School Governing : policy, politics and practices

School governance FC

 

What impact have the unprecedented and rapid changes to the structure of education in England had on
school governors and policy makers? And what effect has the intensifying media and regulatory focus had
on the volunteers who take on the job?

Jacqueline Baxter takes the 2014 ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal, in which it was alleged that governors at 25 Birmingham schools were involved in the ‘Islamisation’ of secular state schools, as a focus point to examine the pressures and challenges in the current system. Informed by her twenty years’ experience as a school governor, she considers both media analysis and policy as well as the implications for the future of a
democratic system of education in England.

“Brings new insight into how and why governors are
positioned within society and how shifting attitudes to the
purpose of school have shaped the future of governance.”

Ian
Usher, ModernGovernor.com

“Expertly explores the key issues surrounding modern school governance. A stimulating and informative
read for anyone interested in school governance and leadership.”

Ellie Cotgrave, National Governors’
Association
March 2016

“A succinct, and fascinating, document on the many
challenges we have faced as ‘Hidden Givers’ over the last
few years.”

Jane Owens, National Leader of Governance,
Wirral

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School Governor Identities Update

The school governor identities project has now been running for six months. During this time I have carried out over 50 interviews with school governors from all over the country.

The project aims to investigate the influences of various factors on school governor identity at a time of great changes to the education system in England.

The project investigates areas such as : the media influence on governors; how governors become confident in their role; what brought them into the role in the first place; what they imagine to be ‘school strategy’; how they see themselves as leaders; what governors feel about inspection and their role in it.

Some of the data will be published in a forthcoming book : Governors: Policy , politics and practices (Policy press ), I will also be writing a number of articles and blog posts over the next six months.

The survey is still running so if you ‘Picture1

haven’t had a chance to complete it you still can –

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/schoolgovernors.

The responses so far have been fascinating , not least in the area of governor learning and development , governor web use and governor perceptions on strategy and leadership . I will be posting an update soon on these areas.

best wishes

Jacqueline Baxter – Lecturer in Public Policy and Management : The Open University Business School .

Debate over national values is a threat to the education system

The results of seven school inspections in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets have brought a fresh wave of allegations that some schools are not providing a broad and balanced curriculum for their pupils, who may be vulnerable to radicalisation. A memorandum on the inspections sent by Ofsted’s chief inspector of schools Michael Wilshaw to the education secretary Nicky Morgan has upped the ante in debates that conflate conservative religious values with the risk of radicalisation and extremism.

In six independent schools that were visited in the borough, inspectors found serious concerns over the safeguarding and welfare of pupils, lack of provision of a broad and balanced curriculum and issues around leadership, management and teaching.

Four of the six independent Muslim schools have been judged inadequate, with two failing to meet independent school standards. The only maintained school involved in the recent inspections, Sir John Cass in Stepney, was also downgraded by Ofsted from outstanding to inadequate. This followed concerns about segregation between boys and girls in school areas and insufficient guidance on “the dangers associated with using the internet, particularly in relation to extremist views”.

The ‘British values’ minefield

Kenny Frederick, a former school leader in Tower Hamlets, articulated concerns that resonate with those also voiced in Jewish communities that have been subject to similar inspections. Frederick said that putting a school in special measures “will only be negative” for a school and its community. “People will feel resentful. All we are going to do is alienate. If I was one of the kids, it would not be doing anything for my British values.”

The whole area surrounding “British values”, schools and religion has been thrown into confusion since the Birmingham “Trojan Horse” affair over allegations of a takeover of school board by hardline Muslim governors. The Muslim community is not unique in stating that the subsequent introduction of a responsibility for schools to promote “British values” and the apparent conflation of religious conservatism with extremism by both government and media is riddled with ideological and political complexities.

For example, Nigel Genders, speaking on behalf of the Church of England, raised serious concerns during the recent consultation into the Proposed New Independent Schools Standards in July. His response agreed that: “There is a legitimate exploration to be undertaken of values in the context of our distinctive national culture, literature, legal and political systems.” But he added that “many of those values cannot be defined as uniquely British”. He continued by highlighting the church’s concerns that the “British values should emanate from a broad public conversation,not from the secretary of state”.

Schools and culture

The apparent appropriation of values by the state is a worrying trend. More worrying still is how Ofsted is being used to police these values – particularly as they have yet to be fully defined. A recent Ofsted report following a snap inspection at the St Benedict’s Catholic secondary school in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, claimed that younger pupils “show less awareness of the dangers of extremism and radicalisation”.

The report, which was withdrawn very soon after its publication, went on to question whether the school prepared pupils “for life and work in modern Britain”. It was apparently withdrawn due to concerns around quality – a little too late for those who had already seen the report posted on the schools website.

