in time. If they came the week before or the week after they would get a different snapshot, and is this really an accurate picture of what a school is really like?

Suffice to say that, whilst there are a whole host of concerns about inspections and the whole process, they are part of school life and we need to find a way of dealing with them.

My strategy has always been the same. Concentrate on what is important and inspections should take care of themselves. What is important? The same things that have always been important and always will be important to schools and educators. Teaching and learning, and the quality of the experiences for the pupils. The development of the curriculum in its fullest sense and in all it's guises. The assessment process as part of learning, and in order to evidence progress and report to various audiences. Self evaluation processes that really tell us where we are in terms of our journey of development. How we provide and cater for the health and wellbeing of all our learner and how this is reflected in everything we do. Staff development in order to ensure we and all staff are continually progressing our understand and our practice to better meet the needs of all our pupils. Every single one of these areas is vast and complex and we need to keep developing in them all. In my view, the only way to do this is in a connected, organised way that seeks to make small steps of embedded improvement.

The areas above should have, and need, all our focus as school leaders. If we are constantly focused on what others outside of the schools are looking for we are going to forever changing our focus and moving from one thing to another in an unconnected way. The result? Frazzled staff and leaders. Lack of coherence and a shared understanding of where we are heading. A piecemeal approach to development and, worst of all, lack of sustained impact for our learners.

Therefore, I recommend that we accept the inspection process as it now exists, look for the positives of this and try to work towards a more sympathetic and useful system, but retain our focus on what is really important. Do not let the tail of inspection processes wag the dog of education and learning in our schools.

Popular posts from this blog

Testing Times for Scotland

'These are not high stakes tests; there will be no 'pass or fail' and no additional workload for children or teachers.' John Swinney 25/11/16 news.gov.scot

I start this look at the introduction of the Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs) with  statement above from John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, made when he announced the contract for our new standardised testing had been awarded to ACER International UK, Ltd. This organisation is a subsidiary of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), whom have been responsible for the development of the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) regime of high-stakes testing in the Australian system since 2008. I also believe they were one of a very short list of providers who tendered a bid for this contract.

I was drawn to this statement as I reflected on many of the responses I have received after I put out a request on Twitter …

Play not tests

Last night I attended the launch the 'PlayNotTests' campaign being led by Sue Palmer and the Upstart organisation in Scotland. This campaign is aimed at getting the Scottish government to think again about their decision to introduce standardised testing into Scottish schools, particularly in Primary 1. Upstart is a group whose main aim is the establishment of a play-based 'kindergarten stage' in Scottish schools, and they want to delay children's introduction into the formal education system until they have reached seven years of age. Before that, Upstart and their supporters, of which I am one, believe that young children learn best, and begin to develop the attributes they will need for life and learning, through play based learning, most of which should be located outside of classrooms and school buildings. This is a model that has been successfully developed by a number of Nordic systems, with positive impacts on the well-being as well as the learning of young…

Some thoughts on Scottish education

This week I was asked if I would go along to speak to labour MSPs and MPs about Scottish education and schools. My brief was to talk about education. its current state, the reality of how the attainment gap can be tackled, how teachers can help government address the challenges of poverty, and how we might start to reinvest in our schools and our teaching staff. The politicians did not want to hear from the 'same people' who always spoke to them, and wanted to hear from someone 'fresh from the chalk-face'. I had forty five minutes, about twenty minutes input from me then a discussion and question and answer session. No pressure there then! Anyway, I gave it my best shot.

I started with a brief introduction to myself and my background, to give them some idea of who this person was, and why they might be able to help them and I tried to cover most of the following in my time slot.

I started with some the positives from our system.

Stuff we should be proud of:
Our learners …