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The Incessant Ofsted Demand for Evidence and Data is Destroying Teacher Autonomy

Nice school? Learners engaged? Lessons well planned? Great. But if you can't evidence it the MUST be something wrong, right?

  • The Incessant Ofsted Demand for Evidence and Data is Destroying Teacher Autonomy

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All was well in education utopia, outstanding they said. The great god OFSTEDSTYN had spoken!

They no longer want teachers and managers to work themselves into an early grave!

They no longer expect to see lengthy marking policies that are unworkable, they do not want to see lesson plans no more proforma, with four phases, or learning cycles or anything else.

Gone are the days when staff needed to evidence marking or differentiation.

No displays? No problem. No daily act of worship? Meh! Who needs that. OFSTEDSTYN just wants to pop round have a couple of biscuits and a nice cup of tea, chat to some teachers, parents and students and then off they pop to another school.

OFSTEDSTYN is a lovely, caring, non-political quango; a perfect omnipotent master. Who wouldn’t want them checking if schools are spending money right? Outstanding!

All was well, but then, the appeaseable, but equally omnipotent demigod DATA rears its ugly head.

“Yes, it is a lovely school. Yes, the learners certainly seem engaged. Yes, the teachers certainly seem to be providing well-planned lessons. Yes, children seem to be making progress. But, the quartiles,” DATA groans. “Quartile four.”

The charade unravels at breakneck speed and it all hinges on one simple phrase: “How do you know that….”.

It might be that your amazing school has just happened to drop a few percentage points due to an especially tough cohort, a large influx of ALN kids that has stretched inadequate resources, or five or six students who have become persistent non-attenders. It could be any number of things.

Data drops are without doubt one of the contributing factors to the trigger for an inspection. And one thing that causes this is the convergence of the quartiles data. This effect I dub the Govian Narrowing, in honour of the guy who stated that ‘all schools could become better than average’.

I have created a very simplistic but surprisingly accurate graph that demonstrates this effect with more clarity:

So, since 2010, schools have become more and more adept at gaming these quartiles. With the government diktat that all schools must be ‘better than average’, what’s happened is that the difference between what’s reported to the great god DATA and the reality has become more and more divorced.

I am pretty confident you can find this effect cross phase. It has got to the point at the school in which I work, that it is impossible to hit the KS3 quartile target.

This is due to the fact, that there are enough non-attenders on roll and that those kids carry enough percentage weighting to ensure that no department will have enough learners to meet the level 5+ target for the quartile we are in.

As a school we will be in the bottom quartile no matter what. The demigod DATA has whispered that we are in quartile 4, and that something must therefore be wrong, and so OFSTEDSTYN will come in. Put the kettle on.

So, in comes the call. OFSTEDSTYN has DATA. This school is in quartile four. There must be something wrong. Then out comes the ace card: “How do you know that….”.

They call it triangulation. I call it confirmation bias. They will look and look until they find what they are looking for.

“How do you know that teachers are planning effective lessons? Where are the plans?”

“How do you know that learners are making progress? Where is the marking that proves this?”

OFSTEDSTYN asks over and over again “How do you know?” until they find enough things that you don’t know anymore. Broken, the management team concedes.

OFSTENSTYN makes recommendations. The sword of Damocles. Teachers crack and leave. SLT are sidelined. New head, new broom, 40% moved on.

The school moves category. It’s a new family, with new quartiles, that’s they way to do it. Outstanding.

Find more from The Provoked Pedagogue at theprovokedpedagogue.wordpress.com and on Twitter at @Provokedpedagog.

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