UK Education: Ofsted, Not The Government, Is Blighting Poor Pupils’ Chances

The intentions of Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of the body overseeing Education, in trying to raise standards in schools serving disadvantaged communities are no doubt good, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And the situation in the UK education system, if reports from teachers, parents and pupils is to be believed is if not hell, them a very close approcimation. Wilshaw is honest enough to admit that Ofsted has failed to make a significant impact on standards, especially in the North of England. He is right to highlight the shortage of good teachers — but fails to understand that Ofsted itself, by embracing trendy ideas hatched by people who have spent their working lives in universities studying the theory of progressive education is actually driving good teachers out of the profession.

Once a school is designated by Ofsted as in need of improvement, teacher workload increases exponentially. It is the standard theory of management science that measuring things is the same as managing them. Thus everything has to be documented, collated, processed and analysed statistically. To provide “proof of progress,” secondary teachers may have to mark up to 200 workbooks every two weeks. “Performance Management” entails frequent lesson observations by senior management. Pupils interpret this as suggesting their teachers aren’t true professionals, they aren’t trusted to deliver lessons or control a class properly.

On top of this, teachers in failing schools must attend training sessions and endless staff meetings, even if they are already excellent teachers. Sadly, there is no evidence that these actions, which must necessarily drag the good and highly committed teachers down to a lowest common denominator, actually improve learning. Likewise, there is little evidence that exam results improve following an Ofsted inspection, and some evidence to show that they drop.

The average teacher in England works a 55-hour week, but in failing schools it can be as much as 65 or even 70 hours. Experienced teacher say it is possible to teach effectively with that kind of a workload and although such working hours are common in business and commerce, people in those sectors do not have to deal with stupid, snotty nosed, hormonally hyperactive adolescents.

It would be folly to suggest that schools shouldn’t be accountable. In England, the first school inspectors were appointed in 1837. Like railways, the electric motor and the stored program computer, school inspections are a British innovation. It takes real british elitist arrogance to assume that a team of former teachers can spend a few hours in a school and discover its weaknesses and to suggest improvements.

While improvements to the curriculum (less abstract mathematics, more applied science etc.) would improve pupil engagement, if we want to find out how well children are learning, there is one very simple and obvious solution: test them.
While trendies believe testing should be abandoned because it encourages competitiveness and may induce a sense of failure in some pupils, if anything modern pupils are overtested but badly tested. This is because the ministry has become obsessed with performance targets and league tables.

Objective tests of knowledge and understanding are not difficult to devise, administer or score. Many schools do this already to provide real “proof of progress” for inspectors. Exam boards are publishing online quizzes for teachers to use to prepare pupils for the GCSEs.

Any proposal to extend this type of testing will prove highly controversial: progressive educators like Sir Kenneth Robinson regard tests as a relic of supposedly obsolete “factory schools”. Yet the creativity that he cherishes cannot emerge in a vacuum of knowledge. Disciplined study is required, whatever creer one plans to enter.

This is why pupils in blighted communities have failed to keep pace — you really do need to know a lot about a subject before it becomes interesting. You need to have parents who can make good the gaps in the knowledge-light, political correctness heavy curriculum that has prevailed over the last 50 years. You also need to have teachers who understand that younger kids do respond well to the learning by rote of their early years in education, learning that is an integral part of mastering a subject.

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