CREDIT: This story was first seen in the Guardian
Ofsted will closely monitor schools that chase meaningless “badges and stickers” and turn themselves into exam factories rather than offering a well-rounded education, the chief inspector of schools in England has said.
The Guardian reports that Amanda Spielman, the head of Ofsted, said school leaders should be ashamed of some of the tactics used to bolster their league table standings. They include primary pupils sitting mock tests for more than two years, and entering secondary students for qualifications requiring just two days of study to pass.
“This all reflects a tendency to mistake badges and stickers for learning itself. And it is putting the interests of schools ahead of the interests of the children in them,” Spielman told an education conference in Berkshire. “We should be ashamed that we have let such behaviour persist for so long.”
Spielman’s remarks – her most blunt since taking the helm at Ofsted this year – appear to put her at odds with the government’s reliance on performance tables, including the use of “exam floor targets” to identify so-called failing schools.
“These behaviours are easily explained. We have a highly transparent system and performance data is valuable for many purposes, including holding schools to account. But most of us, if told our job depends on clearing a particular bar, will try to give ourselves the best chance of securing that outcome,” she said.
“At a time of scarce pupil funding and high workloads, all managers are responsible for making sure teachers’ time is spent on what matters most. This means concentrating on the curriculum and the substance of education, not preparing your pupils to jump through a series of accountability hoops.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said Spielman’s speech could be a “groundbreaking” moment.
“We welcome the chief inspector’s call to put children’s education before the constraints of performance tables and school inspection. No one would disagree, and we hope that this spirit of enlightenment spreads across the Department for Education.
“But the subtext seems to be that the blame for any narrow compliance with accountability measures lies with schools. It doesn’t. We need a school system that places less emphasis on mechanistic judgments, and liberates school leaders and their staff to focus on what really matters – high quality learning for young people of every background,” Barton said.
Spielman lamented that the “real substance” of education was being lost in some schools as a result of too much exam focus.
“Yes, education does have to prepare young people to succeed in life and make their contribution in the labour market. But to reduce education down to this kind of functionalist level is rather wretched,” she said.
“The idea that children will not, for example, hear or play the great works of classical musicians or learn about the intricacies of ancient civilisations – all because they are busy preparing for a different set of GCSEs – would be a terrible shame.
“All children should study a broad and rich curriculum. Curtailing key stage three means prematurely cutting this off for children who may never have an opportunity to study some of these subjects again.”
Spielman said Ofsted could help rebalance the education system in England by praising those schools that avoid efforts to game the accountability structure.
“What we measure through inspection can counteract some of the inevitable pressure created by performance tables and floor standards.
“Rather than just intensifying the focus on data, Ofsted inspections must explore what is behind the data, asking how results have been achieved. Inspections, then, are about looking underneath the bonnet to be sure that a good quality education –one that genuinely meets pupils’ needs – is not being compromised.”
Spielman, one of the original leaders of the Ark academy chain of schools, also suggested that Ofsted could do more with the data it collects and said it may produce more original research into education.
On the controversial efforts to enforce the teaching of British values in schools, Spielman offered a more liberal definition than her immediate predecessor, Sir Michael Wilshaw.
Ridiculing what she described as tick-box exercises – “We’ve all seen it: the Union Jack in the corridor, the pictures of the Queen” – Spielman said promoting British values meant a “real civic education” for young people.
“The sort of education that teaches young people not just what British values are, but how they were formed, how they have been passed down from generation to generation and how they make us a beacon of liberalism, tolerance and fairness to the rest of the world.”