Thursday, 1 August 2013

OFSTED, Estelle Morris and Ted Wragg

Last week the Guardian published a fulsome panegyric by Estelle Morris in praise of OFSTED.   It is, she claims, "the most respected of all the inspectorates,"  has "become a driver of change and force for good," the days when many teachers opposed it " are largely gone"  and  she has talked to teachers who acknowledge that "their inspection, whilst challenging, was a thoroughly professional event that made a real contribution to their school's progress."

Well, teachers, especially those now called "school leaders" and those who aspire to such exalted status,would say that, wouldn't they.

Only in the last few lines of this paean of praise does she mention that "other (teachers) report inspections that were more debilitating than energising."

Estelle Morris was briefly (2001 - 2002)  Education Secretary in the then Labour government until, bravely and unusually for a modern politician, she resigned because she did not feel up to the job.  In contrast, an educationalist who dominated the field for several decades, and who certainly was up to the job, took a very different view.  That was the late Ted Wragg, who died in 2005.  According to his obituary (Guardian, 11 November, 2005):

In columns over three decades...Wragg poured mountains of highly amusing ordure  on politicians and bureaucrats for meddling in schools.  He loathed the inspection regime imposed by the Thatcher and Major governments, and in particular Chris Woodhead, the former head of OFSTED.

Wragg's opinion of teachers contrasts starkly with the distrust shared by successive Secretaries of State including the present incumbent Michael Gove, all  of whom believe that, because they have been to school they know what constitutes a "good ecuation", more often than not a re-creation of what and how  they themselves were taught.*  Wragg's obituarist,  Will Woodard, continues:

Wragg's unashamed view was that most teachers know what they were doing - certainly more than most politicians did.  He was no zealot, and offered even handed views  on such issues as mixed-ability teaching  and phonics, preferring instead  to let individual professionals decide what works for them.

Unlike Secretaries of State, and I suspect, most if not all OFSTED inspectors,  Wragg "kept his hand in  by teaching regularly  in local primary and secondary schools."

The damage OFSTED does is two-fold.  First it acts as what Professor Colin Richards has called "the government's educational police service" to enforce the varying whims of successive political panjandrums.  Secondly it has what economists call an opportunity cost.  Time and energy which teachers could be using to understand and educate the pupils in their charge are diverted to preparing records,  statistics, and lesson plans,  attending tedious meetings and contriving fatuous mission statements (even for each and every lesson - they're called WILFs and WALTs) to placate the inspection system.

In my teaching career, from 1959 to 2003, I'm happy to say that  at least 95% and probably more of my time and energy was, after the first "probationary " year when I was  required to produce detailed lesson plans each week for my headmaster, devoted to reading,  preparation, marking,and actual classroom teaching which was directly and usefully to the benefit of  the people I taught.  Today I suspect the figure is below 75%.

For further comments on OFSTED and a suggestion  on what should happen to it and its inspectors please see my earlier post on

* This trait is not restricted to politicians.  My father, who left elementary school at the age of 13, did not regard anyone as properly educated unless they could recite the rivers of Yorkshire in clockwise order. Alas I could never pass this test.

**  WILFs are "What I'm looking for" and WALTs, I think,  are "What I'm learning today."  In at least one local school these have to be on the blackboard (or, probably now, whiteboard or interactive screen) for every lesson and "school leaders" go on "learning walks" around the school to ensure that they are.  The sad thing is that today's generation of teachers take this nonsense seriously.

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