The new values police

The present guidance given to inspectors on how to spot a “British value” is scant to say the least. The 2014 revised school inspection handbook contains four references to values which link to curriculum and safeguarding, the most specific of which are articulated in terms of the social development of pupils.

School governors are also instrumental in the whole area of values. The extent to which they are expected to define and be conversant with values at every level of school life is outlined in detail on the National Governors Association website. But the question of how all of these areas will be effectively investigated by the inspectorate and then translated into a tangible threat of radicalisation and extremism remains a very grey area indeed.

Again the issue of British values is making life difficult for governors, as Naureen Khalid, school governor and co-founder of @ukgovchat told me. She said: “I personally think in terms of human values. As long as my school promotes these, I’m happy.”

As director of the Universities’ Police Science Institute in Cardiff, Martin Innes points out that there is a distinct lack of knowledge – not only around what works in preventing extremism, but equally how we can effectively identify real triggers. He also brings home the dangers of branding schools and their communities with extremist labels, quoting the steady decline in Muslims between the ages of 16 and 24 who feel that police treat them fairly.

Trust eroding

The announcement by the home secretary, Teresa May, on the intention to include new statutory powers to prevent individuals being drawn into terrorism within the Channel anti-radicalisation programme, looks likely to place increasing levels of pressure on governors, school leaders and inspectors. But they are already working in communities where levels of trust in public bodies appears to be reaching an all time low.

Of course, it is vitally important to prevent terrorism, but the present system risks undermining hard-won community cohesion. It also risks transforming schools from being trusted institutions at the heart of their communities into organisations undermined by suspicion, doubt and a panoptecon-like scrutiny. This is more likely to give rise to the very activities that both government and inspectorate are so eager to expunge.

To avoid this, as the Church of England’s Genders points out, we need a public debate about the human values that form the core of our society. Until this happens, the grey area around these “British values” is open to mis-interpretation, political manipulation and false assumptions. That may well cause repercussions which could fundamentally undermine our system of education.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Pupils at academy chains being failed by inspection loophole

The Conversation

By Jacqueline Baxter, The Open University

Recent inspections of schools run by academy chains have shown many of these schools to be failing. Yet Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, is still not allowed to regulate the very organisations that are responsible for this.

In a recent sitting of the Education Committee’s inquiry into academies and free schools, its chair, the Conservative MP Graham Stuart, detailed the long list of academy chain failures now occurring with increasing regularity.

Ofsted have said that AET [Academies Enterprise Trust] has low expectations and are leaving schools to founder; that E-ACT provides poor-quality teaching intervention and support and that an overwhelming proportion of pupils in the Kemnal Academy Trust are not receiving a good education.

Since 2012, Ofsted has intensified its focus on the inspection of school governance, insisting that it is integral to the leadership and management function of schools. In spite of this – and the concomitant furore surrounding the state of school governance in the wake of the Trojan Horse extremism affair in Birmingham – the inspectorate still has its hands tied when it comes to inspecting academy chains.

As part of its brief, Ofsted is allowed to inspect individual schools within academy chains but not the trusts that run them. Yet in many cases it is precisely these trusts and their sponsors that are failing the very schools they purport to support.

One area that has proved to be particularly problematic from a regulatory perspective is the lack of effective scrutiny in terms of conflicts of interest within academy chains. This is an area highlighted in a new report by the Institute of Education’s Toby Greany and Jean Scott.

They found that the mechanisms to identify and address conflicts of interest in academy chains are almost non-existent. They outlined a number weaknesses in the system, including that some trust boards are not adhering to national guidance or doing enough to mitigate the risks associated with conflict of interest. They also point out that the skills and capacity of bodies charged with auditing trusts may be weak or insufficient to “get under the skin” of what is going on.

Immune to public scrutiny

It was only a short time ago that the head of Ofsted, Michael Wilshaw called for more stringent inspection of Local Education Authorities following a spate of high-profile school failures of several schools within the same authority. The authorities concerned have been named and shamed for the dereliction of their duties.

Yet organisations at the helm of some of the biggest school chains in the country appear to be accountable to no one. As David Wolfe of law firm Matrix Chambers highlighted during the recent inquiry:

The power is concentrated with the trust and no longer really with local governing bodies unless it is delegated down and then the trusts are not under any great scrutiny. They are not subject to direct observation from Ofsted and they are not subject to the kind of public pressures that come from democratic accountability or a wider public transparency.

