The self-imploding system

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14 April 2015 by Mark Wright
Following the speech Tristram Hunt gave at the ATL conference outlining Labour’s education policies, this, along with increasing noise from other parties suggests a certain inevitability about inspection reform. It now feels like a case of how much and how quickly.

This reform must constitute a radical re-think and not simply further tinkering around the edges that has been the destabilising approach from Ofsted for some time. Intelligent reform is required to rebuild professional trust and make a self-improving school system a reality.

While the government’s rhetoric has been on the need for schools to own the improvement agenda this appears to have been code for ‘we’re cutting support and you’re on your own now’.

The government has planted explosive devices such as performance related pay, cost increases, significant curriculum changes, strangled teacher supply and is now standing well back. Rather than self-improving it is becoming the self-imploding system. The government may well have the audacity to then say ‘what a mess you’ve made of it, you can’t be trusted – more control is clearly required.’

The relationship between government and the school system needs to be that of supportive adult to adult rather than the parent to child dynamic that prevails at present - this hinders the development of a truly self-improving system.

If the government were serious about a self-improving system then one of the first things it should do is to encourage inspection reform. The current punitive model is predicated on fear of punishment rather than improvement and is an absolute impediment to a self-improving system. It’s simply not fit for purpose given the job it needs to do within the system at a time when we can no longer afford the diseconomies associated with the current inspection system.

The ATL and AMiE vision of local inspection and improvement partnerships  sets out a strong case for change - how it might work in practice and how quality could be assured in a new approach to inspection that is actually capable of facilitating a self- improving system.

At the recent ATL annual conference Tristram Hunt appeared to signal that he accepts the need to move to a more trust based local accountability system, the only question being over an appropriate period for this to happen.  Ofsted would prefer a slow ten year timescale whereas ATL and AMiE would like to see greater immediacy. Like, tomorrow would be good.  If Tristram were to be the next Secretary of State for Education I would like to see this nettle grasped firmly in the promised education bill within the first 100 days of a Labour administration.

Whoever finds themselves in power after the Westminster elections has some challenging decisions to make across the board, not just in education.  We’ve reached the point where we need an actual self-improving school system based on professional trust and this cannot happen without inspection reform along the lines put forward by ATL.  Let’s bring it on sooner rather than later.

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