Sarah Bedwell is an Aussie teaching English and other things in the north west of England. She loves using technology in new ways to engage and excite learning, though she does believe in pedagogy before technology. Sarah is currently the ‘Lead Learner for Using New Technologies to Enhance Teaching and Learning’ – otherwise known as an eLearning Coordinator.
Very few things annoy me as much as hearing from politicians that we need to ‘drive standards up’ so that ‘all children’ can access the same high quality education irrespective of where in the country they are, whilst those same politicians are striving to fracture the education system beyond all recognition. If you insist that schools don’t need to hire qualified teachers, then you’re not driving up standards. If you’re not ensuring that there are limits on class sizes in all schools, then you’re not driving up standards. If you’re not funding every school equally and fairly, you’re not driving up standards. If you’re allowing failing schools to have another three years’ grace without an inspection, you’re certainly not driving up standards.
I think we all know by now that turning a school into an academy is no magic potion for achieving success, and that many academies are still pulling off results that are no better (or in some cases worse) than their LA counterparts. It takes more than a rebrand to make improvement and when the focus is on choosing a sponsor and all of the potential implications that go with it, the focus is not on learning and achievement. The very idea that giving a failing academy a three year gift of no inspections by calling it a ‘new’ school as it is being, or just after it’s been, rebrokered is ludicrous. That’s three more years for a failing school to continue to fail their students.
Not only do they receive a ‘Get Out of Ofsted Free’ card that lasts longer than most inspection cycles for LA schools, they also get their previous inspection data discarded. Let that sink in for a minute. They’ve failed their students, they find a new sponsor, and they get a clean slate and three years to try to get it right without interference.
The government is struggling to find sponsors for academies and so is giving them a break. Wouldn’t it be great if that same logic applied to the teacher recruitment crisis? Hire some new staff and get a three year break from Ofsted! Come to think of it, that might help with recruitment – do your three years, change schools, and get another inspection-free period as a gift to your new colleagues. I can’t help but think of this as some sort of balance transfer system to encourage you to change your credit card. That only encourages further spending which potentially gets you into more trouble – failing academies need the same oversight as failing LA schools to avoid them getting deeper into trouble than they already are.
I work in an LA school that is due for Ofsted any day, and we’re going to be absolutely slated – rightfully so – for a downward trend in results. We could change our name, get a nifty new uniform, replace our governing body, and we still wouldn’t escape the inspection. Nor should we. I may not agree with Ofsted as an institution, but the fact is we’re not doing a good enough job and we shouldn’t escape that scrutiny because we went with a new sponsor.
If a school fails its students, they must face inspection, and quickly.
If the government truly want to drive up standards, then stop treating different schools in different ways. Inspect all schools in the same way and on the same time scale. Stop allowing trusts to take on more and more academies – bring them back into a single system. Stop allowing schools to escape intervention just because they have a new sponsor. Ensure that the expectations of one school are exactly the same as the expectations of another. That way, irrespective of where in the country the school is or the sort of students that the school has, there’s equity in the process and as a profession we can perhaps regain a little trust in it.