Such issues of accountability around chains of schools which expand too quickly are a common feature of the US Charter school system, a system that in many ways mirrors the reform intentions of the academies project. In states in which there are high levels of regulatory accountability such as Massachusetts, charter schools appear to do well, outperforming regular district schools on a number of criteria.

But uncontrolled expansion of charter schools and lack of concomitant accountability has given rise to a number of cases in which schools have been shut down and had their licences revoked.

Governance loophole

Research into school federations in the UK is beginning to unpick the new governance structures that are appearing. Although in its early stages, researchers have stressed the importance of retaining coherence in these multi-level governance structures that mirror so many in the wider not-for-profit sector.

It took some time for Ofsted to bring school leadership and governance into a single judgement, following a long period during which they were considered entirely separately in regulatory terms. Now this is in place, it would make perfect sense to apply it it to academy chains, yet their sponsors and trusts have been conveniently permitted to slip through the net.

This lack of accountability has caused a number of issues. It makes it almost impossible to be able to pinpoint why one or a number of schools in a chain are not performing well.

It also makes it difficult to see how multi-level governance is actually functioning if inspectors are only able to see part of the picture and not the whole. Inspectors look only at individual schools and their performance in isolation, rather than the chain as a whole. It is also almost impossible to evaluate how the strategic direction of the chain is operating through individual schools and evaluate to what extent those schools are working with and through that strategy.

Rudderless in the face of weak leadership

A lack of cohesion in accountability also makes it difficult to see how the goings-on at individual schools relate to overarching principles within the trust. This includes how pupil premium money is spent on children who qualify for it, or the direction of standards for teaching and learning. As trusts continue to grow, it becomes even more pressing to ensure governing trusts are accountable in financial and operational terms.

As researchers in the US point out, the challenges of retaining quality during periods of intensive growth are substantial. It’s not difficult to see how schools in academy chains can be left rudderless and lacking strategic and operational direction and prey to conflicts of interest.

It appears to be somewhat paradoxical that we pay £143m for an inspection system that is prevented from inspecting some of the key organisations behind so many schools in England, particularly in light of the type of failures that have come to light recently. According to the Department for Education, there are currently 1,226 open sponsored academies in the 2014-15 academic year.

Unless these failures are investigated in a holistic way that departs substantially from the fractured and dislocated manner of current regulatory practice, then it is difficult to see how errors can be pinpointed and addressed in the future.

The Conversation

Jacqueline Baxter does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Changing knowledges; changing frameworks: challenges for inspection as a governing tool, in England, Scotland and Sweden

Challenges

 

Click on the link to see the programme. 

During this seminar I shall be talking about the ways in which inspection frameworks and what counts as knowledge within them, shift and change according to political, technical, institutional and social changes in the societies in which they are placed. 

The changing face of school inspections; theories and practices

 

The symposium will centre stage a number of high profile studies on different inspection models across Europe, and help us learn about the mechanisms of impact of these models.

This symposium will present for discussion the major findings of a large comparative EU-study from a wide range of European countries. In particular, the role of key inspection methodologies which positively impact on schools will be considered. In addition the symposium will include inputs from important stakeholders working in the inspection field across Europe (e.g. the Standing International Conference on Inspectorates of Education, SICI), bringing together researchers and practitioners to exchange research evidence and identify good practice.

The Symposium will focus on the following themes:

  • Models for analysing the impact and effectiveness of school inspection
  • Emerging trends, policies and procedures in European Inspection
  • Key inspection methodologies which are effective in driving change

 

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  • The role of school self evaluation in the inspection processes
  • The danger of unintended, negative consequences of inspection
  • The impact of national context on the development of inspection policies

 

 

School Inspection

 

For the past two years I have been working on the ESRC funded programme : Governing by Inspection . The project, led by Professor Jenny Ozga of Oxford University,  This three-year research project, funded by the ESRC and the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) compares the use of school inspection as a form of governing of education in the three systems of Sweden, Scotland and England, in the context of current changes in inspection practices in Europe (see : http://www.education.ox.ac.uk/governing-by-inspection/). The project has involved a number of publications (see my publications page) and latterly a book , due to be published by Routledge in September 2014: Governing by Inspection (Grek,S and Lindgren,J, 2014) London. Routledge.  You can find more information on our conference presentations on my Conferences page.

My forthcoming conferences include a presentation at :

The changing face of school inspections; theories and practices

Invited European inspection symposium 3-4 June, 2014

http://www.ips.gu.se/english/isi-tl/

Venue: Department of Education and Special Education, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Visiting Address: Pedagogen A, Västra Hamngatan 25, Gothenburg
Conference fee: No conference fee will be charged. Travel and subsistence expenses are covered by participants.


