22 Feb 11

Ofsted v Oliver. Inspect or inspire?

In her column in today's Education Guardian, "Can we measure schools' progress without stifling teachers' creativity?", Estelle Morris points out that "Everyone wants schools to be held to account, but let's leave room for teachers to use their initiative":

"They want to give power to professionals ... but politicians have others to answer to as well parents, the electorate and employers, to name but a few. Their solution is to retain control of the accountability mechanisms testing, performance tables and inspection but free up the rest. The problem is that it's the accountability system itself that teachers say stifles creativity and innovation.

"Both viewpoints are right. The greater the freedom ministers allow, the more they will depend on performance data to warn of failure or to identify success. Yet the tighter the government draws the measurement criteria, the more it drives decisions taken by schools. Education is full of examples of unintended consequences."

"The accountability system is an immensely powerful agent of change that will influence the actions of all but the most confident of heads.

"We never seem to talk about this contradiction at the heart of the school improvement system. Politicians too often assume that anyone who raises the problem wants to get rid of testing and performance measurements completely, but things have moved on from the battle lines of 20 years ago. Most teachers want to debate how we hold schools to account, not whether it should be done at all.

"Surely we should be able to use the power of the accountability system to drive our shared ambitions. It is the responsibility of government to set, drive and monitor the vision and the aspirations for the nation's education system, but ministers don't have the sole wisdom about how to measure our progress towards achieving it. We all want to close the attainment gap, stretch the brightest or show that we value creativity. Surely it's worth debating how we can measure progress in a way that doesn't stifle teachers' initiative.

"The prize could be an accountability system for a modern public service; one that gives government and the public the information they want, but that also gives teachers the confidence and freedom they need to do the job we ask of them."

This Blog has written about the factors affecting schools, including:

There has already been debate about Jamie Oliver's forthcoming "Dream School". Clearly a TV show is not the same as the day-to-day reality of a real school where there are no TV cameras, and the pre-publicity suggests that the celebrity tutors some of whom it seems took risks and used methods that might not be possible in mainstream schooling had varying degrees of success, but, as good teachers, and those of us who were taught by them, already know, inspiration is of key importance in engaging pupils and maintaining life-long interest in subjects beyond the school gate and the exam hall.

How do you measure inspiration? The author of this post didn't take science or geography beyond O level, or take exams in history beyond A level, did manage a career involving writing and editing things after university, but is still fascinated by, and takes an active interest in, natural history, geology and topography, history, the universe and everything.

Ofsted will never know an individual's lifelong interests once they've left school and examination statistics are simply that. As the saying goes, 'you can't fatten a pig by weighing it'.

Tell us what you think.

Do you agree with Estelle Morris?

Do programmes like Jamie Oliver's have a message and role in raising important issues, or are they a distraction and pure entertainment?

Is it "the responsibility of government to set, drive and monitor the vision and the aspirations for the nation's education system"? If it is, how doe we give schools and education stability and long-term planning? If we have democratic accountability and education policy, how do we taking the party politics out of education?

How should we hold schools to account?

How do we do so without stifling creativity?

How do we allow teachers to be creative and inspirational, and even take risks, in a politically-enforced regime that encourages teaching to the test and ticking targets?

Are we assessing the right things?

How do you or should we try to measure 'inspiration' and all the other aspects of education that aren't about exam results and producing economically useful citizens?

Should we inspect at all?

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