Saturday, 29 March 2014

Weekly Update 29/3/14


DfE published the final proposals for a new primary accountability framework. Michael Tidd summarised the main changes and gave his take on them (spoiler: he's not impressed).

The NUT went on strike. Michael Tidd didn't think that was a good idea either. Nor did John Blake.

DfE also published plans for a new 16-19 accountability regime.

And plans to cut £200m from LAs and academies

Best Blogs/Articles:

Why literacy is knowledge by Robert Pondiscio

David Didau on the importance of school behaviour policies (it regularly amazes me how many schools still don't apply one consistently)

Deevybee on whether Dyslexia is an appropriate label

Cherryl KD on training teachers with a SEN specialism

Alex Quigley with some tips for new bloggers

A sample of Daisy Christodoulou's book in American Educator

Harry Webb on the future of education research

Michael Tidd (again) on seven questions you should ask about your post-levels assessment system

Shaun Allison on why some of his school's departments are so successful

Annie Murphy Paul on the importance of analogies

New Research:

Fascinating report from HEFCE on different in degree outcomes for different groups. The main focus has been on state school pupils doing better than private ones but there's a lot of interesting/worrying stuff in there.

Dan Willingham on a new study showing readability levels may well be inaccurate

Big new Gates Foundation funded report on Khan Academy - which still leaves us unsure as to whether it has any benefit.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Weekly Update 22/3/14


Another week dominated by Ofsted. On Monday Policy Exchange published their eagerly awaited report with some radical recommendations. It was blogged about by David Didau, Tom Bennett, Joe Kirby, Stuart Lock, Robert Peal and me.

On Friday we heard Ofsted's response from Sir Michael Wilshaw. He promised a shift (over the next 18 months) towards shorter inspections for good schools and a review of the framework.

Which seems to fit with the conclusion to my blog on Policy Exchange's report: "Under the current regime I suspect we will see incremental shifts in the right direction but no big bang reset."

NAHT published a really interesting draft manifesto which I hope others engage with

Tristram Hunt is backing Future Leaders campaign to stop discrimination against women in headteacher appointments

On and the Varkey-GEMS Foundation announced a $1 million prize for the world's best teacher. Good luck everyone.

Best Blogs/Articles:

Harry Webb on the many weaknesses of the "nothing can be known about education" viewpoint

Tom Sherrington argues for a symbiosis between traditional and progressive pedagogy

Daisy Christodoulou has collated a variety of alternatives to NC levels

Chris Hall on the lessons from the first batch of EEF randomised control trials

Jo Facer on a wonderful sounding assembly in which she explained the importance of reading

Fascinating piece from Rob Webster on his research showing that getting a statement for a pupil with SEN can actually lead to worse outcomes.

Classroom routines from Elissa Miller who sounds like the most organised teacher in the world

The anonymous Heather F on her really bad teaching

Gifted Phoenix with more info on FSM admissions to Oxbridge than you'll ever need

New Research:

If you're a teacher and have a innovative idea you can win £15k to pay for a year long research pilot

Sunday Times on new research showing that state school pupils get better degrees those from private schools with the same qualifications (unfortunately paywalled + the full research is not yet published)

A new Sutton Trust report on parenting and attachment

Monday, 17 March 2014

My take on Policy Exchange's Ofsted report

First thoughts

This is one of the best think-tank reports I've read in a very long time. It's timely, pragmatic, while not being too safe. It's also well written (rarer than you might think).

And importantly it's the first report I've seen that makes real use of social media expertise. The authors acknowledge that they've built on the ideas emerging from twitter and the blogosphere and the final product is much stronger as a result:

"We would like to thank all the teachers and other educationalists who have continued to debate the role of Ofsted on blogs and on Twitter and in doing so, influenced our work - even if they didn’t know they were! Social media is a democratic phenomenon which offers a tremendous opportunity for closing the gap between practitioners and policymakers. If ideas are good and arguments are compelling, then it has never been as easy as now to shape what politicians and policymakers are thinking."

How I wish that social media had been in full flow when I was running the Policy Exchange education department back in 2008 - it would have significantly improved my thinking.

The full report is: here.

The key recommendations

The report sets our a new design for inspections with a shift to regular short inspections based primarily on data and self-evaluation. Only schools where inspectors had concerns (or couldn't tell) would get a longer "tailored inspection". This seems eminently sensible and is line with Ofsted's slow shift towards risk-based assessment over the past decade. 

There would be no teacher observations in these short inspections. Again I strongly agree. And set out my reasons why this would be an important shift here.

Longer tailored inspections would include teacher observations - but inspectors engaged in these visits would have to be trained to a high standard. This feels like a bit of a fudge. Obviously if we are going to have observations then inspectors must be trained but there's no reason given for why they are necessary.

The problem is that even with the best training available observations are not hugely reliable. The report acknowledges that the gold standard models of observation can achieve 61% agreement between 1st and 2nd observers (p.19). That still an awful lot of teachers getting the wrong grade for their teaching - with potentially significant knock on effects for their career. And to achieve that 61% could require up to six separate observations by different people (p.20) which is phenomenally time consuming and expensive.

