Saturday, 15 March 2008

Long gap

It's been over 2 months since I last wrote. I don't want this to become a ghost-blog, but the longer I don't write, the more I think of so much to write that I won't know where to start.

Since December, I've had yet another visit from Ofsted, making that 4 inspection visits since 2004. I've written a long piece about teacher professionalism, Ofsted and the terrors of performativity which is available here. I feel more than ever that Ofsted inspection really is a game, a performance, and was therefore very interested to read about the Ofsted whistleblower who states that the inspectors have exactly the same problems. She describes the work as being about meeting targets, with little time to spend on each inspection. As a result, the inspection process is about finding what you need to find - and it is not undertaken in a spirit of interest and enquiry. The Ofsted inspector is, in a sense, no more powerful in this system than the teacher or headteacher - although I would say that the stakes are much higher if, for example, you are a head, because your name, professional reputation and career are all on the line. Not many heads survive more than a few months after a poor Ofsted.

When I was asked at the end of the last inspection if I would like to train to be an inspector, I politely declined, saying I was too busy (true, but cowardly).

I think that one way of understanding the fix we seem to be in about the state of childhood in England - where we have, apparently, some of the most stressed, anxious, unhappy, unhealthy children in the world - is through this type of inspection "game". Everyone is bound by the rules in this closed system: teachers learn to play the game, but at the cost of authenticity, enjoyment, care for education. The game increasingly refers only to its own nature and past self: schools can dress things up to get a good Ofsted, and equally good schools can be careless of the performance and come out badly, and in both cases nothing of any value is discovered. The pressure in education rises, and for both teachers and children there are rewards for a "good performance". But none of this is about children, the space to be a child, developing a love of movement, books, drama, poetry, nature and numbers.

Changing education
I do occasionally feel some hope: there is a developing discussion about how much primary education is being distorted in England. There is an opportunity to state your views in a government consultation here, up to April 30th 2008. I think, from listening to Ed Balls (secretary of state for children, schools and families), that there is a genuine interest in what people submit. The government seems a bit lost to me, which at least creates potential for some discussion. This is also preferable to the "delivery mode" that people get into, for example Estelle Morris's call for the development of an official state pedagogy. Do we really want a small group of researchers, under the wing of the government, to decide on pedagogy, leaving teachers just in the role of delivering it? Apparently, some people do, and it looks like Estelle Morris hasn't really understood what was so damaging about her and David Blunkett's approach to education. My argument is that pedagogy is created amongst practitioners, in schools, working together: if both the content of the curriculum, and appropriate methods of teaching it, are centrally prescribed then we'll end up in the world of Nike: Just Do It.