News has recently emerged both locally and nationally of how educational establishments have been assessed as being poor performers by Ofsted. However one of the contexts for this is that when Schools are judged as ‘outstanding’ they are removed from the inspection list and so are only inspected when someone complains to Ofsted. Of the 72 ‘outstanding’ schools that have been inspected since September three quarters are no longer outstanding, a third ‘need improvement’ and one is ‘inadequate’. The risk is that this is only the tip of the iceberg as there are 1620 schools that have not been inspected for six years or more and nearly 300 for 10 years or more. Inspections create great stress for educational establishments, partly because of the impact when the reports are published which seems unhelpful on many levels. One assumes that when all schools were being run and inspected by local authorities, that the benefit of the inspection should have been that resources could be directed to bring all schools up to the same quality level, not placing parents under pressure to move their children from one school to another when the results are made public. The company I work for is assessed every year for a standard known as ISO9001 and although we pay for this challenge, it gives us the opportunity to get an independent set of views about our processes. However we either pass (as we have done each year since we registered) or fail. Although some of our clients would not be able to come to us if we lost our ISO9001 status, our main focus is not on the certification as nice as that is but on the detailed assessments which are very helpful to keep our business moving in the right direction in quality terms.
Unfortunately inspections are not the only challenge facing the educational sector and the root of some problems come from the Department for Education (DfE) and policies set out by Ministers such as the Secretary of State for Education and Nick Gibb (MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton). Over the last few weeks several questions have been raised by MPs and the answers by Nick give the impression of an incoherent approach to Schools and the education of our children. Clearly when people are embedded in the minutiae of setting rules, the risk is that they lose sight of the bigger picture. However that is what Ministers are supposed to avoid, being a team of people with a range of backgrounds. So the big question is why their policies are so inconsistent. On the 16th January Nick Gibb answered a couple of questions from Nick Soames (MP for Mid Sussex) “what guidance he has issued to head teachers on tackling low-level disruption in schools” and “what guidance he has issued to schools on restricting the use of smart phones in schools” the answer to both of these questions was in depth and included references to two reports on the Governments website. The following day Nick answered a question that seems to cover a much more narrower area of school provision “if he will conduct a comparative fire risk assessment of school notice boards ..and if he will publish the results of that assessment.” Nicks response was: “the Department sets out the design and construction requirements in its specification documents including the fire safety requirements for notice boards.” So based on these three answers it appears that the DfE has interest in how Schools are run including their noticeboards. However these answers are in contrast to a question answered on the 8th January by Nick from an MP who asked “how his Department is ensuring that funds allocated under the Teachers’ Pay Grant for 2018-19 are being used to fund teachers’ pay and not for any other purpose.” Nick’s response was “Schools are autonomous institutions and therefore it is for schools to determine by how much an individual teacher’s pay should rise…it is for schools to decide how best to spend the funds allocated under the teachers’ pay grant. The Department has, however, made clear that this additional money is to fully fund an increase in pay for teachers and the Department would therefore expect schools to put it towards pay.”
It seems clear that Nick and his colleagues must take a step back from the detail of matters such as school noticeboards which they clearly have a view about and to grasp the bigger picture which includes issues such as teachers pay and the need to inspect schools, even if they appeared ‘outstanding’ ten or even 13 years ago!