The Business of inspection

The Business of inspection

I was interested to read an article in The Guardian online today about the confusion that teachers feel about inspection and what is expected by inspectors when they visit: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2013/jun/17/teaching-inspections-ofsted-transparency. In it the writer, an ex teacher bemoaned the confusion caused by changing of the inspection schedules and their attendant expectations re teaching:

‘Back in the mid-2000s, the criteria for achieving an outstanding lesson were lengthy but specific. Included were things such as: using technology, varying activities, developing positive relationships. The array of requirements was overwhelming. Sometimes the job of teaching involved being a ringmaster of an elaborate circus of activities. Concerns then arose that this frenetic effort was not translating into outcomes. Ofsted therefore split the criteria, offering a grade for teaching and one for student learning. But this led to its own problems. Schools told teachers they must prove student learning was continually happening. In some classrooms, teachers were pressurised into having students mark their work every 20 minutes to show how they were progressing.

By the start of 2012, when Sir Michael Wilshaw took over at Ofsted, teachers breathed a sigh of relief as he promised to simplify the criteria and said inspectors had “no preferred teaching style“. Yet the era of “anything goes” felt short-lived. With detailed criteria gone, school leaders try to “guess” the right approach….’

For the last 2 years I have been working alongside colleagues from The Open University, The University of Edinburgh, Oxford University, the University of Mid Sweden and Umea University on an ESRC project called: Governing by inspection: http://jozga.co.uk/GBI/. Working on the project has been a fascinating journey into the workings of the inspection and the ways in which it is used to govern systems of education during particularly turbulent times (Ozga, Baxter, Clarke, Grek, & Lawn, 2013) The article above caught my eye for two reasons: firstly due to the sense of confusion about what the agency expects of teachers and secondly because of this in relation to the new inspection Framework (Ofsted, 2012). Successive reports into the role and purpose of Ofsted pointed to the agency’s so called tick box approach to inspection;(Parliament, 2011). The previous framework had some 28 judgements and sub-judgements which in the new framework have been reduced to just four. This in theory should make life easier all round, but the challenges of ensuring consistency of approach, a core element in any public service inspection regime (see Boyne, Day, & Walker, 2002), have traditionally been a bone of contention with both public and profession.

The system has been in existence for 20 years and as Abrams so rightly stated ,’ Try asking serious questions about the contemporary world and see if you can do without historical answers, (Abrams,1982: 1). But the history of the agency is not confined purely to its own procedures and evolution but equally to the massive industry which has grown up around it. Books offering guidance as to ‘The Perfect Ofsted Inspection’ or the Perfect Ofsed lesson (Beere, 2011; Beere, 2012), offer myriad suggestions as to how to proceed during an inspection. Training courses advertise how to convey their school in the best light during an inspection and recently governors too have been targeted by the multi-million pound industry which rides on the back of inspection. That is not to say that such material is not constructive: some of the courses I attended both as a teacher and later as a researcher were often well run and very informative, offering practical tips and hints on many aspects of teaching and learning. But in general it was the Ofsted label that sold them; it was the thought of being able to get a 1 that got most of the participants through the door.

Ofsted is more than an inspection agency, it’s a brand, and one that is instantly recognisable to some 42% of the English population (Baxter, 2013; Baxter & Clarke, 2013), that is without considering its international reach. You only have to trot around your locale to see that now famous sign ‘Ofsted Outsanding,’. But at what cost to its primary purpose as ‘The parent’s friend’ as John Major put it in his speech to the Centre for Policy Studies (Major, 1991) ? Has the brand overtaken the machine ?

Much of the strength of an Ofsed Inspection Framework lies in the ways in which it is interpreted: by both professionals and lay people and while there is confusion around whether the perfect lesson is the same as the perfect Ofsted lesson its purpose as an instrument by which to govern education may well be compromised.

Baxter, J. (2013). What Counts as sucess in education in England, shifting criteria. Forthcoming

Baxter, J., & Clarke, J. (2013). Farewell to the Tickbox Inspector ?Ofsted and the changing regime of school inspection in England. Forthcoming Oxford Review of Education 39(5).

Beere, J. (2011). The Perfect Ofsted Inspection London: Crown House

Beere, J. (2012). The Perfect Ofsted Lesson

Boyne, G., Day, P., & Walker, R. (2002). The evaluation of public service inspection: A theoretical framework. Urban Studies, 39(7), 1197.

Major, J. (1991). Education: all our futures Paper presented at the Centre for Policy Studies London.

Ofsted. (2012). The Framework for School inspection 2012

Ozga, J., Baxter, J., Clarke, J., Grek, S., & Lawn, M. (2013). The Politics of Educational Change: Governance and School Inspection in England and Scotland Swiss Journal of Sociology, 39(2), 37-55.

Parliament. (2011). The role and performance of Ofsted London: The House of Commons Education Committee.

