Ofsted is the problem


This headline appeared on the Guardian website today (10.12.17):


‘Vulnerable pupils abandoned by schools, head of Ofsted warns’.  The article continued: ‘Amanda Spielman, the new chief inspector of schools, will highlight the ‘deep injustice’ of rising exclusion rates in her first report …. Some of Britain’s most vulnerable young people are being left “out of sight and out of mind” by a system that is quick to condemn them to a life without a proper education, the chief schools inspector will warn …. pupils are being expelled to boost results, while young offenders are being handed a “de facto” life sentence due to the poor education they receive.’


Back in June the kick-ass Spielman was in similar form: ‘Ofsted to punish schools pushing exam targets over learning, says chief … Amanda Spielman says some schools should be ashamed of ‘badges and stickers’ tactics to bolster league table standing’ (Guardian).


The accompanying editorial from The Observer to today’s story praises the new Chief Inspector as ‘a champion for deprived children’ and declares: ‘The education watchdog continues to offer an invaluable service’.


Well, after recent political shenanigans it’s become fashionable to re-declare that irony is dead, but what can you say about the breathtaking nerve and hypocrisy of schools being criticised for a narrow focus on test outcomes by the bloody organisation which is most responsible for that situation? Just try being as inclusive as possible, and providing a wide, rich and diverse curriculum in an inner-city school, and see what Ofsted say when your test results don’t match up with the leafy suburbs. Ofsted has spent the last 20 years demanding an ever-narrower focus and severely punishing schools that don’t match up to ever-more-stringent test-based criteria. In primary schools, tests means the 3Rs and if you don’t match up in that respect, you’re in big trouble. How dare the bastards then turn around and criticise the schools that are doing as they’ve bloody well been told.


Of course vulnerable children should not be excluded from schools because of their deleterious effects on test score averages. Of course teachers shouldn’t teach to the test. Of course schools should provide a wide curriculum and focus on more than what will feature in an exam. Of course pigs will fly. If you set up an extraordinarily harsh and punitive inspection regime which judges schools on test outcomes then of course schools will, to a greater or lesser extent, do what they have to do. There are plenty of Academy Principals, Directors of Learning and ‘Super-Heads’ busy building their salaries and empires who didn’t get where they are today by worrying about the effects of getting that vital Ofsted Outstanding grade on the poor saps left behind in the trenches.


In the US, there is a small but growing movement opposed to oppressive and over-deterministic testing. Here, SATs boycotts have sporadically arisen, recently driven (to the shame of the teaching profession) by parents rather than schools. In the States, if activists can convince the local Schools Board, real change can happen. Over here, in our massively centralised and increasingly undemocratic system, boycotting SATs will not alter the fundamental problem. Tests per se are not the problem; it’s the uses to which test data are put. The Ofsted inspection regime – inefficient, expensive, error-ridden, and implacably opposed to child-centred, democratic, progressive education – drives our appallingly inappropriate curriculum. Ofsted is the problem.