Of course inspectors, as part of a longer visit, would want to spend time in classrooms but there would need to a really clear added value to formalising these observations to justify the cost both of resources and to individuals.

I remain of the view that the purpose of even a longer inspection should be to understand whether senior and middle leaders understand their school and not to make potentially invalid judgements about individuals' teaching. As I've said previously:

"Inspections should focus on systems. Essentially Ofsted should be looking at what the school is doing to ensure consistent good teaching. They should be inspecting the school's quality assurance not trying to do the quality assurance themselves. In their classroom visits they should be checking the leadership know their teachers and understand how best to support their future development. They should be checking that they have thought about professional development and about performance management. They should be seeing if the behaviour policy is being enforced; and if the school curriculum is actually being used."

Other recommendations

The full list of recommendations can be found in this blog by Joe Kirby. I agree with nearly all of them - particularly a new requirement that inspectors take a data interpretation test and the suggestion that Ofsted end the practice of having thousands of part-time, contracted, additional inspectors.

I have an issue with the suggestion that schools should only be considered outstanding if they "engage in a serious and meaningful way in some form of school to school improvement with other schools - as chosen by the school itself". This is laudable but very hard to inspect without visiting the other schools adding cost and complexity. It could also lead to quite a lot of fake collaboration. I'd rather have an additional category of "system leader" for those schools that were indisputably playing that role.

I also remain unconvinced that we need a separate system for inspecting academy chains. Ofsted are already doing inspections of multiple schools within a chain - which led directly to the recent reduction in the number of schools run by EACT. It's not clear what another framework would add.

Will any of it happen?

There's no question Ofsted have woken up - in recent months - to the extent of the public relations challenge they have. The social media engagement of their Director of Schools Mike Cladingbowl has been welcome and extremely encouraging. The reforms he has proposed in recent months fit with the direction of travel of the Policy Exchange report - shorter more risk-based assessments, emphasising that individual teachers shouldn't be graded - but they are much less radical.

Under the current regime I suspect this will continue - with incremental shifts in the right direction but no big bang reset. Whether we see the Policy Exchange recommendations implemented in full (or even the end of lesson observations all together) will probably depend on who gets to choose the next Chief Inspector and who that is.


Saturday, 15 March 2014

Weekly update 15/3/14


DfE published their school funding consultation for 2015-16 - next step towards a national funding formula

The FT ran a lengthy and very perceptive profile/interview with Michael Gove

Labour released a policy consultation on education. And Tristram Hunt wrote about Ofsted

The Mail launched an attack on the universal free school meals policy. As did ex-SPAD Dominic Cummings (and here). Special mention to Andy Jolley who's been tirelessly plugging away at the flaws with the policy

Post-16 institutions won some respite from funding cuts to 18 year old learners

Best Blogs/Articles:

David Didau takes a shot at Assessment for Learning

Sir David Carter on supporting transition from primary to secondary

ChocoTzar on the role of schools in supporting troubled teenage lives

Laura Mcinerney argues School Direct trainees shouldn't be placed in inadequate schools

John Dunford on using the pupil premium effectively

Toby Greany has a nuanced critique of the Government's self-improvement system narrative

Chris Chivers' overview of upcoming SEN changes

Joe Kirby on the benefits of using multiple-choice questions

Susan Young summarises a conference on the future role of Teaching Schools

John Mayer on why we need more tests, not fewer

Rob Coe on how to design assessments (technically from last week but so good I had to include it)

New Research:

DfE have released a series of papers listing research priorities and questions

Dan Willingham on a new study showing young children can understand complex concepts

Reform/SSAT report on how academies are (or are not) using their autonomy

University of Southampton say centralised academy chains are the most effective (can't find the full report)

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Weekly Update 1/3/2014

Probably the most significant education story this week was the DfE "persuading" E-ACT, one of the largest academy chains, to find new sponsors for ten of their academies. Jonn Elledge's analysis is here and Robert Hill wrote an excellent blog about the wider significance of this move.

Meanwhile Liz Truss has been in Shanghai with a group of headteachers. Chris Husbands offered an excellent explanation of why they're flavour of the month at the moment.

And the long-awaited teacher workforce survey was published. David Weston picked out the most salient points. For me the most revealing chart was this one showing the difference of opinion between heads and classroom teachers in what would improve the quality of teaching and learning (respondents could choose up to three options).

Also this week two of my favourite blogs for a while. A superb post from Harry Fletcher-Wood on what it takes to make CPD effective and Rob Peal taking apart three Guardian articles (the middle one of which is a real shocker).

Other Highlights

David Didau on a surplus model of performance management

Kris Boulton asks "what is teaching?"

Kate Chhatwal on sexism in headteacher appointments

John Tomsett on the trouble with education research

Micon Metcalfe on the practicalities of getting rid of lesson grades

A nice bit of polemic from Valerie Strauss on why people who think they know what teacher do, don't

Dan Willingham on why you shouldn't hire like google and why fluid intelligence isn't trainable

Horatio Speaks on identifying and stopping the saboteur pupil

Harry Webb with a good summary of arguments for knowledge-based curricula

New Sutton Trust research on changes in admissions policy (and Conor Ryan's blog on the report)