The teaching profession may be readier to take back control of school and college accountability than politicians may like

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16 May 2013 by Adrian Prandle
I spent this morning speaking in Birmingham at AMiE’s annual leadership seminar. The focus for the audience of school and college leaders was inspection.  Ultimately this meant getting tips and advice about how to survive and succeed – though I took the opportunity to challenge delegates as to whether the profession can itself lead a fairer alternative to Ofsted, that would better serve learners.

We heard first from Richard Atkins, Principal of Exeter College, and Gary Lobbett, Head teacher of Callington Community College, also in the south west of England. They described their preparations for leading their colleges through inspection, offered advice for what fellow leaders might focus on (both strongly emphasised teaching and learning), and described their experiences which were largely happier than not – though you might expect such reflections are more likely when Ofsted has dished out an ‘outstanding’ judgement. Credit was given to Ofsted for bringing the college notice period in line with schools – so a shorter build-up of stress in preparation – but not going all the way to the inspectors calling from the car park which Michael Wilshaw originally intended. And the common issue of inspector inconsistency was raised again.

Having provided my overview of ATL’s position (accountability essential; national inspection regime in disrepute), I emphasised that teachers and leaders in education really can challenge what is wrong with Ofsted. The important role of holding public institutions to account really doesn’t have to be punitive – and the risks of such, in terms of damaging children’s education, are severe. A profession-led system of support and challenge linked to local democratic structures could interpret what’s going on in schools and colleges for the community but, importantly, understand exactly how institutional improvement can be achieved.

As discussion developed it became clear that in a different context, schools and colleges are already developing this capacity. Both of my fellow speakers said they ran internal inspection processes as part of the preparations – and (and this is crucial) they claimed to have the support of the whole of the staff body. At ATL we hear plenty about Ofsted and government’s divide and rule approach which causes nervousness amongst leadership to collide with overworked and stressed teachers. But if processes are happening which are backed across schools and colleges, we need to ask why these are limited to being ‘internal’ systems and why they can’t contribute to, or even simply be, the public-facing accountability that is necessary.

There’s support for teacher involvement outside of the union movement – not least in last week’s Demos report, Detoxifying School Accountability, which argues for presenting the views of leaders, staff, students, parents and inspectors together. And I understand the secretary of state is interested in how profession-led accountability can work in practice. Suddenly, Ofsted’s position as chief tormentor of schools and colleges looks less secure.

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