The provision of educational inspectorates in our schooling system has a clear mandate; to police systems, procedures and standards in our academic establishments. A clear and responsible duty but sadly Ofsted and Ofqual have erred on their respective duties much to the dismay of our teaching resources, parents and students.
With around 33,000 schools, 450, 000 teachers and 12.5m school children the stakes are high. Get it right and the UK educational standards can be judged to be safely improving as we would all wish and frankly expect. Get it wrong and the system falls into disrepute at the speed of light. It would be crass to assume something as vast as our educational schooling can run itself; there are too many factors involved. It therefore becomes a basic integer of a sound educational system that the checks and balances of the schooling system are steadfast and effective. We owe this to the students.
Yet we still struggle to maintain effective control. Successive Secretaries of State for Education have come and gone with desperately short tenures. Heads of Ofsted, the independent educational inspectorate, have started their tour of duty with high expectations and equal frustrations. Many have been recruited from the teaching profession, adopting the poacher turned gamekeeper role. And they certainly have a job to complete. The challenge is enormous. To achieve any success the head of Ofsted must possess the steadfast ability to challenge the government and motivate the teaching profession. Get it wrong and the Ofsted head is seen as a pariah by the teaching profession and an outcast by the government. It takes a brave unwavering soul to succeed.
Chris Woodhead some 18 years ago accepted the challenge. He, unlike his many processors could see a strategy to make a change. He gained acceptance from teachers and challenged the department for education whom he accused of failing to maintain the progressive educational standards our children needed. He achieved notoriety rather than outright success. In the end the system beat him. He retired frustrated still full of ideas and criticisms that harangue the system even today. Sir Michael Wilshaw the current head of Ofsted has an equally daunting task. The system hasn’t improved that much. Educational standards are still falling. Children are still subjected to manipulation of academic criteria and results induced by the dreaded achievement of targets. The Ofsted inspections are loathed rather than welcomed. And to cap it all Ofsted have been discovered to have been deploying cut and paste report writing tactics that would fail any student for plagiarism.
The biggest problem lies in the need to police the educational system. Simplistically the values and experience of Ofsted do not seem to be passed on. Sir Michael Wilshaw proved himself to be an exceptional head teacher in an inner city school that was ailing and failing. By the time he left Mossbourne academy in Hackney, London, its achievements were inspirational. The real benefit to our schooling system and the teaching profession would be to capture this knowledge and ability and project it as a positive function to head teachers and government departments. The inspectorate function of Ofsted should be handled by a separate team less it detracts from these positive opportunities. Instead we learn more of negative reports of the exploits of Ofsted; dawn raids, plagiarised inspection reports, school inspection shenanigans with poor teachers being given the day off, disruptive children being taken out for the day. We such scurrilous activity we obviously need a school police force. But this should be a different entity to the role Sir Michael could play in demonstrating how teachers could act to excel. A master class from an obvious master freed from the clutter and criticism that surrounds the structure of the current role.
The third element of our schooling structure should focus on curriculum development. Enough of the lowered exam standards leeched into the system by Ofqual resulting in inadequate commercial relevance and restrictions in the scope open to teachers. But this needs to be led by a Secretary for Education who is in the role for the long term. Rumours now abound that Michael Gove may shortly be moved to a new role in the cabinet and yet another short term Minister will take over and attempt to reorganise our educational process in the 18 months they are in the role. We owe our children a sound, relevant and high quality standard of education that can match or better the standards in the global market. A league table the UK is slipping down badly with little hope of a trend reversal without a radical review of the role Ofsted and Ofqual should play.