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The Inspector Calls

October 1, 2012

In our institution, our department is about to have an internal inspection, sounds medical, and nasty: right about the latter not about the former. It is, of course a mini Ofsted inspection that is designed to put the fear of Ofsted into the department. I am not going to write about our specific situation, aside from being self indulgent and boring I would probably get the sack. However, this drive to inspect does raise the issue, not so much of inspection but of accountability, the general question of accountability. All this inspection, peer review, double checking is about teachers and lecturers being accountable but to whom, and what for and who is accountable to them?

It seems to me that there are five places where the teacher is accountable in the classroom:

  1. To the students/pupils
  2. To the parents
  3. To management
  4. To Ofsted
  5. To ….. wait for it…

STUDENTS

Anyone in education should start there really, and certainly, when a politician wants to command the moral high ground, from pay cuts to policy, they always claim the good of the student or pupil. The teacher, however is in the classroom accountable right there and then, and that includes anything from turning up on time, vast subject knowledge, accurate delivery, classroom management and preparation. Not only that teachers are often subject to feedback from students, either unofficial (rate my teacher) or officially, through delightful forms that include questions such as “Has your teacher prepared their lesson?” to which they usually reply “No”. How the frack do they know? Do they see you compiling your lesson plan, gathering resources, making resources? No. Just because you ask them to do something does not mean that you are too lazy to teach! But they think so! That being said, being accountable in the classroom does mean preparation and delivery, which is why the betrayal over the #GCSEfiasco is so debilitating to teacher accountability. Staff go to exam board insets to calibrate their teaching and marking with that of the board they use, they, in turn calibrate with Ofqual and ultimately government. This is not cheating, this is not getting answers to questions, or a conspiracy to inflate grades, it is professional process to make sure that we are all on the same page. The teacher returns from the inset and teaches accordingly. Why would they do otherwise? However, to change suddenly, mid-flow the standard by which everything is calibrated, leaves the teacher in the classroom, alone, accountable to the students dealing with the tears and the rage and who is accountable to the teacher?

PARENTS

The teacher is in loco parentis, so obviously there is keeping them safe, giving them a good learning environment feeding back to the parent about issues, attendance, praise and achievement. But the majority of parents want more than that, they want grades, they want success, they want their child to do better than they did and they expect the teacher to be accountable to them if that doesn’t happen. The teacher should be accountable to parents in every aspect, but making their child a priority over somebody else’s not so much. Of course that was what Every Child Matters was about, and of course the aim is for individual attention. The current fashion in Ofsted is differentiation, so now we have to have pencil portraits on every student. That reminds me of that rather fabulous answer by ?… In Bad Education when the Head asks him about the progress of his students ‘it’s all in my head’ he says and to some extent it has to be, because who has time not  just to mark the student’s work, record the marks and feed back, but also to write a detailed learning chart on them? Increased data collection can help that, but it relies on reliable systems and we are not there yet. Of course the majority of parents are interested and supportive, if a little demanding and likely to assume that they could better, they just have a “good” job. Some parents are not so interested and many of both kinds send children to school with behaviour that is less than positive and yet this too seems to be something the teacher must account for, a badly behaved student is bored, so pick up the pace teach! A rude student is bringing a teacher into line, after all none of them know what they are doing do they? And a disruptive class is a badly managed class, no full of badly brought up kids. Again who is accountable to the teacher?

MANAGEMENT

On the whole the “being accountable to management” box is ticked by doing what one is told. Do the peer observations, attend meetings, do the staff training, do the performance reviews, attend meetings, use the new system, go on staff development, run enrichment, attend meetings, use the new system, be there on time, use your home equipment to compensate for the failings of the new system, attend meetings, parents evening, open day, open evening and whatever you do you can’t take a cheap holiday. Management, of course is accountable to the league tables and to Ofsted, without a high rating on results and an Outstanding on the banner outside, the institution is doomed and the Head is often for the chop, so understandably they expect staff to be accountable to them, for those results, that teaching and possibly that Outstanding, but who is accountable to the teacher?

OFSTED

This is where the questions of accountability and inspection get mixed up: inspection according to the dictionary is defined as “the act of inspecting or viewing, especially carefully or critically” and there’s the kicker “critically”. Ask someone to be critical and they will be, ask someone to review your work and they may be critical but they have permission to offer praise. Ofsted inspectors would say that they do give praise where praise is due, but who defines that, who is accountable for that. Accountability is defined by the dictionary as “Educ.  a policy of holding schools and teachers accountable for students’ academic progress by linking such progress with funding for salaries, maintenance, etc.” The kicker there is the “linking” of progress with funding for salaries, but accountability isn’t a word that Ofsted uses, perhaps that’s a good thing, it’s inspection – critical inspection, the link between success as a teacher and salaries has never been clear, only the link that’s been clear is the link between failure as a teacher and salary and job and who is accountable to the teacher for that?

COP OUT

Okay so most of you will have scrolled down to find out what the fifth one is and decided it is a cop out, but I will keep you waiting a little longer, I had the privilege (or the misfortune) of watching The Fountainhead last night, I am not over keen on the film, it’s melodramatic music, extremely dodgy sex scene and a lot of talking, makes it a bit of a marathon, but the essence of the main character played by Gary Cooper, Howard Roark (recently voted number one in the top ten of fictional architects in The Guardian) is interesting in this context. Howard Roark answers to no man but himself, he will not compromise on his designs, because he knows best and he’s not big on self sacrifice either, which is where some of the political criticism of the film as a polemic for conservatism comes from. However, Howard’s principle that he is answerable to no one but himself, that only he can be the judge of his own integrity, is perhaps something that the teacher needs more than ever, in the end the teacher in the classroom is the best judge of the needs and demands of the students and the best judge of the success of the education they provide, no critical snapshot can substitute for that accountability.

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