The European School Inspection research consortium is delighted to invite you to a symposium in Gothenburg in June 2014 to share new research and practitioner evidence, enhance our understanding of (the impact of) school inspection and discuss ways in which inspection can be enhanced.

The symposium will centre stage a number of high profile studies on different inspection models across Europe, and help us learn about the mechanisms of impact of these models.

This symposium will present for discussion the major findings of a large comparative EU-study from a wide range of European countries. In particular, the role of key inspection methodologies which positively impact on schools will be considered. In addition the symposium will include inputs from important stakeholders working in the inspection field across Europe (e.g. the Standing International Conference on Inspectorates of Education, SICI), bringing together researchers and practitioners to exchange research evidence and identify good practice.

The Symposium will focus on the following themes:

  • Models for analysing the impact and effectiveness of school inspection
  • Emerging trends, policies and procedures in European Inspection
  • Key inspection methodologies which are effective in driving change
  • The role of school self evaluation in the inspection processes
  • The danger of unintended, negative consequences of inspection
  • The impact of national context on the development of inspection policies

 

Education Policy and The Media 

 

As part of my work into education policy and the media, I will be presenting the paper below at The European Education Research Conference in Porto 2014 ; details of the paper are as follows:

ID: 1932
23. Policy Studies and Politics of Education

Topics: NW 23: The politics of policy making in education
Keywords: media, inspection, policy, academies

Inspection by Media: the role and function of the media on education and inspection policy in England

Jacqueline-Aundree Baxter

The Open University UK, United Kingdom

Presenting Author: Baxter, Jacqueline-Aundree

The role of the media on international education policy has been recognised for some time now (Anderson, 2007); not least in terms of the often powerful impact it exerts not only on education policy but on public service policy more generally (Wallace, 1994,Hall, 1997). Education inspection is now employed by a number of countries both within and outside of Europe, to govern complex education systems (Grek, Lawn, Ozga, & Segerholm, 2013). InEngland in common with other OECD countries (see Rönnberg et al, 2012), school inspection is the focus of a great deal of media attention, particularly since the inception of the current inspectorate, Ofsted, in 1992. Since The Conservative /Liberal coalition took power in 2010, the media has increasingly been used to criticise the extent to which the inspectorate is being used to fulfil the government’s education agenda; raising questions about the extent to which its judgements can be said to be impartial (Baxter, Rönnberg, & Ozga, forthcoming). This paper draws on media discourse theory (Negrine,2013) to employ a case study approach to examine the ways in which The Academies Act 2010 (Parliament, 2010) and the policy advocated by the act is linked to media coverage of inspection. The legislation develops a policy which began under the previous Labour Administration, and is aims to encourage the further development of an education system in which state schools assume financial and curricular autonomy. Sampling from 3 national newspapers: The Times, The Guardian and The Independent, the study analyses 200 articles on inspection which make indirect and direct reference to the act. Using a framework for media analysis (Baxter et al forthcoming) , the paper explores how media coverage of inspection within the period 2010 to 2013 is framed in terms of the act .(Negrine, 2013) .The research questions examine: how the media shape their coverage in order to appeal to the public; what news values are employed in order to colour and condition stories in ways that make them acceptable and persuasive to the public; and finally : how news stories are cognitively framed in order to create links between education policy and public understandings. The paper concludes that in linking inspection to this policy, the media potentially exert considerable influence upon the ways in which this policy is understood and received by the public.

Methodology, Methods, Research Instruments or Sources Used
The study draws upon 100 news articles from 3 National Newspapers published within the time period 2009-present, which make reference to both inspection and academies. Using a framework for media analysis (Baxter et al forthcoming) the project examines a) What news values are employed to colour and conditions stories in ways that make them acceptable and persuasive to the public b) How are these news stories cognitively framed in order to create links between education policy and public understandings of inspection and academies c)To what extent the three newspapers both justify and criticise this policy via their reports on inspection d)What implications do media crafting and presentations of stories on inspection and the academies project have for the future of education policy in this area ?

Conclusions, Expected Outcomes or Findings
The findings are expected to reveal :  a) What news values are employed to colour and conditions stories in ways that make them acceptable and persuasive to the public b) How are these news stories cognitively framed in order to create links between education policy and public understandings of inspection and academies c)To what extent the three newspapers both justify and criticise this policy via their reports on inspection d)What implications do media crafting and presentations of stories on inspection and the academies project have for the future of education policy in this area ?