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Living online, working online – Part One

Living online working online- part one.

 

The subject for my doctorate in education was the impact of professional learning on the online teaching identities of higher education lecturers. It struck me some years ago during a period during which I was employed as a teacher trainer, that engaging with students online was a very different experience from teaching in a face to face environment. Not only was the teaching experience different, but job satisfaction; feelings of ‘doing a good job’ were also substantially different from those experienced in a face to face environment. Drawing on the work of Gilly Salmon and Sherry Turkle (Jaques & Salmon, 2006; Salmon, 2002; Turkle, 1994, 1999; Turkle & Papert, 1990; Wilson & Peterson, 2002), I set out to explore the ways in which online teachers were working within their online contexts and more particularly what type of development activities enhanced their online identities and role performance (see Baxter, 2011; Baxter, 2012).

The study took three years to complete (Baxter, 2011) and during this time my own online interactions increased considerably as I engaged in blogs, Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn and other online applications; subsequently rejecting or increasing my use of them over time. My blog during this period juxtaposed my own online identity development with that of the online lecturers in my study, an element which proved to be very helpful in understanding the emotions engendered within online identity formation and sustenance.

The study offered a number of useful insights into the cognitive, affective and situative elements of online teaching, but one particularly useful insight was the link between participants’ social use of the internet and its contribution to their online teaching identities and confidence. This link, which proved far from incidental, revealed that individuals perceived that their online teaching identities developed and grew more rapidly depending upon the extent of their social immersion on the internet: that development for them was seen in much broader terms than the opportunities offered to them within their working contexts.

In terms of teaching, many of those teaching face to face would say the same thing: face to face teaching identities have long been seen as a trajectory, formed from past experiences, biographical in nature and formed via a complex mix of personal and professional interactions (Connelly, 1990; Maclure, 1992; Menter, 2010). But they are also often modelled on others and the online teacher has, unless they have undertaken online study themselves, little to go on in this respect. Many established professional development opportunities for online teaching now take account of this need but, in terms of the development of salient online teaching identities and ability to articulate them in a convincing and authentic manner, there is still much to be learned from the specific ways in which online teachers model behaviours from online interactions in their social as well as professional lives.

As online learning increases and points to future paradigmatic shifts in the ways that learning is conceptualised across the educational spectrum (Clark & Berge, 2012), it becomes ever more pressing to continue to investigate what makes and motivates good online teachers: who are they and what keeps them going? Particularly when the going gets tough.

 

“Online learning now depends more on the ability of educators and trainers to tutor and support learners online than on the technology itself.” Dr. Ian Heywood, 2000 World Open Learning Conference and Exhibition, BirminghamEngland.

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References.

Baxter, J. (Producer). (2011). An investigation into the role of professional learning on the online teaching identities of Higher Education Lecturers CREet : The Faculty of Education and Language Studies. Retrieved from http://oro.open.ac.uk/33928/

Baxter, J. (2012). The impact of professional learning on the online teaching identities of higher education lecturers:the role of resistance discourse European Journal of Open,Distance and E-Learning 1(2).

Clark, T., & Berge, Z. (2012). Virtual Schools Trends and Issues in Distance Education: International Perspectives, 97.

Connelly, M. a. C., J. (1990). Stories of Experience and Narrative Inquiry. Educational Researcher, 19(5 (Jun-Jul 1990)), 2-14.

Jaques, D., & Salmon, G. (2006). Learning in groups: A handbook for face-to-face and online environments: Routledge.

Maclure, M. (1992). Arguing for yourself: Identity as an organising principle in teacher’s jobs and lives. British Educational Research Journal, 19(4), 311-322.

Menter, I. (2010). Teachers – formation, training and identity Creativity Culture and Education Newcastle Upon Tyne: Creativity Culture and Education

Salmon, G. (2002). E-tivities: The key to active online learning: Routledge.

Turkle, S. (1994). Constructions and reconstructions of self in virtual reality: Playing in the MUDs. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 1(3), 158-167.

Turkle, S. (1999). Cyberspace and identity. Contemporary Sociology, 28(6), 643-648.

Turkle, S., & Papert, S. (1990). Epistemological pluralism: Styles and voices within the computer culture. Signs, 16(1), 128-157.

Wilson, S. M., & Peterson, L. C. (2002). The anthropology of online communities. Annual review of anthropology, 449-467.

 

 

Stay tuned for the next post : living online/ working online

This post will talk about being online as an educator and how this impacts on other online communications and online interactions.

 

Governing their future: musings on the life and times of school governing in England

According to the NGA (National Governors Association) an increasing number of school governors are very confused about their role in today’s education system (source NGA).

At one time the role was very clear: you only have to read Joan Sallis’ excellent history of school governance to trace the fascinating evolution of this very singular role. Brought in to ensure financial probity of schools that were funded by philanthropists or the church, the role of the governor took on a life of its own, moving through phases during which the emphasis shifted from democratic representation to a more business orientated model of governing. During this time the role of the parent became increasingly highlighted (See Andrew Wilkins’- #Andewilkins’great work on parents as school governors). And yet, today in spite of the fact that they are one of the biggest volunteer forces in England with a job description which more closely resembles that of a company director than an unpaid volunteer, there is evidence to suggest that they are increasingly wondering what exactly they are there to do.

In my own experience this has always been the case. I started off as governor in a tiny village primary school: ‘Go on join us on governors; we need people like you,’ cajoled a well-established governor who also happened to be VP of the local FE college (my son was 5 he’d been at school barely three weeks- talk about grab them early). People like me, I wondered: and what sort of person is that? And it still remains a pertinent question today: what qualities do we want in this position that is so pivotal to the success or failure of a school that poor governance has been cited by both Ofsted and in a good deal of US research as one of the key reasons for school closure?

I was cajoled…. and remained a governor for 17 years, moving through the system as my three children moved up. I enjoyed the role; it was good to feel part of the school; to be on first name terms with the teachers and head and to gain a unique perspective on the backroom ops of a school. But right through the system I always felt that seed of doubt: was I doing this right? What were we achieving as governors? There was training- good training available but it’s a funny old position being a governor: often recruited for your professional skills yet applying them in a very different context from the day job…being a parent governor yet resisting the urge to bring tales from the school gate into the board room and certainly never daring to venture the fact that whilst the general focus of the meeting that evening is on the great exam results, your little Jonny came home in tears after Miss X failed to intervene in a bullying situation.

During my time as a governor I saw people cope with the role in several different ways: some gained a sense of purpose by doing their day job in school : HR adviser out of school HR adviser on governors; some drew their sense of purpose by feeling like teacher watchdogs: keeping an eye on the staff …just in case they should get out of hand if they were not there to pounce on any misdemeanour. And some drew their governor identities from a sense of doing what was right for the school- steering it through the choppy waters of the latest set of initiatives and the 100 page+ Governor Guide to the Law. Of course there were those that were on governors purely for a front seat at the school concert; but over the years as the workload burgeoned, that type melted away. I can’t say that I met a single governor that didn’t have the children/student interest at heart; but the articulation of this varied enormously from governor to governor.

Governors of today are having to adapt to myriad changes as new school autonomies, in very many cases, leave them directly responsible to the Secretary of State. During these times of change it is more important than ever that they feel secure and certain of their roles and governor identities: that they feel that they are doing a good job for their schools and pupils. But as the pressure and workload on them increases what type of folk will still be drawn to this role? As governing bodies conform increasingly to business models, introducing performance management and other tools of the trade; how will the governor feel then? More importantly, if governors begin to leave in their droves what will the government do to replace this 300, 000 strong volunteer force ?

In 2012 I attended my final governor meeting. After 17 years it was time for a break; time to reflect on my time as a governor and use that experience to ground my research. Do I miss it? Yes sometimes – I miss being that cog in the wheel, I miss the highs of school life and the camaraderie of pulling together as a team when times got tough. When I left I received a note from the chair ‘thank you for your contributions during your time as governor, ‘I still ponder over that….what exactly were those contributions in the end ? Did we change things or were we just rubber stampers? Did others sit around the table feeling at sea or was it just me?

Teaching assistants: out with the bathwater ?

There are an awful lot of TAs out there and according to the latest reports the government is looking to take the advice of a think tank and radically cut their numbers.

Having worked in and observed hundreds of classrooms over the years I’ve seen some brilliant practice amongst teaching assistants and some that fell short of adequate.  Sometimes the best practice was seemingly divorced from whatever was happening in the classroom. But TAs most often in my experience have the most impact in classrooms where the teacher knows how to manage the teaching assistant’s work so it complements their own practice and doesn’t occur as just an add on. It may seem strange but in many schools TAs are not managed by teachers, they have a line management all of their own. This means that many teachers simply don’t know what to do to maximise these extra bodies in the classroom. And yet in so many cases they are vital in supporting both children with statements and equally as importantly those who don’t actually have a statement but so desperately need that one on one that a busy classroom teacher with 35 or more students to occupy them simply does not have time to give.

At a time when class sizes look set to rise again and cuts are hanging like the sword of Damocles over every element of state education we are increasingly seeing perfectly good babies being thrown out with the bathwater: teaching assistants were brought in for a reason: to give hard pressed teachers a chance to focus on good teaching whilst needy students were offered the one to one help that they need.   Why not re-evaluate the use of TAs instead of doing away with them ? Why does our Ed policy have to swing from one extreme to another rather than taking a more considered approach ?

 

Lets be reasonable : re think the role and function of TAS and clamp down on cases where they are used as cheap and unqualified replacements for teachers. Otherwise we end up doing the educational quick step again…one step forward three steps back, another innovation, another proclamation, and the outcome ? Mounting frustration.