References
Anderson, G. L. (2007). Media’s impact on educational policies and practices: Political spectacle and social control. Peabody Journal of Education, 82(1), 103-120.
Baxter, J., Rönnberg, L., & Ozga, J. (forthcoming). Inspection in the Media. In S. Grek & J. Lindengren (Eds.), Governing by Inspection: Embodied Regulation. London: Symposium Books
Hall, S. (1997). Representation: Cultural representations and signifying practices (Vol. 2): SAGE Publications Limited.
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.
Negrine, R. (2013). Politics and the mass media in Britain: Routledge.
Parliament. (2010). The Academies Act 2010.  London: HMSO Retrieved from http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/32/pdfs/ukpga_20100032_en.pdf.
Rönnberg, L., Lindgren, J., & Segerholm, C. (2012). In the public eye: Swedish school inspection and local newspapers: exploring the audit–media relationship. Journal of Education Policy, 28(2), 178-197.
Wallace, M. (1994). The contribution of the mass media to the education policy process. International Journal of Educational reform, 4(2), 124-130.
Wallace, M. (1996). Guided by an Unseen Hand: The Mass Media and Education Policy. In K. Watson, S. Modgil & C. Modgil (Eds.), Educational dilemmas:Debate and Diversity: Vol.3.Power and Responsibility in Education (Vol. 3, pp. 147). London: Cassell.

The Roles and Identities of School Governors in areas of High Socio Economic Deprivation 

My work into the roles and identities of school governors looks at the changing face of school governing in England and Wales – specifically those working in areas of high socio economic deprivation.

 

 

Governing their future: the roles and identities of federation school governors in areas of social deprivation Project Summary.

Duration:

2 Years.

 

 

 

The project, based at The Open University UK looks to investigate the roles and identities of volunteer governors working in areas of relatively high socio economic deprivation, (1% above the average Free School Meals indicator) and whose schools form part of a federation. School governors are under considerable pressure to perform within an environment in which, increasingly they find themselves governing autonomous schools (academies or free schools), with no support from Local Education Authorities. A recent Parliamentary enquiry into the role of volunteer school governors (Parliament, 2013a, 2013b, 2013c), found that not only were governors confused about their role, but they were also being asked to undertake far greater responsibilities than they have ever, in the history of school governing, been asked to take.(Sallis, 1988). In addition to this, they are, under the 2012 Inspection Framework, facing increasingly stringent levels of regulation and failure to reach the necessary standards has profound consequences for both schools and governors (Baxter, 2013, 2014). But it is not only the shifting notions of accountability that place great pressure on governors: new forms of schools such as federations and academy chains, mean that governors often find themselves responsible for more than one school.(Baxter & Wise, 2013). This too has implications for the ways in which they carry out their role and also how they are placed in relation to the community/communities which they serve.

Governor recruitment has always been challenging, particularly for schools located within areas of high socio economic deprivation (Francis, 2011; Mortimore & Whitty, 2000) and this project builds on the previous work of the PI into school governing and inspection and investigates how governors feel about their roles and function. Specifically the objectives of the study are to:

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  1. Increase understanding of the ways in which the governor role is located in the wider context of educational governance.
    2. Identify factors contributing to and preventing positive governor group and individual working identities, motivation and job satisfaction in areas of socio economic deprivation
    3.Recommend areas for targeted intervention and development, particularly in the area of identity/role performance and individual and group efficacy.
    4. Identify particular challenges in the governing of federations.

Methodology.

The project draws upon interviews with governors and head teachers from three federations based in the North East of England. All three federations have !%+ more than the national average of pupils on free school meals. The interviews will each last one hour. The study also draws on quantitative data which is being supplied by Ten Governor Support. The data draws on 41k governor questions on aspects of governing. The Analysis will link the responses across all schools in England with above average on the FSM indicator with the qualitative interviews in order to respond to the research questions.

My work into school governors is also linked to the work of  Visiting Research Fellow Dr Karine Vignault from The Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal . She is looking  at practices involving Patients Ressources  in the governance of health organizations as a new site of citizenship. In order to:  1) to identify the ways in which PR are currently defined and produced as subjects of public action, with a particular emphasis on the network of relationships in which they are embedded and which they contribute to create; 2) to foreground the effectiveness of these assemblages in terms of the power relations that they enable, notably through the mobilization of notion of expertise.

The research will be conducted via an ethnography of the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM), an important university hospital centre which is currently experimenting with ways of including PR in its governance (especially in quality management committees), in order to ascertain: What are the conceptions of the  Patients Ressources that are circulating? What are the representative claims at play in discourses and practices involving Patients Ressources? How does the dilemma between authenticity and expertise operate in/through the recruitment and training of PR? How do emotions come into play?

(Patients Ressources (PR) in French; are recruited and trained to voluntarily support other patients through their trajectory of care and/or to participate in the governance of health organizations. )

 

 

 

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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